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Charles F. Bates papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1314
Scope and Contents

The Charles F. Bates Papers document the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century historiography of General George Armstrong Custer and the Little Big Horn Battle. The papers span the dates 1866 to 1977, but the bulk of material falls in the period 1900 to 1935.

The Charles F. Bates Papers are organized into six series. Series I and II, Bates Correspondence and Godfrey Correspondence, are arranged chronologically; all letters between Bates and Godfrey can be found in Bates Correspondence. Series III, Research Files, contains primary and secondary material related to Custer and his career, the battle of Little Big Horn, and other Indian campaigns of the nineteenth century. This series also contains documents belonging to and about Bates, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, and Edward S. Godfrey. Background Material, Series IV, covers general subjects, such as the American West and the United States Army, which relate to Bates's specific research interests. Series V, Photographs and Illustrations consists of nineteenth-century photographs, illustrations, and reproductions documenting Custer and related subjects. Series VI, Maps, divided into Geographical West and Gettysburg-Antietam, holds original maps and reproductions related to Bates's research.

Series I, Bates Correspondence (Boxes 1-3), consists of letters to Bates, along with his original letters to Edward S. Godfrey. The bulk of the correspondence is devoted to Bates's interest in Custer, with only a small number of business or personal letters. Bates contacted many soldiers who served in the nineteenth-century Indian campaigns, asking for personal narratives or confirmation of specific facts. Godfrey was his most constant correspondent, but Bates also received letters from Charles A. Varnum, R. G. Carter, and Peter Thompson. A Thompson letter of October 1926 contains extracts of his account of the Little Big Horn Battle, but sometime in the past such eyewitness material was separated from the original correspondence and is now found in Series III, Research Files. Bates's attempt to gather eye-witness accounts was greatest during the 1920s and 1930s and includes correspondence with descendants of participants. Effie Custer, a relative of the general, and Charles Moore, sent him genealogical data on the Custer family.

Bates discussed contemporary Custer scholarship and exchanged information with W. J. Ghent, George Bird Grinnell, Robert Bruce, and John Stuart Burrows. Histories of Custer and the massacre, twentieth-century celebrations, and Custer monuments were constant themes of Bates's correspondence with Elizabeth Custer and Godfrey. All three were particularly interested in the Custer Battlefield National Monument, while Bates and Godfrey, a fellow Custer scholar, devoted many letters to Marcus Reno's role in the Little Big Horn Battle. Bates eventually played an active role in settling Elizabeth Custer's estate, as seen in his correspondence for 1936-37 with City Farmers Trust Company. His possession of various Godfrey papers is touched on in letters for 1935.

Series II, Godfrey Correspondence (Boxes 4-7), contains letters to Godfrey and transcripts, made by Bates, of letters by Godfrey. Official army communications and letters from colleagues dominate the files for the 1870s and 1880s. By 1907, when Godfrey retired, his correspondence with old comrades focuses on military associations such as the Order of the Indian Wars, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and the National Indian War Veterans. The letters of Charles Braden, Lewis M. Haupt, Henry Metcalfe, W. J. Roe, and E. H. Ruffner fall into this category. Many of Godfrey's correspondents were important figures in the nineteenth-century cavalry and authorities on Indian expeditions. Bates, who gained possession of Godfrey's letters, annotated many regarding Indian battles. Godfrey himself was an authority on the subject and responded to inquiries from W. M. Camp, George Bird Grinnell, and W. J. Ghent.

Godfrey maintained an extensive correspondence with Elizabeth Custer. She wrote to him as a Custer scholar, but also as a contemporary who shared the same friends and background. As with Bates, Elizabeth Custer filled her letters to Godfrey with reminiscences of Custer and compared these with recent scholarship. They also discussed observances of the Little Big Horn Battle and Custer monuments. Godfrey was particularly concerned with the management of the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery and in 1916 and 1926 communicated with authorities.

