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George Bird Grinnell papers

Call Number: MS 1388

Scope and Contents

The George Bird Grinnell Papers consist of letterpress copybooks, correspondence, subject files, and other papers documenting the life and work of George Bird Grinnell, particularly his pioneering efforts in the American conservation movement. The papers highlight Grinnell's interest in wildlife preservation and the American West and its Indians and his role as a prolific author of books and articles on these subjects. While the papers date from 1859, they contain relatively little material from Grinnell's family, childhood, student days, years teaching at Yale, and first years with Forest and Stream.The bulk of the material represents Grinnell's career from his mid-thirties until the end of his life.

Grinnell left the bulk of these papers to John P. Holman of Fairfield, Connecticut, the president of the Connecticut Audubon Society, who gave them to that society. When John Reiger, who had done extensive research on Grinnell, became president of the Connecticut Audubon Society, he, with the encouragement of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Audubon Society, arranged for the transfer of these papers to the Yale University Library in 1984. Other material received from Reiger and through purchase was added to the papers in 1988 and 1989.

The George Bird Grinnell Papers are arranged in forty-one boxes. They are organized in two series.

Series I. which is the larger of the two, contains copies of Grinnell's outgoing letters, in the form of letterpress copybooks. These include Grinnell's personal letterpress copybooks from 1886-1929, as well as scattered editorial and business letterbooks forForest and Streamfrom 1895-1905. Series II includes incoming letters to Grinnell as well as topical files, photographs, copies of Grinnell's writings, notebooks, clippings, and other papers relating to Grinnell's life.

The letterbooks in Series I include thirty-eight volumes containing copies of Grinnell's outgoing letters. A few of the letters in these letterbooks are handwritten copies of outgoing letters, but the vast majority of the copies were created by wetting the original letter and pressing it against the thin tissue pages. In the process of making such a copy, letters were often blurred, smudged, and crumbled. Poorly made copies are faint and many are illegible. The fragile pages in the volumes have been wrinkled and torn.

The letters in each volume are arranged in chronological order, but an index at the beginning of each volume provides access to these letters by recipient. The personal letterbooks contain letters to numerous individuals and organizations active in conserving natural resources, preserving American wildlife, and protecting the rights and welfare of native Americans. Additional letters concern the history and literature of the American West.

Recipients of Grinnell's letters include government officials, politicians, Indian agents, and colleagues from various organizations in the conservation movement. The letterbooks contain frequent letters to Edward Salisbury Dana, George Gould, Madison Grant, Charles Hallock, Ripley Hitchcock, William Hornaday, Joseph Kipp, Francis E. Leupp, Othniel C. Marsh, Frank and Luther North, Theodore Roosevelt, James W. Schultz, Charles Sheldon, George Shiras, III, Owen Wister, and A. J. Woodcock. Grinnell also wrote to the many Indian leaders and chiefs whom he had met in his western travels including Bear Chief, Bull Calf, and Tall Bull.

Grinnell's letters also record the founding, development, administration, and policy disputes of several organizations associated with the conservation of the American West and its Indian population and with the preservation of game animals and other forms of wildlife. Letters to officers and members of the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, the Indian Rights Association, the National Audubon Society, and the National Parks Association are relevant to those researching the history of these organizations. Letters to officials in the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior contain discussions of government policy on these issues.

The letterbooks forForest and Streamare far less inclusive than the volumes of personal letters; they do not cover the entire period of Grinnell's editorship. The volumes labelled editorial (1895-1896, 1901-1902) contain copies of letters relating to the policy, content, and development of the journal, while those labelled as business (1900-1905) contain material relating to the financial operations of the publication.

The papers in Series II are arranged in three sections:Correspondence, Subject files,andOther papers. CorrespondenceandSubject filesboth include incoming letters as well as unbound letters written by Grinnell. Grinnell filed many substantive letters in files relating to topics of interest. In total, however, the quantity of incoming letters is minute in proportion to the number of letters in the letterbooks. It is obvious from examining drafts of writings and sheets of notes that Grinnell used some of his incoming letters by drafting on the back sides. That alone, however, does not explain the vast difference in quantity. The files represent only a very selective view of Grinnell's entire career, but they highlight some of his most important contributions.

TheCorrespondencesection begins with several folders of letters arranged in chronological order. These letters are of a fairly general nature and seldom are there more than one or two letters from any particular individual. The correspondence following is more substantive and is arranged according to correspondent's name. The listing for this material also includes cross-references to correspondence from the same individual, which is filed in the subject files.

