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View of harbor at San Francisco, California BANC PIC 1963.002:1356--FR

Western Americana

About the Collection
Overview of Collection
Guides to Collection
Special Bibliographic Files
Related Special Topics
Class Presentations

About the Western Americana Collection

In 1905, the University of California purchased the book and manuscript collections of Hubert Howe Bancroft, a successful entrepreneur, bookseller, publisher, and historian. The original Bancroft Collection included materials not only from the western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, but also from Canada, Mexico, and Central America. The Western Americana collection, described below, now constitutes the largest and most diverse group of research materials within The Bancroft Library. Please see The Latin Americana Collections for a description of materials relating to Mexico and Central America. The Western Americana collection documents the history of human activity in North America primarily west of the Rocky Mountains from the earliest days to the present time, with greatest emphasis on California. Thus, the Western Americana collections provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore the social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural development of the western half of the United States, made possible through the collection’s wide range of primary and secondary resources. Hubert Howe Bancroft believed that historical analysis depended on an examination of a broad range of contemporary materials. The comprehensive, exhaustive nature of his collecting practices set the standard for continued expansion of the Western Americana collection, with shifts to reflect changes in society, culture, politics and demographics in the West. The Western Americana Collection continues to grow, with both retrospective and contemporary materials being added to the collection.

Overview of Collections

Native American Studies/Anthropology/Archeology/Linguistics
Documentation of the Native American experience in the Western Americana collection began with Hubert Howe Bancroft’s collection of sources gathered for use in writing the first five volumes of his Works, dedicated to the Native Races. Documents include descriptions from the colonial period to the end of the nineteenth century of the various Native American tribes and their encounters—violent and peaceful—with missionaries, settlers, traders, and artists. Notable among the nineteenth century materials are those collected for Hubert Howe Bancroft by Alphonse Pinart, a French scholar and linguist with keen ethnological interests. In the twentieth century, important primary material collected by anthropologists provides evidence for the life and culture of California’s Native Americans. Included are the field notes and other scholarly materials of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber (1876-1960), his students Robert Lowie (1883-1957) and Robert Heizer (1915-1979), and of the Berkeley Anthropology Department. Another outstanding collection is that of C. Hart Merriam, a naturalist who became keenly interested in the Native peoples of California. Kroeber, who studied anthropology with Columbia’s Franz Boas, devoted his life to research on California’s hundreds of tribes, assembling a remarkable body of materials on the archeology, ethnography, and linguistics of California’s first inhabitants, an essential complement to the collections of the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology on campus, which also owes its origins to Kroeber. In addition, Bancroft holds manuscript collections and printed documents on the peoples of the Plains, the Far West, Alaska, Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific Islands.

Spanish Encounter and Colonial Settlement
Settlement in the American West before United States annexation is well documented, with an emphasis on materials related to California. Many points of view inform this experience, exposing the dynamic and often conflicting relationship of indigenous peoples and European explorers and settlers. Numerous sources document California under Spanish and Mexican rule, including diaries dating from 1725 to 1821. Important archival collections dating from as early as 1767 trace the history of the chain of twenty one California missions from their prelude and founding in the later half of the 18th century to the mid nineteenth century. Included are originals and contemporary copies of correspondence, reports, accounts, letters, censuses, and other information. Rich documentation of political, military, and religious life in Spanish and Mexican California is included in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s collection of the Archives of California, 1767-1846, which constitutes extracts and transcriptions from the official records of the Spanish and Mexican government in Alta California. The original archive was subsequently destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire. Private papers collected from the Mexican Californians are gathered under the title Documentos para la historia de California or under names of individual families. This extensive documentation includes much information on family, social, cultural, official governmental, and political life. Bancroft also sought out important figures within the Californio community and interviewed them. These "Bancroft Dictations" (also known as “Testimonios” or “Recuerdos”) provide an important counter narrative to traditional histories. Approximately 125 dictations were conducted, including twelve with women, one who is a Native American. Land was an important issue for the Mexican Californians before and after the annexation of California, and The Bancroft Library has the Land Case Records and associated maps (diseños) on deposit from the United States District Court. The land cases are a rich resource not only for studying private and public lands, and land development, but also for investigating many topics related to the social, cultural, economic lives of the Californios.