Series III, Research Files (Boxes 8-20), consists of primary and secondary material gathered by Bates, and some by Godfrey, as they studied Custer and his career. The majority of the documents are copies, which the Box and Folder List indicates by recording the date of the original in the folder description and listing "n.d." in the date position. Research Files is organized under five individuals (Charles F. Bates, Elizabeth Custer, George Custer, Edward Godfrey, and Marcus Reno) and three subject headings (Nineteenth-Century Army-Indian Campaigns , Reviews of Books on Custer and Little Big Horn, and Custer Monument and Twentieth-Century Observances). Bates's habit of typing his notes and making typescripts of other sources makes it difficult to distinguish his own material from copies of other scholars' works.

The sections concerning individuals are further arranged under the following headings: Official Papers, Correspondence, Personal Papers, Writings, Histories/Biographies, and Other Papers. Official Papers refers to documents of a person's career, while Personal Papers denotes association memberships, financial papers, wills, and related material. Writings contain published works and/or drafts occasionally with notes or related material. Histories/Biographies consist of newspaper and journal articles about the person and his or her work, including book reviews. Other Papers holds family documents and material which does not fit into the other categories. For George Custer and Marcus Reno there are additional sections concerning court investigations.

The section devoted to Bates includes Research Notebooks and Notes, a series of notebooks on Custer, Indian campaigns, the Reno investigation, and related topics. The variety of annotations found in the notebooks suggests Bates made heavy use of them. Most of these notes are in shorthand and contain information on sources, indexes to the material he collected (in particular to the photostats of nineteenth-century newspapers, see Box 10, folder 126), and, most often, extracts or abstracts from primary sources. Bates took extensive notes from the court records of the Reno investigation and many of his Custer notes relate to the general's own trials. Bates gathered information on the Custer family and the disposition of George and Elizabeth Custer's belongings (see Box 8, folder 99-101). Most of his notes on Indian campaigns are taken from official military records.

Series III contains copies of Bates's published works, drafts, and notes. For Custer's Indian Battles (1936), the collection contains typescripts, a mock-up, and published copies. There is also a typescript entitled "The Real Custer," which may be the biography Bates mentions in his correspondence. This work and another piece, "Wedding Bells and Our First Quarrel: from interviews with Elizabeth B. Custer," a holograph manuscript, have been attributed to Bates. Among the Histories/Biographies of Bates is an article by him about the Little Big Horn along with E. A. Brininstool's response (see Box 13, folder 156).

Series III, Research Files, has material by and about Elizabeth Custer. Although her correspondence with Bates and Godfrey can be found in Series I and II, this section contains reproductions, probably made or gathered by Bates, of her letters to and from W. M. Camp and various colleagues of her husband. There is an original 1921 letter by Secretary of War John W. Weeks referring to the Custer Trail and a letter from Elizabeth Custer to Agnes Bates Wellington. Her writings section includes an autographed typescript about Indians.

The George Armstrong Custer section of Series III includes court records and newspaper accounts of his 1867-68 trial. Under correspondence there are letters to I. P. Christiancy and others about his army career, while his writings consist of reports to newspapers on his expeditions. Although most of the histories listed in Series III are copies of originals, within the Histories/Biographies for Custer are original 1864 issues of Harper's Weekly with a series of articles on Custer.

Brigadier General Edward S. Godfrey, who was at the Little Big Horn Battle and later became a Custer scholar, is also represented in Series III, Research Files. There are a few official records from his positions at West Point and as an officer of the 7th Cavalry. His scrapbook, containing newspaper clippings from late nineteenth century, provides information about the army in the Civil War and the West, military figures, current events, his family, and a variety of other topics. His personal papers include association records of the Order of the Indian Wars and the Medal of Honor Legion. Speeches regarding nineteenth-century campaigns are published in the programs of Proceedings of the Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Order of the Indian Wars. The membership lists in these programs give some biographical information on the cavalry officers. There are galleys of Godfrey's most significant Custer work, "Custer's Last Battle," and a holograph draft entitled "A Citizen's Army," which may be by Godfrey. A long and detailed biography of Godfrey can be found in Box 15, folder 210.

Marcus Reno was a major research topic for Bates because of the 1879 investigation of his role in the Little Big Horn Battle. Bates collected contemporary newspaper accounts of the trial and took extensive notes from the court records. This material on Reno can be found both in Notes and Notebooks in the Bates section of Research Files and in the Marcus Reno section of that series.

