Guide to the John McAdam Webster Papers 1869-1917
Cage 145

Summary Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries
Webster, John McAdam
John McAdam Webster Papers
Cage 145
Date [inclusive]
830.0 items.
General Physical Description note
1.5 linear feet of shelf space.
Correspondence; land sales affidavits, depositions and statements; Indian census reports, 1906, 1910; clippings, photographs and other papers re: Agency affairs on the Colville and Spokane Reservations.

Preferred Citation note

[Item Description]. Cage 145, John McAdam Webster Papers . Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

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Biographical/Historical note

John McAdam Webster was born January 22, 1849 at Warrenton, Ohio, but was reared in Steubenville. During the Fall of 1862 the senior Webster was killed during the Union invasion of Kentucky. John McAdam Webster, in part seeking revenge for the death of his father, joined the 197th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and served from April to July, 1865. He was commissioned a second lieutenant though only 16 years of age.

Webster followed up his field service with an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in September, 1865. His stay there was somewhat longer than usual due to ill health. He was graduated thirty-third in a class of forty-one in June 1871 and was immediately commissioned a second lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry Regiment which was on frontier duty.

While the regiment was stationed at Fort Mackinac, Michigan, Webster married Rose S. Van Allen in 1874. Promotions were few and far between; Webster had to wait until 1879 for promotion to 1st lieutenant and 1891 to make captain. All during these years Webster served with quiet distinction in staff positions at several posts.

A freak accident in 1895 resulted in a spinal jury which restricted the use of Webster’s right leg. He was thus on sick leave most of the time after August, 1895. Unable to partake fully in Army life Webster requested retirement and in December, 1898, he left the service taking up residence in Steubenville, Ohio. However in 1904, upon the recommendation of the commander of the Army, Webster was appointed by the Interior Department to serve as Superintendent at the Colville Indian Agency. He begrudgingly took the unsolicited appointment.

Webster served in this position with an awareness and sensitivity to Indian problems shown by few other agents. He generally took a paternalistic posture toward the Indians and attempted to foster education among them. He carried out his duties with the upmost scrupulousness (one of the reasons for which he had been selected). At times his desire to protect his wards outweighed his normal caution thus bringing wrath of the Interior Department down on his head. The question of how far an agent should go in protecting the interests of the Indians on the reservation brought about Webster’s first resignation in February, 1912. He left for Mackinac Island in April.

This resignation may have been prompted not only by policy questions but by a combination of ill health and a desire to write his memories. But in February, 1913, he returned to eastern Washington as superintendent of the Spokane Reservation. This new position would not last long due to continued ill health, administration problems, and a lack of all Indian support for his policies. Thus, in May, 1914, Captain Webster and his wife finally left the Indian Service and retired to their home at Mackinac Island, Michigan. Webster lived there until his death on October 15, 1921. His wife survived until 1938.

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Scope and Contents note

The central core of the papers is the correspondence relating to Webster’s work as superintendent at the colville and later Spokane Reservations. This core is supported by additional materials such as Indian affidavits and depositions on land sales, census reports, clippings, and photographs.

The correspondence represents the wide and varied problems Webster was faced with during his tenure in office. These problems ranged for giving "fatherly"advice to Indians having marital problems to uncovering white men tryping to defraud the Indians out of their inheritances. All these situations are reflected in the over 700 items which make up the papers of Caption John McAdam Webster.

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Arrangement note

The Webster Papers are arranged chronologically within folders in three series: Correspondence; Reports; and Photographs, clippings and other papers.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries © 1973
Terrell Library
P.O. Box 645610
Pullman, WA, 99164-5610

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

The John McAdam Webster Papers were acquired by Professor Herman J. Deutsch for the Washington State University Library over the period 1951 to 1954 from O. W. Lang of Mackinac Island, Michigan. Mackinac Island was the final home of Webster and his wife and his papers were found in an old chest at their home – "Island House." These papers were designated the Webster papers and were processed ca. 1960.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

Additional material related to this collection is available in the Washington State University Library: The W.P. Winans Papers ( Cage 147), the John A. Simms Papers ( Cage 213), and the Colville Indian Agency Records ( Cage 2053).

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Colville Indian Reservation (Wash.)
  • Colville Indians--Government relations
  • Spokane Indian Reservation (Wash.)
  • Spokane Indians--Government relations
  • United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs Colville Agency
  • United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs Spokane Agency

Personal Name(s)

  • Webster, John McAdam, 1849-1921. --Archives


  • Indians of North America--Washington (State)--Government relations
  • Native Americans
  • Photographs
  • Washington (State)

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Additional information concerning John McAdam Webster may be found in Delbert Keith Clear’s unpublished Master’s thesis Captain John McAdam Webster, Indian Agent 1904-1914: A Decade of Honorable Service completed at Washington State University in 1962. One should also consult  The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun by Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown (1970).

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Collection Inventory


Accession and processing file 1951-1960   3.0 items.

1 / 1

Series 1: Correspondence 


 undated   18.0 items.

1 / 2

 1869-1903   65.0 items.

1 / 3

 1904-1905   45.0 items. (the items include 1 letter book containing 82 pages)

1 / 4

 1906   142.0 items.

1 / 5

 1907   89.0 items.

1 / 6

 1908-1910   72.0 items.

2 / 7

 1911   31.0 items.

2 / 8

 1912   77.0 items.

2 / 9

 1913-1914   44.0 items.

2 / 10

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Series 2: Reports and Statements 


Census reports on Colville Indian Tribes for 1906 and 1910.   11.0 items.

2 / 11

Statements, affidavits, and depositions relative to the sale or transference of allotment lands on the Colville Reservation, 1898-1914.   37.0 items.

2 / 12

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Series 3: Photographs, Clippings, and other Papers 


Photographs of Captain Webster, Indians, the Indian School on the reservation, and an Indian burial.   25.0 items.

2 / 13

Speech delivered by Webster to an Indian seminar in Seattle 1909   1.0 item.

2 / 14

Mementos and invitations   9.0 items.

2 / 15

Clippings 1904-1914   75.0 items.

3 / 16

Notebooks 1905-1913   6.0 items.

3 / 17

Photocopies of pension records and biographical information on Webster, donated by Delbert K. Clear in 1962. 1865-1938   3.0 items.

3 / 18

Photocopies from the National Archives, Washington, D. C. about the 1908 Spokane Council. Council, memorandum on the Council by Webster. 

3 / 19

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