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Richard Erdoes papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-2609
Scope and Contents

The Richard Erdoes Papers consist of correspondence, writings, audio and moving image recordings, photographs, subject files, and other materials related to Erdoes’s work with and about American Indian peoples, particularly the Rosebud Lakota. The papers span the years 1920 through 2008, with the bulk of the material dating from the 1960s through 1999. Though materials have been arranged primarily by format and function, subjects and topics represented in the collection transcend this organizational system. For instance, individuals who Erdoes recorded and filmed are frequently documented by images in the collection, and in Erdoes's correspondence or subject files.

The papers contain source materials—recordings, photographs, and subject files—which Erdoes used in his “as-told-to” autobiographies and other works about American Indians. Coupled with drafts of his works in Series II, these materials document Erdoes’s process of recording, transcribing, and compiling his books. The materials present in the collection are valuable not only as a resource for scholars interested in how Erdoes produced his most famous texts, but also for research about the subjects he documented. Erdoes’s relationship with several key figures in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the Red Power movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s allowed him to document important moments in American Indian civil rights history, including the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 and its aftermath. His papers include documents, photographs, posters and other materials related to the trials and imprisonment of Leonard Crow Dog and reveal Erdoes's advocacy efforts on behalf of Crow Dog and other AIM members. American Indian social and political issues are prominent themes in the papers, accompanied by Erdoes's documentation of both the daily life and spiritual practices of the communities and families with whom he worked. The papers are a source for research about twentieth century American Indian spiritual beliefs and traditions; the Native American Church; and American Indian cultural revilization efforts.

Correspondence (Series I.) reveals the Erdoes family's on-going friendships and personal relationships with American Indians, particularly the Crow Dog family, and provides a glimpse of the professional relationships that Erdoes maintained with the editors and publishers of his books. In addition to drafts of many of his works about American Indians and some of this other publishing projects, Series II. Writings includes research notes, film and book proposals, published editions, book reviews, ephemera and other material related to Erdoes's career as an author.

Photographic materials in Series III. consists of tens of thousands of color and black and white images (negatives, 35mm and glass slides, transparencies as well as prints) that Erdoes created or collected. The images primarily document Erdoes's interest and work about the American West and American Indian peoples, but images of his family and various European trips are also present, along with portraits, landscapes, and city scenes that may be representative of Erdoes's commercial work. The images showcase Erdoes's interests and his evolving fascination with different areas and people, tracing his travels and activities over more than forty decades; simultaneously, the organization of the visual materials, with caption information that Erdoes created, reveal connections that Erdoes made among his photographed subjects and in some cases, his understanding of their meaning. In addition to documenting Erdoes's work, the images themselves are a visual resource for the study of American Indian communities-- particularly Navajo (Diné), Pueblo and Lakota communities-- and the American West in the twentieth century. A selection document American Indian civil rights actions and tribal ceremonies. Many of these images are present because of the relationships that Erdoes built with various tribal leaders and medicine men, allowing him access to photograph events that he witnessed and in which he often participated.

Most of the ten 16mm films that comprise the Films series (Series IV.) document the Crow Dog family, recording life and ceremonies on the Rosebud reservation and at Crow Dog's Paradise; footage of Mary Brave Bird and a pan-Indian rights movement gathering are also present. Much of the film is spliced together and unaccompanied by sound.

The recordings in Series V. are a rich trove of audio documentation, consisting of over three hundred individual recordings. Interviews with American Indian individuals, including Erdoes's co-authors, prominent American Indian Movement (AIM) members, elders, and American Indian spiritual and political leaders are present, as are recordings of events, speeches, and ceremonies. Many of the recordings intimately document the perspectives and concerns of twentieth century American Indians in their own words. American Indian spirituality and traditional belief, as well as the practices of the Native American Church, are prominent themes. A Ghost Dance, likely Crow Dog's 1974 Ghost Dance, is particularly well-documented with forty-eight recordings. Other recurring themes include contemporary American Indian social, political, and economic issues, cultural revitalization efforts, and the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Erdoes's subject files (Series VI.) reflect his broad interest in American Indian issues, in particular his interest in contemporary news events. There are substantial subject files associated with Leonard Crow Dog, the American Indian Movement, and the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee. The subject files also contain transcripts of some of the audio recordings Erdoes conducted with his co-authors, and transcribed first-hand accounts of various events. Erdoes appears to have used his subject files as a structure to organize his transcripts topically, interfiling sections from various recordings by subject rather than filing transcripts by interviewee or date. A substantial clippings file is also present, and many of the materials in the subject files bear Erdoes's annotations and highlighter markings.

Erdoes's interest in the social and political landscape of American Indians is further documented by newsletters, magazines, fliers, ephemera, and other published materials present (Series VII.). Among these printed works are publications by European American Indian supporters, the American Indian movement, various tribes and tribal councils, American Indian student groups, and pan-Indian organizations; mainstream magazines profiling Native issues are also present. Many of the publications have an explicitly political angle, capturing the genesis, radicalism, and evolution of the American Indian civil rights movement and late twentieth century tribal revitalization efforts.

The papers include Erdoes's collection of broadsides, posters, and art works (Series VIII.) The series includes posters that Erdoes appears to have created for New York City events, as well as art work by Henry Crow Dog, and a series of drawings that are unattributed, but bear close resemblance to Erdoes's illustration style. Together with the photographic materials, film, and subject files, the posters position the Erdoes Papers as a resource for studying the representation and documentation of twentieth century Native peoples, particularly on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, as well as in Pueblos and other Indian communities in the American Southwest. The posters are also an important companion to the grassroots publications in Series VII; together, these materials showcase American Indian activism and community organization.

The 2010 Addition includes additional writings, photographic material, audiovisual material, posters, ephemera, and artwork that document Erdoes's collaboration with Leonard Crow Dog, Archie Fire Lame Deer, and Dennis Banks, his writings on the American Indian Movement (AIM), and his research on other aspects of Native American culture and history.

Language of Materials

Chiefly in English, with some material in German, Japanese, Italian, French, and Lakota.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 317 (electronic disk): Restricted Fragile Material. Reference copies of electronic files may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Boxes 36-41 (color transparencies): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies are available. Consult Access Services for further information.

Boxes 99-173, 194-199 and 299-313 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Richard Erdoes Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale University purchased Richard Erdoes's copyright in the Papers in 1998, when the Papers were acquired by the Library. The intellectual property rights, including copyright, of individuals who wrote or spoke to Erdoes belong to them or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Richard Erdoes on the Walter McClintock Memorial Fund and the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana, 1998-1999, and from the Estate of Richard Erdoes on the Walter McClintock Memorial Fund, 2010.


Organized into eight series and one addition: I. Correspondence, 1964-1995. II. Writings, 1965-1997. III. Photographic Materials, 1952-1999. IV. Films, circa 1970. V. Audio Recordings, 1964-1996. VI. Subject Files, 1951-1998. VII. Printed Material, 1921-1998. VIII. Posters and Works of Art, 1967. 2010 Addition, 1920-2008.

1920 - 2008
Majority of material found within 1965 - 1998
171.99 Linear Feet ((318 boxes) + 12 cold storage, 5 broadside)
Related Names
Erdoes, Richard, 1912-2008
Language of Materials
Multiple languages
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