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Walter Mason Camp photograph collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSS P 16

Scope and Contents

Collection contains photographs of battlefields, groups of Native Americans, and portraits of notable individuals who were prominent in the Indian Wars including George A. Custer and other U.S. Army and Native American participants. Original prints (including albumen, cartes-de-visite, and cabinet cards), copy prints, postcards, halftones, engravings, and selected copy negatives prepared by the repository staff. The bulk of the collection was compiled by Walter Mason Camp and pertains almost exclusively to the Indian Wars of North America from 1865 to 1890.


  • 1862-1929


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research. Kept in cold storage; access requires 24 hours advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from Walter Mason Camp photograph collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

Walter Mason Camp (1867-1925) was a civil engineer, specializing in railroad construction and maintenance, and a passionate chronicler of Native American life and customs, most particularly Indian Wars.

Walter Camp was born to Treat Bosworth Camp and Hannah A. Brown on April 21, 1867, at Camptown, Pennsylvania. His father was an insurance surveyor and author of insurance literature. In the Civil War he was captain of Company F, 52nd Pennsylvania Infantry, and was confined for a period in Libby Prison.

Camp's early life gave little hint that he was to become a major gatherer of information on America's Indian Wars. He seemed clearly destined instead to become exactly what he did become, a highly competent civil engineer, specializing in railroad construction and maintenance. He received his preliminary education by winter attendance at public school in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. At the age of nine he was employed as fireman in a planing mill at Wyalusing; later he worked on farms and harvested lumber for four years.

In 1883, at the age of 16, Camp entered railway service on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, being employed first as a trackman and then as a chainman and rodman under the division engineer. While night trackwalker on the Lehigh Valley he acquired a working knowledge of telegraphy, thus beginning a forty-two year railroad career. In the fall of 1887 he entered Pennsylvania State College, and was graduated as a civil engineer in 1891.

His first job after graduation was with the Southern Pacific Company, where for a period of six months he was employed as surveyor in Fresno County, California, and after that as draftsman in the chief engineer's office at San Francisco. From 1892 to 1894 he was engineer in full charge of construction and later superintendent in charge of operation and maintenance of the Rainier Avenue Electric Railway in Seattle, Washington. He had charge of building a counterbalance system for assisting electric railway cars over heavy grades at Seattle in 1892, and was one of the first in this country to build and operate special equipment for freight traffic on electric railways. In 1894 and 1895 he was work-train foreman, surveyor, and section foreman on the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad. In 1895 he resumed his studies as a post graduate student in electrical and steam engineering at the University of Wisconsin, and in 1896 taught for a while in the National School of Electricity in Chicago. He then became inspector and later superintendent of track construction on the Englewood & Chicago, a storage-battery road.

Camp became engineering editor of the Railway and Engineering Review (now the Railway Review) in 1897. There, he found the sphere of usefulness for which his talents and experience eminently fitted him, and for twenty-eight years he served faithfully and well as a railway editor.

As a writer Walter Camp commanded the respect of the railroad fraternity. He had a thorough knowledge of the practical side of railroading, and knew railroad conditions and needs. His published works, apart from thousands of pungent and useful editorials, included a standard work, Notes on Track, which was long used as a textbook in colleges having a railroad department. Also, he edited Samuel Folson Patterson: An Appreciation by Members of the American Railway Bridge and Building Association (Chicago, 1918), and wrote Railroad Transportation at the Universal Exposition, St. Louis, 1904. He was also the author of numerous papers published by engineering and historical associations, and held membership in the many railway organizations.

At Blue Island, Illinois, on May 2, 1898, Walter Camp married Emeline L. F. Sayles, daughter of Elliott Sayles.

In addition to his interest in railroads he had a cabin in the Michigan woods and a 240-acre dairy farm at Lake Village, Indiana, where he lived during his last years. But his interest in Indian life and customs, the Indian Wars and, in particular, the Little Bighorn River battle dominated his life. He was a trailblazer in his zeal to record the facts of history from the people who had witnessed that history. Beginning in about 1903, his vacations for twenty summers were usually spent in research among Indians and in talking with people who had survived the Little Bighorn River fight and other battles. He personally visited over forty battlefields and interviewed almost 200 survivors of western battles.