The listing of correspondence filed by correspondent name includes many names previously cited as recipients of Grinnell's letters. Included are several western men such as T. E. Hofer, J. B. Monroe, the North Brothers, and A. C. Stohr, who wrote to Grinnell concerning his western travels and to keep him abreast of conditions in their states. John R. Eddy, who was in Montana as an agent of the United States Indian Service, wrote many letters concerning the condition of Indians in his area. Other correspondents' letters concern the policies of various conservation organizations or legislation to protect land animals. Among these are John B. Burnham, William T. Hornady, William E. Mershon, Barrington Moore, Charles Sheldon, George Shiras, III, and Robert Sterling Yard.

Files also exist for correspondence received from conservation organizations such as the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, the National Association of Audubon Societies, and the National Parks Association and from publishers of Grinnell's books and book dealers interested in locating books of special interest to Grinnell. These files also include a few early letters by Grinnell to his parents and two letters from William Ludlow inviting Grinnell to join the ill-fated Custer expedition of 1876.

The sectionSubject filesincludes letters, printed material, notes, photographs, and drafts and copies of Grinnell's writings arranged by topic. The folder titles are fairly general but often refer to a subject on which Grinnell wrote or an activity in which Grinnell was deeply involved. For example, several folders have titles relating to specific animals, such as "Birds," "Elk," or "Goat." These folders may include writings by Grinnell on the animal as well as background material and notes. Folders such as "Alaska game bill" or "Migratory bird legislation" focus more specifically on efforts to protect wildlife and may contain significant correspondence from individuals and organizations active in promoting protective legislation. Several files concern Grinnell's involvement in preserving national parks.

Files on "West" and "Indians" while quite general in scope contain much correspondence from western acquaintances and from several Indian friends. Grinnell's writings on specific subjects can be found in files such as "Audubon family; Audubon Society," "Bent family; Bent's Old Fort," and "Sheldon, Charles" along with correspondence giving background information on these subjects. Certain files, including "Fraser, George C.," "Marsh expedition," and "Marsh Island," also contain information on Grinnell's travels.

The sectionOther papersincludes material organized by type. The clippings, notes, writings, and photographs included in the section are similar to the materials inSubject filesbut could not be classified to a single subject. Some of the material such as biographical data, certificates, and clippings about Grinnell is more personal than material in the subject files. Also included in this section is a typescript of a memoir which Grinnell wrote in 1915. The essay covers his life through the year 1883. Other material such as index cards and notebooks concerns many subjects. Drafts of Grinnell's writings, for which there was no other subject file, have been arranged in this section, as have bibliographies for Grinnell's books and articles inForest and Stream.Similarly, photographs which could not be identified according to subject are included in this section. For both writings and photographs the listing includes references to folders inSubject fileswhich include additional records of this type.


  • 1859-1939


Conditions Governing Access

The entire collection is available on microfilm. Patrons must use HM 223 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

Entire collection is also available on microfilm (46,383 frames on 47 reels, 35mm.) from Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware. HM 223

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from the Connecticut Audubon Society, 1984, and Charles Apfelbaum, 1989. Gift of John F. Reiger, 1984 and 1989. Gift of the Connecticut Audubon Society, 1991.


Arranged in two series and one addition: I. Letterbooks, 1886-1929. II. Correspondence, Subject files, and other papers, 1859-1939.


16.5 Linear Feet (42 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers, which consist of letterbooks, correspondence, and subject files, including photographs and writings, document George Bird Grinnell's leading role in the American conservation movement. The material focuses on Grinnell's adult life (1886-1938) and details his work as editor of Forest and Stream magazine, authority on American Indians of the West, and active participant in the National Audubon Society, the Boone and Crockett Club, the American Game Protective and Propagation Association, and the National Parks Association.

Biographical / Historical

George Bird Grinnell was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 20, 1849. He received his B.A. degree from Yale University in 1870 and did graduate work there under O. C. Marsh, receiving his Ph.D. in 1880. From 1876 until 1911 Grinnell was associated with "Forest and Stream" magazine, becoming editor-in-chief in 1880. Grinnell was active in several organizations instrumental in conserving the American West and protecting wildlife. He was also an authority on the Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Pawnee Indians, and a prolific writer on Indian folklore and life, as well as on subjects relating to conservation. Grinnell died on April 11, 1938, in New York City.

For more information, consult: Dictionary of American Biography,Vol XXII, Supplement Two., or see additional information available in the repository.

Guide to the George Bird Grinnell Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Diane E. Kaplan
December 1990
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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