Kelly Riddle is the Digital Projects Coordinator at LA County Library.
First, tell us about your documents.
The letters in this collection were written by many different individuals in California to the federal Office of Indian Affairs between 1849 and 1880. Federal and state government officials and private citizens wrote to the Office, headquartered in Washington, D.C., about interactions with California Indians to keep the Office informed about the status of the developments in the governance of Indian affairs in California. What's really intriguing about these letters is the time that they were written: California was granted statehood in 1850, just after the Gold Rush. The state became a major attraction for non-native settlers practically overnight, so these letters depict a turbulent and often violent time as various culture clashed and the U.S. government worked to impose its rule over California Indians. The letters were digitized from a collection of microfilm held by our American Indian Resource Center, which houses special collections related to American Indians in the Los Angeles area and in California more broadly.
What are your goals for the project?
The collection contains over 5300 handwritten letters, so our main goal is to make this large amount of content more accessible. Full-text transcription of the letters will really open them up to use for students, researchers, and others who want to find, read, and analyze their contents to learn more about people and events of the time. We're also interested in providing our users with new ways to interact with and explore our collections.
How are you recruiting or finding volunteers/collaborators?
We're planning to use social media campaigns to spread word about the project by highlighting progress, cool finds, and rock star collaborators. We're also planning some special outreach in conjunction with Native American Heritage Month in November.
Can you share your experience using FromThePage?
We're so glad we found FromThePage! We'd been looking for a program to facilitate this project for some time, and FromThePage ticked all the boxes for us: ability to import, host, and export documents and content, mechanisms to track progress, and ways to learn about how our collaborators were working on the project were all important to us.
What have you discovered in the Letters?
Not surprisingly, given the point of view from which the majority of the letters are written, Indians themselves are silent objects of much of the writing. Many of the letters contain accounts of crimes committed against Indians in California by settlers and government agents, such as this passage from an early 1850s letter:
The white people have taken all their hunting grounds & fishing waters, and they must starve, or rob, or receive subsistence from the government. The treaty is for their land, which we have already occupied for three years, against their will, and against our own laws and policy—land from which we have been taking all the while at the rate of two or three millions a month in gold; and are still so taking it.