His research included the Washinta River fight, MacKenzie's raid on Dull Knife's village, Baldwin's fight with Sitting Bull on Redwater Creek, the battle of Wolf Mountain, the Lamedeer fight, the Nez Perce campaign, Baldwin's fight on the Little Porcupine, the Yellow Hand affair, the capture of Rain-In-The-Face, the death of Sitting Bull, and the Wounded Knee and White Clay Creek affairs. All of these occurred during Camp's boyhood or young manhood, a factor which no doubt increased his interest in them. Also, through the persistent efforts of Camp and General Anson Mills the exact site of the Slim Buttes fight was found and a marker erected.

Camp collected an incredible amount of original source material during his lifetime. However, his original plan was to write a history of the Seventh Cavalry. He even used such a title on his personal stationery. Later, his ambitions grew and he decided to write a history of the Indian wars. Unfortunately, he achieved neither goal, due in part to failing health and the heavy demands of his profession. He died on August 3, 1925, in Kankakee, Illinois, with his cherished dream of a written history unrealized.

[Much of the above biographical statement is excerpted from the Railway Review obituary.]


1 box (0.5 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Arranged alphabetically by the last name of the subject of the photograph.

Custodial History

After his untimely death on August 3, 1925 Camp's widow assumed custody of his files. A number of parties tried unsuccessfully to acquire them, including the Library of Congress, the Department of the Army, Robert S. Ellison, Brigadier General William Carey Brown and George Bird Grinnell (see the Grinnell-Ellison correspondence, Denver Public Library Microfilm, BYU Catalog Number MSS SC 568). Finally, after eight years of negotiations, General Brown, assisted by Robert Ellison, succeeded in purchasing the papers from Mrs. Camp in 1933. He moved them to his Denver, Colorado, home where he began to sort and classify them. Robert Ellison and General Brown corresponded from 1933 to 1945 during which time Brown gradually transferred most of the Camp files to Ellison. While he had the files, Brown identified the subject of some of the photographs. Brown retained some Camp materials, especially photographs, which he interfiled with his own collection and which are preserved in the University of Colorado Library. (See the Register to the William Carey Brown collection, Norlin Library, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.)

Robert Ellison died August 16, 1947. In accordance with his wishes, Ellison's widow sent the bulk of his library and papers, including a substantial segment of the Camp Papers to his alma mater, the University of Indiana. Mrs. Ellison also willed additional materials to the University of Indiana, which they received at her death, on March 13, 1967. Another segment of the Robert Ellison papers including additional Camp notes found its way into the Denver Public Library. The remaining Ellison papers, photographs, and library were purchased by Fred Rosenstock, a noted Denver book dealer. He transferred both the books and the manuscripts to his bookstore and his home, where he stored the manuscripts and photographs until they were sold to BYU in several installments between 1968 and 1981. The purchase included the bulk of Walter Camp's interview notes and other papers preserved (see MSS 57) and some of the papers created by Robert Ellison, which are cataloged separately (see MSS 782).

The bulk of the photograph collection was compiled by Walter M. Camp and pertains almost exclusively to his interest in Indian Wars of North America from 1865 to 1895. The aerial photographs taken by R.N. Wathen Jr., and those by Harold Schindler were added to the collection by the library staff.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased; Fred Rosenstock; 1968-1981.


Photographs (Photograph Archives).

Related Materials

See also Walter Mason Camp collection (MSS 57).

Processing Information

Processed; Billy Plunkett, Curator, Tom Wells, Photo Archivist, Mark Timmons, Student Assistant, Adrienne Gabriel, Student Assistant; June 1981.

Register of Walter Mason Camp photograph collection
Billy Plunkett, Tom Wells, Mark Timmons, Adrienne Gabriel
June 1981
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States