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Samuel Ryan Curtis Papers

Call Number: WA MSS 122-125

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of General Curtis' intimate letters to his wife and children written at frequent intervals when he was away from them, as well as letters written to Curtis by his wife and sons. The collection also contains Curtis' official correspondence, with copies of orders, telegrams, etc., dating from his service in the Mexican and Civil Wars and on the Indian Commission which made treaties with the Sioux.

The papers consist of 416 items and are arranged in four sections. The first section (WA MSS 122) consists of autobiographical material from the years 1846-60 and includes such items as family letters and papers covering Curtis' service in the Mexican War, Curtis' work on engineering projects in Iowa and Missouri, and his term in Congress as representative from Iowa. Some of the material deals with Curtis' efforts on behalf of the Pacific Railroad. A letter to Secretary of War John Buchanan Floyd is located in this first section.

The second section (WA MSS 123) consists of letters written during the years 1858-60. This correspondence concerns the discovery of gold in Colorado, specifically Samuel Stephen Curtis' experiences going to Colorado by ox team, his experiences prospecting and trading at Cherry Creek, the early settlement of Auraria and Denver, and the attempt to establish Jefferson Territory.

The third section (WA MSS 124) consists of material from the Civil War period, 1861-65, and includes official correspondence of Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis, of the Departments of Missouri, Kansas, and the Northwest, as well as field orders, telegrams, reports, and other military papers of Major Samuel Stephen Curtis while serving with the Colorado Volunteers, and the military papers of Henry Zarah Curtis. Family letters from the period 1861-65 are included in this section. (A letter, dated April 29, 1908, and addressed to J. L. Davenport, acting commissioner of pensions, is included as well). Printed forms found in this section are of interest as examples of early printing in the West.

The fourth and final section (WA MSS 125) includes papers from the years 1865-66 which concern Montana and the Dakota Territory, the Indian Commission, and the survey of the Union Pacific Railroad.

A series of letters of General Curtis, including official correspondence and letters to his wife, has been edited and published in Annals of Iowa, 1942, 3d Ser. XXIV. The originals of those letters are not in the Coe Collection but supplement those for the years 1861-62. The official reports of the Indian Commission are printed in the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1865, pp. 537-42, and 1866, pp. 168-76.

The following detailed list of papers in the collection can also be found on pp. 50-55 of A Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Collection of Western Americana in the Yale University Library, Mary C. Withington, ed.


  • 1846-1866


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Samuel Ryan Curtis Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Please consult the appropriate curator.


1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection contains correspondence between Gen. S. R. Curtis and his family while in military service or on engineering jobs, his official correspondence with copies of orders, telegrams, and other military papers while serving in the Mexican and Civil Wars, as Indian Commissioner to make treaties with the Sioux in Montana and Dakota and while working on the Union Pacific Railroad. Family letters also record Samuel Stephen Curtis's experiences prospecting in California, 1858-60.


Samuel Ryan Curtis was born in New York State on February 3, 1805 and moved with his family to Licking County, Ohio, in 1809. After graduation from West Point in 1831, he was sent to Fort Gibson with the 7th Infantry. On November 3, 1831, Curtis married Belinda Buckingham of Mansfield. In the summer of 1832, he resigned his commission, returned to Ohio, was employed as an engineer on the construction of the National Road, and took up the study of law. After service in the Mexican War, he went to Iowa as chief engineer for improvements in the Des Moines River, was city engineer of St. Louis, and became interested in railroading. He represented the First Congressional District of Iowa from 1856 to 1861, interesting himself especially in the promotion of the Pacific Railroad. He resigned his seat in Congress in August, 1861, to report for duty to Major General Frémont at St. Louis. He commanded the victorious Union Army at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in 1862, and, as a result, was given command of the Department of Missouri. Curtis was later removed on account of friction between civil and military authorities. In 1864, he was assigned to command the Department of Kansas and in 1865 was sent to the Department of the Northwest. After the Civil War, he was one of the commissioners to treat with the Indians along the Missouri, and also served on the commission to examine and report on the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. While engaged on this survey, he died at Council Bluffs in 1866.

Both of General Curtis' sons served in the Civil War. Major Henry Zarah Curtis was assistant adjutant general on his father's staff while the latter was in command of the Department of Missouri. He was later transferred to General Blunt's staff in Kansas. He was killed in 1863 by guerrillas under Quantrill. A second son, Samuel Stephen Curtis, was aide-de-camp on his father's staff during the campaign in Arkansas and major of the 2d Colorado Regiment.

Processing Information

This finding aid, created before the advent of computer-generated files, has been converted into a ASCII data file by means of scanning and Optical Character Recognition software. While attempts have been made to retain the complete information from the original document, a number of format changes have been made to present the structure of this archive in accordance with current practice.

Guide to the Samuel Ryan Curtis Papers
Under Revision
by Beinecke Staff
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2010-02-10: Transformed with yale.addEadidUrl.xsl. Adds @url with handle for finding aid. Overwrites @url if already present.
  • 2007-08-13: beinecke.curtis.xml converted for compliance with Yale EAD Best Practice Guidelines with brbl-migrate-01.xsl (mr2007-08-13).
  • 2007-03-08: PUBLIC "-//Yale University::Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library//TEXT (US::CtYBR::::[SAMUEL RYAN CURTIS PAPERS ])//EN" "curtis.xml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).

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Access Information

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