Exploration of the Pacific Coast and the American West
Narratives of discovery and exploration, including early Pacific voyages, are among the high points of the collection. A comprehensive collection of published works and many manuscripts record the explorations of the Spanish, British, French, Russians, Americans, and others, providing glimpses of the fur trade, relations with indigenous peoples, and settlement along the West Coast. Spanish Colonial exploration is well documented through a wide variety of manuscripts, maps, and printed sources. Unique manuscript material includes documents by Gaspar de Portolá, Captain Pedro Fages, Fray Junípero Serra, Pedro Font, Juan Bautista de Anza, and Alessandro Malaspina. Publications of the exploration of European as well as American explorers venturing into the West include the works of Sir Francis Drake (1628), Jean-François de Galaup La Perouse (1797), George Vancouver (1798), Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1814), Louis Choris (1822), and Charles Wilkes (1831).

Maps and Atlases
Bancroft’s cartographic holdings complement the narrative sources, with more than three-quarters of them relating to the western half of North America, and the bulk of these concerning California and Mexico. Of interest among the early works are maps showing California as an island, including the title page of the French translation of Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas’ Descripcion des Indes Occidentales (1622), the earliest depiction of this phenomenon. José de Cañizares’ manuscript map of San Francisco Bay is the second oldest known (1776), while the 1781 printed map based on his charts is the first separately published map of the Bay Area. The Bancroft Library also houses the diseños (hand drawn maps) and surveys from the Spanish and Mexican land grant cases, described under “Spanish Encounter and Settlement.” There are a number of significant map collections, including outstanding cartographic treasures from Carl I. Wheat, George Davidson, and Charles M. Weber.

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848)
Bancroft possesses vast holdings on the United States-Mexican War. Thomas Ap Catesby Jones’s anticipatory (and illegal) taking of Monterey, California, in 1842 is recorded in William Meyers’ narrative and watercolor shipboard diary, one of the Bancroft Library’s outstanding journals. The American point of view is covered in materials such as Henry S. Burton’s (1818-1869) diary and letter book relating to the activities of the New York volunteers. John S. Griffin (1816-1898) comments on his participation in the Battle of San Pasqual. John Gallagher’s “Personal Reminiscences” provide an account of Col. Jonathan D. Stevenson’s regiment, while the diary of Robert W. Whitworth does the same for the Mormon Battalion. The Californios’ response to the war can be found in their dictations as well as in the wealth of political and personal papers given to H. H. Bancroft. Adding considerable dept to to these unique manuscripts, the collection also includes many published memoirs, diaries, journals, and regimental histories. The Mexican side of the war is similarly documented in the Latin Americana Collection.

Westward Migration
Between 1840 and 1860, migration westward grew exponentially, especially after the annexation of large sections following the United States-British Treaty of 1846, establishing the northern boundary of the Oregon Territory; the end of the United States-Mexican War in 1848; and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. Drawn to the Pacific Slope by the prospect of wealth, cheap or free land, health, and the mild climate, settlers were willing to make the arduous trip across mountain passes, deserts, and impassable rivers. This migration and settlement is documented in an incomparable series of diaries, letters, graphic representations, and associated printed books and ephemera: accounts of sea voyages to the Pacific and of overland journeys through the American West in search of new opportunities. Unique narratives from the pre-United States period include those by John Bidwell, who led the first overland group of pioneers to California (1841), and Patrick Breen, a member of the ill-fated Donner Party (1846). Diaries and letters collected by and dictations taken down for H. H. Bancroft provide a similar history for the rest of the American West, especially Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Alaska.

The Gold Rush
On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered by James Marshall at John Sutter’s mill on the South Fork of the American River. Bancroft holds a vast collection of Gold Rush diaries, letters, lettersheets, photographs and other pictorial material as well as books, pamphlets and other printed material. The collection focuses on both accommodations and tensions as individuals and families from nations throughout the world and of various backgrounds came into contact with one another. The experiences encountered are noted in not only published guides but also in the informal advice found in hundreds of letters to family members and other settlers attempting the trek. Thus the collection provides graphic illustrations of the changing fortunes of the argonauts of the Gold Rush with engaging descriptions of the desires and realities of striking it rich, or striking out, in the gold fields. The Bancroft Dictations (personal narratives taken down by Bancroft’s scribes that are often called precursors to oral histories) also provide valuable historical material related to this momentous period in California’s history. Among the prominent pioneers and settlers that H. H. Bancroft interviewed are George Nidever (1802-1883), John Bidwell (1819-1900), and Captain John Sutter (1803-1880).

