Guide to the John McAdam Webster Papers

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Overview of the Collection

Creator: Webster, John McAdam
Title: John McAdam Webster Papers
Dates: 1869-1917 ( inclusive )
Quantity: 3 containers. (1.5 linear feet of shelf space.) (830 items.)
Collection Number: Cage 145
Summary: Correspondence; land sales affidavits, depositions and statements; Indian census reports, 1906, 1910; clippings, photographs and other papers re: Agency affairs on the Colville and Spokane Reservations.
Repository: Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections.
Contact Information: Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
100 Dairy Road
Terrell Library 5610
Pullman WA
Telephone: 509-335-6691
Languages: Collection materials are in English 
Sponsor: Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical Note

John McAdam Webster was born January 22, 1849 at Warrenton, Ohio, but was reared in Steubenville. During the Fall of 1862 the senior Webster was killed during the Union invasion of Kentucky. John McAdam Webster, in part seeking revenge for the death of his father, joined the 197th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and served from April to July, 1865. He was commissioned a second lieutenant though only 16 years of age.

Webster followed up his field service with an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in September, 1865. His stay there was somewhat longer than usual due to ill health. He was graduated thirty-third in a class of forty-one in June 1871 and was immediately commissioned a second lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry Regiment which was on frontier duty.

While the regiment was stationed at Fort Mackinac, Michigan, Webster married Rose S. Van Allen in 1874. Promotions were few and far between; Webster had to wait until 1879 for promotion to 1st lieutenant and 1891 to make captain. All during these years Webster served with quiet distinction in staff positions at several posts.

A freak accident in 1895 resulted in a spinal jury which restricted the use of Webster’s right leg. He was thus on sick leave most of the time after August, 1895. Unable to partake fully in Army life Webster requested retirement and in December, 1898, he left the service taking up residence in Steubenville, Ohio. However in 1904, upon the recommendation of the commander of the Army, Webster was appointed by the Interior Department to serve as Superintendent at the Colville Indian Agency. He begrudgingly took the unsolicited appointment.

Webster served in this position with an awareness and sensitivity to Indian problems shown by few other agents. He generally took a paternalistic posture toward the Indians and attempted to foster education among them. He carried out his duties with the upmost scrupulousness (one of the reasons for which he had been selected). At times his desire to protect his wards outweighed his normal caution thus bringing wrath of the Interior Department down on his head. The question of how far an agent should go in protecting the interests of the Indians on the reservation brought about Webster’s first resignation in February, 1912. He left for Mackinac Island in April.

This resignation may have been prompted not only by policy questions but by a combination of ill health and a desire to write his memories. But in February, 1913, he returned to eastern Washington as superintendent of the Spokane Reservation. This new position would not last long due to continued ill health, administration problems, and a lack of all Indian support for his policies. Thus, in May, 1914, Captain Webster and his wife finally left the Indian Service and retired to their home at Mackinac Island, Michigan. Webster lived there until his death on October 15, 1921. His wife survived until 1938.

Content Description

The central core of the papers is the correspondence relating to Webster’s work as superintendent at the colville and later Spokane Reservations. This core is supported by additional materials such as Indian affidavits and depositions on land sales, census reports, clippings, and photographs.

The correspondence represents the wide and varied problems Webster was faced with during his tenure in office. These problems ranged for giving "fatherly"advice to Indians having marital problems to uncovering white men tryping to defraud the Indians out of their inheritances. All these situations are reflected in the over 700 items which make up the papers of Caption John McAdam Webster.

Use of the Collection

Restrictions on Access :  

This collection is open for research use.

Preferred Citation :  

[Item Description]. Cage 145, John McAdam Webster Papers . Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

Administrative Information

Arrangement :

The Webster Papers are arranged chronologically within folders in three series: Correspondence; Reports; and Photographs, clippings and other papers.

Acquisition Information :  

The John McAdam Webster Papers were acquired by Professor Herman J. Deutsch for the Washington State University Library over the period 1951 to 1954 from O. W. Lang of Mackinac Island, Michigan. Mackinac Island was the final home of Webster and his wife and his papers were found in an old chest at their home – "Island House." These papers were designated the Webster papers and were processed ca. 1960.

Bibliography :  

    Additional information concerning John McAdam Webster may be found in Delbert Keith Clear’s unpublished Master’s thesis Captain John McAdam Webster, Indian Agent 1904-1914: A Decade of Honorable Service completed at Washington State University in 1962. One should also consult The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun by Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown (1970).

Related Materials :  

Additional material related to this collection is available in the Washington State University Library: The W.P. Winans Papers ( Cage 147), the John A. Simms Papers ( Cage 213), and the Colville Indian Agency Records ( Cage 2053).

Detailed Description of the Collection

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Accession and processing file, 1951-1960
3 items.
1 / 1

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Series 1: Correspondence
1 / 2 undated
18 items.
1 / 3 1869-1903
65 items.
1 / 4 1904-1905
45 items.
1 / 5 1906
142 items.
1 / 6 1907
89 items.
2 / 7 1908-1910
72 items.
2 / 8 1911
31 items.
2 / 9 1912
77 items.
2 / 10 1913-1914
44 items.

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Series 2: Reports and Statements
2 / 11 Census reports on Colville Indian Tribes for 1906 and 1910.
11 items.
2 / 12 Statements, affidavits, and depositions relative to the sale or transference of allotment lands on the Colville Reservation, 1898-1914.
37 items.

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Series 3: Photographs, Clippings, and other Papers
2 / 13 Photographs of Captain Webster, Indians, the Indian School on the reservation, and an Indian burial.
25 items.
2 / 14 Speech delivered by Webster to an Indian seminar in Seattle, 1909
1 item.
2 / 15 Mementos and invitations
9 items.
3 / 16 Clippings, 1904-1914
75 items.
3 / 17 Notebooks, 1905-1913
6 items.
3 / 18 Photocopies of pension records and biographical information on Webster, donated by Delbert K. Clear in 1962., 1865-1938
3 items.
3 / 19 Photocopies from the National Archives, Washington, D. C. about the 1908 Spokane Council. Council, memorandum on the Council by Webster.

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This collection is indexed under the following headings in the online catalog. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

  • Personal Names :
  • Webster, John McAdam, 1849-1921. --Archives  ( creator)
  • Corporate Names :
  • Colville Indian Reservation (Wash.)
  • Colville Indians--Government relations
  • Spokane Indian Reservation (Wash.)
  • Spokane Indians--Government relations
  • United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs Colville Agency  ( creator)
  • United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs Spokane Agency  ( creator)
  • Subject Terms :
  • Indians of North America--Washington (State)--Government relations

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