Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Western America Collection, 1820-ca. 1898

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, February 2011

Summary Information
Title: Western America collection
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1820-ca. 1898
Extent: 39 items
The Western America collection is a group of miscellaneous individual items relating to the settlement of the western United States, including present-day Wisconsin, California, Oregon, and Missouri.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

M-2032 et al.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Western America Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically, with undated items at the end.


In the mid-19th century, American settlers increasingly moved west in search of plentiful land and economic opportunities. The popularity of the Oregon Trail and the California Gold Rush in particular brought thousands of easterners to the west coast.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Western America collection contains 39 miscellaneous individual items relating to the settlement of the western part of the United States, including present-day Wisconsin, Missouri, Oregon, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The items span 1820 to ca. 1898, with the bulk of materials concentrated around the 1840s and 1850s. They pertain to numerous topics related to western expansion, and include descriptions of growing towns, discussions of economic opportunities and hardships, references to social customs and mores on the frontier, and scattered mentions of relations with Native Americans.

A few items of note include:

  • A letter of May 20, 1832, discussing the Black Hawk War, murder by a prostitute and community backlash against her, and the tarring and feathering of an African American man.
  • A description of the Oregon Territory by a recent female settler [ca. 1838].
  • A frustrated miner's description of his bad luck in Placerville, California [ca. 1851].
  • A letter from Santa Clara, California, concerning the love affair of a miner's wife, and the husband's subsequent abandonment of her and their child with the remark that "such is life in Cal." (June 26-28, 1854)
  • A July 15, 1876, description of Geneva, Minnesota, including its ethnic mix, farming prospects, and food.
  • A May 21, 1889, letter from a woman to her husband describing the cable-cars and schools of San Francisco, California.
Subject Terms

    • African Americans--West (U.S.)
    • California--History--1850-1950.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--West (U.S.)
    • Geneva (Minn.)
    • Miners--California.
    • Indians of North America--West (U.S.)
    • Land settlement--West (U.S.)
    • Oregon Territory--History.
    • San Francisco (Calif.)
    • United States--Discovery and exploration.
    • United States--History--19th century.
    • United States--Territorial expansion.
    • West (U.S.)--Description and travel.
    • West (U.S.)--History.
    • West (U.S.)--Social life and customs--19th century.
    • Wisconsin--History--19th century.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1  
    Western America collection,  1820-ca. 1898 [series]