James A. Clifton was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 6, 1927, the son of A. P. and Katherine Clifton. James was raised in Chicago, Illinois.
From 1942 through 1946, James A. Clifton served as a merchant seaman. He participated in the June 6, 1944 D-Day Invasion of Normandy. Clifton also served in the U. S. Marine Corps as an infantry officer during the Korean War, and later in Japan.
During his military service, Clifton developed an interest in other cultures. He earned a Ph. B. at the University of Chicago (1950), a M.A. in Anthropology at San Francisco State University (1957), and a Ph. D., also in Anthropology, at the University of Oregon (1960). During his academic career, Prof. Clifton taught at the universities of Oregon, Colorado, Kansas, Chile, Wisconsin-Green Bay (UW-GB), and Prescott College. He retired from the UW-GB, where he was the Frankenthal Professor of Anthropology, in 1990. After he retired, Professor Clifton was associated with Western Michigan University as an Adjunct Professor and Scholar-in-Residence. He was also an Adjunct Professor at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico, Virginia.
While at UW-GB, Professor Clifton also directed the University Year for Action Program, which serviced the needs of Wisconsin Native American communities in such areas as alcohol abuse, education, health and economic and community development.
Professor Clifton was mainly interested in the Native Americans of the U. S. and Canada as his primary research topics, although he also researched the peoples of Micronesia and Chile. During his academic career, Professor Clifton conducted field research in Native American communities in Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Canada. He was recognized as a leading authority on the ethno-history of Native Americans of the Great Lakes-Ohio Valley region. Since 1964, Professor Clifton served frequently as an expert witness in treaty rights cases in federal courts, where he testified for Native American communities and state and local governments.
Also during his career, Professor Clifton wrote a dozen books and had over 150 articles and essays published in various professional journals.
On December 20, 1947, Professor Clifton married Faye Gilmore. Together they had four children: Margaret “Peggy” Ruth, Peter James, Catherine Faye, and Douglas William Clifton.
After being diagnosed with cancer, Professor Clifton contacted several institutions which had large Native American research collections and invited them to come and collect materials of his that were of interest to them. Thus, Professor Clifton’s collection was divided up among the institutions whose staff members showed up with trucks to haul various parts of the collection away. The Clarke Historical Library’s staff (Director Frank Boles, Public Services Librarian Evelyn Leasher, and Archivist Marian Matyn) made a total of four trips to collect and remove hundreds of Professor Clifton’s books and all of his manuscript research collection (48 cubic feet), and his note cards (another 48 boxes). The books, maps, and other published materials have been cataloged separately.
Additional artifacts collected by Professor Clifton are in a separate museum collection at Western Michigan University.
Professor Clifton died on July 20, 2000 at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was preceded in death by his parents, three brothers and two sisters. He was survived by his wife, four children, two grandchildren, a brother, and many nieces and nephews. (This information is from the biographical material and obituary in this collection.)