Mining in the West, and its Demographic Consequences
The rush for mineral wealth in the West continued—in Alaska in 1849, in Colorado and Nevada in 1859, in Montana in 1864, and in the Yukon in 1896. The Western Americana collection provides a wide variety of materials documenting mineral development, with information about the establishment of mining towns, the disruption of native peoples’ lives, and the beginnings of the conflict between conservation and exploitation of fisheries and other natural resources.

Land Surveys and Scientific Expeditions
Interest in the environment and the conservation of the West’s natural resources began in the nineteenth century, as the United States government and its citizens attempted to encompass their vast new territories. Bancroft holds comprehensive documentation on government-sponsored surveys and scientific expeditions, many of which included noted naturalists. John Bartlett (1805-1856), who was appointed U.S. Border Commissioner in 1850, records his experiences regarding the boundary survey after the U. S.-Mexican War. The great published surveys of the American West—conducted by Ferdinand V. Hayden (1829-1867), John Wesley Powell (1834-1902), George Wheeler (1842-1905), and Clarence King (1842-1901)—provide information on Native American cultures and reflect federal, state, and local government efforts to establish parks and forests and to monitor and carry out environmental laws in addition to recording baseline information about the West’s physical characteristics. In addition, materials related to Josiah D. Whitney and William H. Brewer provide documentation of work on the California Geological Survey, as well as other scientific enterprises in which they were involved.

Economic Development: Transport, Lumber, Agriculture, Commerce
California grew dramatically after the discovery of gold. The Bancroft’s collection documents shipping enterprises as well as the experiences of passengers making the arduous journey. As travel became easier and people had more leisure time, tourism developed as an industry, adding boosterism to the cause of Western growth. Promotional materials documenting these efforts abound at Bancroft. Evidence of further commercial enterprise exists in documentation of the lumber industry and agriculture, both responding to the need to supply San Francisco with building materials and food. The lumber industry is documented in the records of several companies, including the Pacific Lumber Company, Sonoma Lumber Company, and the extensive records of the Union Lumber Company. The collection covers agricultural development in California from specialized crops, such as wine grapes—e.g., the records of the Buena Vista Vineyards in Sonoma County in the 1860s—to large-scale agricultural and ranching operations, such as Miller & Lux, one of the one hundred largest corporations in America in 1900. With urban and rural development also came a need to manipulate and control water, still the limiting factor in California’s growth. Significant collections in this area include the records of the Spring Valley Water Company of San Francisco and the papers of its chairman, William B. Bourne, and his family. For the later twentieth century Bancroft holds documentation on the California State Water Project and the Peripheral Canal.

Labor in California has had a complex history, often quite volatile. Political and frequently exclusionary, the early labor movement was characterized by strong opinions from strong leaders such as Dennis Kearney (1847-1907), Frank Roney (1841-1925), and Andrew Furuseth (1854-1938). Resources on California labor include extensive documentation of various unions during the twentieth century, especially the predominantly African-American Sleeping Car Porters’ Union and its president C.L. Dellums (uncle of U.S. Representative Ron Dellums) and the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union under firebrand Harry Bridges (1901-1990), leader of the 1934 longshoremen’s strike. The Thomas J. Mooney Papers concern his trial and conviction for murder in connection with the bombing at the Preparedness Day parade, San Francisco, July 22, 1916, and efforts to secure his release. Archival records related to labor contain publications, reports, studies, press releases, and other materials related to union activity as well as opposition to union efforts.

Religious and Utopian Communities
The Bancroft Collections’ materials documenting religious life in the west is both extensive and varied. In the West, groups such as the Mormons sought refuge from religious persecution and a place to create a better society. Bancroft’s documentation of the Mormon experience includes the dictations that H. H. Bancroft, along with his wife Matilda and daughter Kate, conducted with principal men and women of various Mormon communities, diaries that reflect the Mormon experience in the West, and accounts from outsiders who observed Mormon activity. Western Americana also has many collections illustrating the contributions of Jews to the settlement of the West, especially in urban areas such as San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. The Bancroft collection also includes documentation of mainstream Protestant and Catholic missionary and church-building projects in the West. In the late 19th century utopian and socialist communities existed throughout California, and the collection includes documentation of many of those groups, such as the Kaweah colony, the Icaria-Speranza commune, and the Fountain Grove community.

Urban Communities: Emergence and Growth
Urban centers such as San Francisco were fundamental to western development. Begun as presidio and mission, San Francisco was transformed from a small pueblo before the Gold Rush to a wealthy and busy port city and eventually to the center of the Western economy. Architecture and urban planning in San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area are abundantly documented. San Francisco’s expanding infrastructure is well documented in the papers of City engineer, Michael Maurice O’Shaughnnessy. Among the important architectural records in The Bancroft Library are the papers of Arthur Brown, Jr., John Galen Howard, and Julia Morgan.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and ensuing fire were a cataclysmic event that destroyed the city with casualties estimated between 3000 to 5000 individuals. It was the largest urban disaster in the United States before Hurricane Katrina. Communities throughout the region, such as San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Stanford also suffered severe damage and loss of life. The event was one of the best documented disasters with all aspects of the earthquake and ensuing fire—from first-hand accounts to the relief effort to the political and social maneuvering related to the city’s recovery—providing vivid documentation of the event. After the earthquake, San Francisco arose, phoenix-like from its ashes, culminating in its sponsoring of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE). The Bancroft Library houses the records of the PPIE, as well as many other pictorial and manuscript collections related to this world’s fair.

The Western Americana Collection also documents industrial build up throughout the twentieth century. Especially of note are the papers of industrialists Henry and Edgar Kaiser. The Henry J. Kaiser papers document the transformation of the Bay area into a major industrial area during and immediately after World War II. There was a wave of migration into the area to work in the shipyards, changing the population and demographic character of the region. Washington and Oregon were similarly developed, with shipyards operating on Puget Sound and along the Willamette and Columbia rivers. The Kaiser Corporation was also responsible for building major dams in the West, including Hoover and Grand Coulee dams.

Ethnic Communities
The diversity and complexity of relationships among people living in California and the West continue to be important themes in twentieth-century history. Bancroft has rich resources for the study of many ethnic communities in both rural and urban environments from the nineteenth century to the present, including the contributions of the Chinese to building early California and the role of Japanese, Filipino, and Mexican agricultural workers. Especially notable are the papers of Paul S. Taylor, an economist at University of California, Berkeley, who was an advocate for the rural poor. His collection provides rich documentation related to Mexican Americans and other agricultural laborers. Bancroft is one of three official repositories of the U.S. government’s Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement records from World War II; these records are supplemented by poignant personal papers from Japanese-Americans in the camps. The African-American experience, especially after World War II, is documented through the records of major social and political organizations such as the Western Region of the NAACP, church- affiliated groups, and the papers of private individuals. Bancroft is also looking afresh at methods of collecting materials related both to old and new immigrant communities in order to reflect the changing nature of California. One such project includes a collaboration with the Pana Institute of the Pacific School of Religion to document the 150th anniversary and architectural renovation of the Presbyterian Church in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

The Environmental Movement in the Twentieth Century
Documentation of the efforts of non-governmental groups to tackle a wide range of environmental issues in the twentieth century is comprehensive. In fact, the environmental collections, especially the records of the Sierra Club, are the Bancroft Library’s most heavily used collections. Resources documenting the Sierra Club international influence include correspondence with founder John Muir (1838-1914); the club’s official records from its founding in 1892; and the personal papers of its executive directors from David Ross Brower to Carl Pope. The Bancroft also possesses photographic collections, including a large body of work by Ansel Adams (1902-1984); oral histories with and papers of leading members and staff of the club; and a comprehensive collection of publications and ephemera. The papers of Joseph LeConte, professor of geology at the University of California, Berkeley and of family members documents the families sustained interest in preservation of the natural environment in California. The Papers of Robert Marshall, one of the principal founders of the Wilderness Society, reveal his commitment to wilderness preservation throughout the West. Also included among the many archival collections held by The Bancroft Library are the Records of Save-the-Redwoods League, Save the Bay, and Earth Island Institute’s Urban Habitat Program.

Personal and Family Papers
H. H. Bancroft’s pioneering efforts in collecting personal and family papers like those of Mariano Vallejo, John and Annie Bidwell, and Charles M. Weber have continued to this day. Later collections, such as those of the Hearst and De Young families, environmentalists Francis (1887-1974) and Marjorie Bridge (1903-1999) Farquhar and David Brower (1912-2000), CIA director John McCone (1902-1991), lawyers and UC Regents Farnham Griffiths (1884-1958) and John Francis Neylan (1885-1960); and shipping magnate Robert Dollar (1880-1962), include a wide range of social, cultural, artistic, educational, and business materials, reflecting the lives and interests of individuals involved in virtually every aspect of human activity in the West. Of particular interest are the papers of women, which reflect not only their familial and private lives but also their public and professional experiences.

