Guide to the John A. Simms Papers 1858-1881
Cage 213

Summary Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries
Simms, John A.
John A. Simms Papers
Cage 213
Date [inclusive]
1200 items.
1.5 linear feet of shelf space.
Collection materials are in English.
Correspondence, agency reports, vouchers, bills, other financial statements and abstracts, and mercantile records re: agency affairs. Also personal correspondence with his wife, Lucy McFadden Simms, his family in Maryland, business acquaintances and friends.

Preferred Citation

[Item Description]. Cage 213, John A. Simms Papers. Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

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John A. Simms, born ca. 1827, traveled to California in 1850 in the wake of the Gold Rush from his home in Leonardtown, Maryland. Within a year, however, he moved on to Oregon where he lived during most of that decade. In 1858 he moved from The Dalles to Walla Walla in the Territory of Washington. There in partnership with A. H. Reynolds and Captain F. T. Dent (brother of Mrs. U. S. Grant) Simms in 1859 built and operated one of the first flour mills in the region. That same year he was appointed by the Territorial Legislature to be an interim justice of the peace until elections could be held. During the Civil War years it appears Simms made his living by providing flour to settlers and especially to miners on their way into the gold fields at Oro Fino.

Simms was a member of the nine-man Territorial Council (upper house) where he represented Clark, Skamania, Klikitat, Walla Walla, and Spokane counties. He held this position from 1861 to 1862. Evidence from Owen's Journals and Letters tells us that Simms raised cattle and was regarded as a quiet, intelligent, and scrupulously honest man. During this time he had married Lucy McFadden, daughter of O.B. McFadden who had come from Pennsylvania to serve as an appointed judge in both the Oregon and Washington Territories.

Simms left for the east in 1868 in order to secure a federal appointment as Indian Agent in Washington Territory. By the spring of 1869 he was successful in gaining this commission and returned to eastern Washington to take up his duties in the Spokane-Colville region.

A disagreement over policy, in September, 1872, led to the resignation of W. P. Winans and the appointment of Simms as Winans' replacement. Simms' first assignment, the one Winans refused to carry out, was to convince the Spokane tribes that it was in their best interest to relocate to the newly formed Colville Reservation in the northern part of the territory and thus give up the improvements they had made to the land in the Spokane region. It was at this time that Simms assumed the position of principal Indian Agent at the Colville Agency. He held this position until 1883. John A. Simms died in Spokane September 1, 1890.

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Scope and Content

The papers align themselves with correspondence on one side and agency reports, bills and vouchers, financial statements, and abstracts on the other. The correspondence includes materials relative to Simms' work as Indian Agent and merchant and contains personal letters between himself and his wife, relatives back in Maryland, and friends. The agency correspondence includes reports on conditions at the Colville Indian Agency and School. The School, under the direction of Catholic sisters, came to be a center of controversy between Protestant and Catholic Indian factions. Simms, it should be noted, was a Catholic.

The financial records, reports, and abstracts present a picture of the economic interest the Federal Government was taking in the welfare of the Indian. Records of the mundane (office supplies for the Colville Agency) and the major (farming problems, relocation, and illness) are reflected in over 500 items.

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The Simms Papers are arranged chronologically within folders in three series: Professional and personal correspondence; Financial records, statements, abstracts, and reports pertaining to the Colville Agency; and mercantile records.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries © 2012

Terrell Library

P.O. Box 645610

Pullman, WA, 99164-5610 USA


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Custodial History

Dr. S. P. McPherson's home in Chewelah, Washington, had formerly been the Indian Agency building and office as well as the last known residence of Simms and the papers were found in the attic.

Acquisition Information

The John A. Simms Papers were acquired by Professor Herman J. Deutsch for the Washington State University Library in the summer of 1935 from Dr. S. P. McPherson. An additional and smaller selection of Simms' papers were received among the Colville Indian Agency records donated by Albert I. Kulzer that same summer (see Cage 2053).

Processing Information

Under Dr. Deutsch's direction, the papers were designated the Simms Papers and processed during the winter of 1935-1936. They were reprocessed in July, 1973 by Robert A. Catale.

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Related Materials

Related Material

Additional source material related to this collection is available in Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections in the Washington State University Library: The W. P. Winans Papers, ( Cage 147) the John MacAdam Webster Papers ( Cage 145), and the Colville Agency Records ( Cage 2053).

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Spokane Indians--Government relations
  • United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Colville Agency.
  • Colville Indians--Government relations
  • McPherson, S.P., donor. WaPS

Personal Name(s)

  • Simms, Lucy McFadden, d. 1899
  • Simms, John A., ca. 1827-1890--Archives


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

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Some additional information concerning Simms may be found in Frank T. Gilbert's Historic Sketches of Walla Walla, Whitman, Columbia, and Garfield Counties, Washington Territory, and Umatilla County, Oregon, (1882), and  The Journals and Letters of Major John Owen, Pioneer of the Northwest, 1850-1871, edited by Seymour Dunbar (1927).

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Collection Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence 

box folder

 undated   50

1 1

 1858-1869   33

1 2

 1870   2

1 3

 1871   12

1 4

 1872   42

1 5

 1873   62

1 6

 1874   71

1 7

 1875   87

1 8

 1876   20

1 9

 1877   17

1 10

 1878   26

1 11

 1879   24

1 12

 1880   8

1 13

 1881   5

1 14

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Series 2: Financial Records, Statements, Abstracts, and Reports 

box folder

Census of the white inhabitants residing between the Spokane and Columbia Rivers together with the whole amount of assessable property of those owning real estate undated   2

2 15

Reports of employees in service at the Colville Agency 1872-1879   18

2 16

Statements of disbursing accounts 1872-1880   49

2 17

Statements of funds and estimates of expenses for the agency 1872-1880   15

2 18

Disbursement abstracts and receipt rolls 1872-1878   25

2 19

Reports and abstracts of articles and food issued to Indians 1866-1878   57

2 20

Office expenditures for the Colville Agency 1865-1878   46

2 21

Reports on the Colville and Coeur d'Alene Indian Schools 1873-1878   27

2 22

Statements of public funds on hand at the agency 1876-1878   76

2 23

Abstracts and statements of agency purchases 1867-1878   18

2 24

Statements of quarterly returns of public property 1865-1878   40

3 25

Expense vouchers 1860-1878   204

3 26

Reports on sick Indians 1865-1866   2

3 27

Contracts for agency supplies 1866-1874   15

3 28

Statements of current accounts 1872-1878   20

3 29

Miscellaneous records 1867-1881   21

3 30

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Series 3: Mercantile Records 

box folder

Mercantile records: accounts, bills and receipts 1870-1878   37

3 31

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