The next major section of Series III, Research Files, concerns nineteenth-century army campaigns in the West. This section is divided by year, and within each year primary research material precedes secondary. A general chronological arrangement is used wherever possible. Almost all of the papers are reproductions of originals, which is indicted by listing the date of the original in the folder description and "n.d." in the date column. Army orders-communications contain copies of official orders and letters between officers. Contemporary newspaper accounts refers to articles on army expeditions appearing in nineteenth-century New York and Chicago newspapers, while Army-Government Reports denote official accounts. Personal accounts by participants covers a range of material including diaries, interviews, reminiscences, and narratives solicited by Bates. There are statements by both soldiers and Native Americans. Histories consist mostly of journal articles, with some newspaper articles. Other Papers and Miscellaneous contains material, such as fictional accounts, which does not fit into the above categories. The 1868 Washita expedition and 1876 Little Big Horn expedition are the most fully documented campaigns. The primary sources include Charles F. Roe's 1910 account of the Little Big Horn, L. R. Hare's 1929 letter about the battle, and E. A. Brininstool's publication of F. W. Benteen's account. Officers often went on to write histories, such as William Graham's "The Story of Little Big Horn" (1926) and Roe's "Custer's Last Stand" (1926). At the end of Nineteenth-Century Army-Indian Campaigns is material on the campaigns in general, Indians, and the Seventh Cavalry.

The last two sections of Series III, Reviews of Books on Custer and Little Big Horn and Custer Monument and Twentieth-Century Observances consist mostly of twentieth-century newspaper articles. The reviews are organized chronologically. The articles in the last section document the construction of the Custer Battlefield National Monument, and twentieth- century perceptions of Custer and the Little Big Horn massacre.

Series IV, Background Material (Boxes 21-22), contains information related to Bates's research work on Custer, such as histories of the Civil War and the west and biographies of military figures. Within the histories of the U.S. Army is the 1904 army publication Medals of Honor Issued by the War Department, which not only contains biographical information on nineteenth-century military figures, but has been annotated for officers involved in the Little Big Horn Battle (see Box 22, folder 330). The 1926-39 issues of Winners of the West, a bimonthly publication for veterans of the Indian wars, present many articles on the army in the nineteenth-century west.

Series V, Photographs and Illustrations (Boxes 23-24), is arranged under subject groupings focusing first on Bates, the Custer family, and other people, and then on places and events. Although the material is mostly reproductions of nineteenth-century photographs or illustrations, there is a tintype portrait of Elizabeth Custer (see Box 23, folder 341) and a series of photoprints of the Custer family and friends from the 1860s and 1870s. The collection also contains three original stereograph cards of Custer's 1874 Yellowstone expedition, one autographed by the general, and photoreproductions of those cards (see Box 24, folder 381-82). The section Battle Images documents the artistic rendering of the Custer massacre.

Series VI, Maps (Box 25), divided into Geographical West and Gettysburg-Antietam and arranged chronologically, can be considered part of Bates's research material. Many of the maps were produced by the army corps of engineers, and two show evidence of use during expeditions (see the Raynolds map, Box 25, folder 394, and Godfrey's map Box 25, folder 399). There are several editions of a Montana and Dakota map produced by Raynolds in 1859-60, including the original and the 1877 revision by Gillespie. Two 1874 maps of Wyoming show the topographical and geological features of the region. Other maps produced by the army include a 1891 map of the Department of Dakota, a reproduction of a manuscript map of the Big Horn Expedition, and a manuscript map of the White River Country in Missouri sketched around 1890 for General Godfrey.

The restricted fragile papers in Box 31 consist of originals for which preservation photocopies have been made.

Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: Oversize, maps

Conditions Governing Access

Box 31: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Charles F. Bates 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

The papers were purchased from Roger Wolcott Bates in 1980 with income from the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana and Library Associates funds.

15.5 Linear Feet (31 boxes)
Related Names
Bates, Charles Francis, 1862-1944
Language of Materials