Political Collections
Bancroft’s extensive political collections document prominent California politicians from the Mexican period onward. They include the papers of mayors, governors, and U.S. and state senators and representatives from both major parties and many minor ones. Francis J. Heney’s (1859-1937) and Hiram Johnson’s (1866-1945) papers document progressive era politics and the San Francisco graft trials, while those of John W. Stetson (1871-1919) highlight his tenure as president of the Roosevelt Progressive Republican Party. From the mid twentieth century Bancroft holds the papers of Republican Governor Goodwin Knight (1896-1970) and Democratic Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown (1905-1996), and the papers of U. S. Senators William Knowland (1908-1974), Thomas Kuchel (1910-1994), and Alan Cranston (1914-2000).

Women’s Rights and Social Movements
The history of the women’s suffrage movement in California can be explored through oral histories conducted with women activists such as Alice Paul (1885-1977) and Sara Bard Field (1883-1974) as well as through manuscript collections, ephemera, pictorial collections, and a wide variety of printed resources, including government publications. There are also extensive holdings of women’s social clubs, as well as personal and family papers that document their social, cultural, professional and domestic lives. Especially strong are the collections documenting women’s political activism; involvement with the peace movement, consumer advocacy, environmental quality, and social equality and justice.

The social tensions and social activism of the sixties and onward are reflected in a number of collections, especially the Social Protest collection. The Bancroft Library has given particular attention to the Free Speech Movement on the Berkeley campus, the Disability Rights Movement, and activists associated with People’s Park in Berkeley. In addition to the Western Americana collections, the University Archives for the Berkeley campus contains information on many of the campaigns and struggles for social justice.

Guides to Collection

Dale L. Morgan and George P. Hammond. A guide to the manuscript collections of the Bancroft Library. Volume 1, Pacific and Western Manuscripts, except California. Berkeley : Published for the Bancroft Library by the University of California Press, 1963-1972.

Charles Faulhaber and Stephen Vincent, editors. Exploring The Bancroft Library. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Bancroft Library in association with Signature Books, 2006.

Special Bibliographic Files

Bancroft Information File:
The Information File is an index (by name or subject) to some of Bancroft's older printed resources. It includes citations to biographies in some county histories, obituaries, magazine articles, and some manuscripts. Card file in the reading room.

California Information File, 1846-1985:
The California Information File contains citations to information relating to California found in the resource collections of the California State Library. 550 microfiches (Reading Room). See also Users' Guide, by Richard Terry (20 pp.), with call no.: Reference Counter Microfiche 645 Guide (Reading Room).

Bibliography -- Bancroft Library

Building Bancroft: The Evolution of a Library. Berkeley, CA : The Bancroft Library, 1995.

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. Literary Industries. San Francisco: History Co., 1890. The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, v. 39.

Bannon, John Francis. Herbert Eugene Bolton: the Historian and the Man, 1870-1953. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1978.

Becker, Robert H. "Library Resources: The Bancroft Library--Then and Now," California Historical Quarterly, 52:3 (Fall 1973), pp. 267-271.

Caughey, John Walton. Hubert Howe Bancroft, Historian of the West. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1946.

Hammond, George Peter. Reminiscences. Berkeley, CA : G. P. Hammond, 1986.

Hoehn, Philip. "The Cartographic Treasures of The Bancroft Library." The Map Collector, no. 23 (June 1983).

Peterson, Charles S. "Hubert Howe Bancroft: First Western Regionalist." In Richard Etulain, editor, Writing Western History, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002.

Rawls, James J. and Walton Bean. California: An Interpretive History, 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, c1993.

Thwaites, Reuben Gold. The Bancroft Library. A Report Submitted to the President and Regents of the University of California upon the Bancroft Library. Berkeley, Calif.: 1905.

Worcester, Donald E. "Herbert Eugene Bolton: The Making of a Western Historian." In Richard Etulain, editor, Writing Western History, Reno: University of Nevada Press 2002.

Related Special Topics

Newspaper and Periodical Indexes for California

Sanborn Insurance Maps

Biography/Genealogy Sources


For general reference questions relating to The Bancroft Library Western Americana Collection contact Bancroft Reference. The Western Americana Curator, Theresa Salazar, is available by appointment to discuss bibliographical questions, access, and other questions relating to Western Americana books, manuscripts, and library resources in these areas.

Class Presentations

The Western Americana Curator, Theresa Salazar, makes presentations of books, manuscripts, and printing history to classes (usually held in Bancroft's seminar rooms) and may include a review of major bibliographical sources in a particular field. These presentations are designed in consultation with the instructor.


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