- Collection Overview
- Collection Description & Creator Information
- Access & Use
- Collection History
- Find Related Materials
- Courtenay, William, 1832-1901
- William Courtenay Papers
- Manuscripts Division
- Permanent URL:
- 1850-1965 (mostly 1870-1897)
- 1 box
- Storage Note:
- Firestone Library (scamss): Box B-001454
The collection consists of documents, correspondence, photographs, and other papers of William Courtenay (1832-1901), an English settler, veteran of the American Civil War, and frontier businessman who held positions in the United States Department of the Interior as postmaster, clerk, and Indian Agent at Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, from 1874 to 1882. These materials document conditions at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and are of particular interest for their documentation of frontier transactions, corruption and mismanagement within the reservation system, and the relationships between the people of the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara), the Sioux people, and white settlers.
Collection Description & Creator Information
The collection consists of documents, correspondence, photographs, and other papers of William Courtenay (1832-1901), an English settler, veteran of the American Civil War, and frontier businessman who held positions in the United States Department of the Interior as postmaster, clerk, and Indian Agent at Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, from 1874 to 1882. These materials provide insight into the daily happenings and systemic issues at the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, and are of particular interest for their documentation of frontier transactions, corruption and mismanagement within the reservation system, and the relationships between the people of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Sioux people, and white settlers during the late 19th century.
Materials created by Courtenay span from 1850 to 1897, though most date to Courtenay's years at Fort Berthold. Initially a fur trading post and then an army outpost, Fort Berthold became the Indian Agency for the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa (also referred to in these documents as Gros Ventre), and Arikara, in 1868. It was made part of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in 1870, but the United States government flooded the fort's original site when they constructed the Garrison Dam in 1947-1953 and destroyed the traditional grazing and hunting lands of the indigenous population. This portion of the collection is notable for its documentation of conditions at Fort Berthold in the 1870s and 1880s from the perspective of indigenous inhabitants. Highlights include an eight-page report with testimony by Gros Ventre Chief Lean Wolf (also known as Chief Poor Wolf) relating to poor treatment of Native Americans and Sioux violence; a series of letters from Gros Ventre Wolf Chief to William Courtenay and his wife discussing his people's poverty, distrust of a new Indian Agent, and other struggles, many due to corruption by government agents. Additional perspectives can be found in Courtenay's postmaster letterpress copybook, which details activity at Fort Berthold and contains additional accounts of corruption and theft of provisions by white families. Documents in this collection attest to the fact that the Three Affiliated Tribes suffered greatly at the agency due to inadequate military protection, violence from the Sioux people who distrusted the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara due to their history of cooperation with white settlers, meager food rations, and the corruption of government officials and traders.
Courtney's personal papers include photographs, additional correspondence with family members and others, poetry and other narrative writings that often reflect on his travels and professional career, legal documents, clippings, ephemera, and lists and catalogs related to his collection and sale of Native American cultural objects, many of which he acquired from Fort Berthold. There are also a small number of later materials dating from after Courtenay's death in 1901 to 1965 which were added to the collection by family members who were researching Courtenay's life. These include genealogical writings, letters, and printed materials about Courtenay that were collected by members of the Terrett family.
Arranged into two file groups: Fort Berthold Papers; and Personal and Family Papers.
- Collection Creator Biography:
Courtenay, William, 1832-1901
William Courtenay (1832-1901) was an English settler who was born in London and came to the American West during the mid 19th century. After living briefly in Buffalo, New York, and Chicago, Illinois, Courtenay enlisted in the military and served in Company H of the Thirteenth Regiment of the United States Infantry during the American Civil War. He served for three years beginning in 1864 and was honorably discharged in 1867. After the war, Courtenay settled in Fort Benton, Montana, where he entered business gathering wood for the steamboats that traversed the Missouri River and established himself as a trader with Native Americans. He was appointed by the United States government as postmaster of Fort Berthold Indian Agency in September 1874, and then as the reservation's Indian Agent in 1879. Courtenay married Fannie Patterson on July 19, 1880, and the couple moved to Miles City, Montana, in 1882, where Courtenay became a successful businessman in livestock, real estate, and fire insurance. Courtenay also professed an interest in Native American cultures and amassed a large collection of indigenous cultural objects and other items during his lifetime. William and Fannie Courtenay had four children, Marguerite, Mae, Pansy, and Stella.
Purchased from Cowan's Auction in November 2019 (AM 2020-48).
No materials were removed from the collection during 2020 processing beyond routine appraisal practices.
- Processing Information
This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in January 2020. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in January 2020.
Access & Use
- Conditions Governing Access
Open for research.
- Conditions Governing Use
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.
- Credit this material:
William Courtenay Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library
- Permanent URL:
- Firestone LibraryOne Washington RoadPrinceton, NJ 08544, USA(609) 258-3184
- Storage Note:
- Firestone Library (scamss): Box B-001454
- Subject Terms:
- Arikara Indians -- History -- 19th century.
Dakota Indians -- History -- 19th century.
Hidatsa Indians -- History -- 19th century.
Indian agents -- West (U.S.) -- Correspondence.
Indigenous peoples of North America -- Government relations -- 1869-1934.
Mandan Indians -- History -- 19th century.
- Genre Terms:
- Correspondence -- 19th century
Letterpress copybooks -- 19th century.
Photographs -- 19th century.
Testimonies -- 19th century.
- United States. Office of Indian Affairs
United States. Office of Indian Affairs. Fort Berthold Agency
- Fort Berthold Indian Reservation (N.D.)
Miles City (Mont.)
Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota