Native American Heritage

Published Primary Sources Relating to American Indians

Published government documents are a rich source of information for individuals researching American Indian history. They contain information on federal policy toward American Indians, overviews of Indian wars, and reports of Indian agents. These sources may also provide the necessary background to use other records in the custody of the National Archives efficiently. Published government documents are usually available at large university or public libraries, and at U.S. Government Depository Libraries. Determine the nearest location of a depository library online. These documents are also available at the National Archives in the Archives Library Information Center (ALIC).

American State Papers
The American State Papers reproduces many documents pertaining to American Indians covering the years 1789 through 1827, and is perhaps the most valuable source of information on this topic prior to the establishment of the Office of Indian Affairs in 1824. The documents include letters from special Indian agents, reports to Congress, and records pertaining to Indian-White relations. Researchers should consult the volumes pertaining to military affairs as well as those relating to Indian affairs. Each volume has an index. The American State Papers are available on the Library of Congress Web site.

Annual Reports
Congress required government agencies to submit annual reports, providing an overview of the agency's activities. The annual reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of American Ethnology, and the Secretary of War are particularly noteworthy. They are all reproduced in the Congressional Serial Set. Researchers can identify the citations for these reports in the Congressional Information Service's Index to the Congressional Serial Set. Robert M. Kvasnicka's and Herman J. Viola's The Commissioners of Indian Affairs, 1824-1977, also contains the Serial Set citations for the Commissioner's annual reports. The reports are also usually available as separate Government Printing Office publications; each section contains the Superintendent of Documents (or SuDocs) Number; that number will enable a documents librarian to locate the report for you.

  • Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (SuDocs Number "I 20.1") When Congress created the Office of Indian Affairs, it gave the Office responsibility for handling most matters between the Federal government and American Indians. The Commissioner's annual reports address a wide range of topics relevant to any study of American Indians. They are especially valuable for the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the Commissioner enclosed the annual reports of the Office's agencies and superintendencies. The reports often contain statistical data providing information on tribal population, supplies for the Indian Office and reports of special Indian commissions.

  • Annual Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology (SuDocs Number "SI 2.1") The Bureau operated within the Smithsonian Institution and studied American Indian languages, religions, architecture and society. The reports often contain photographs, sketches and charts. Although the reports do not usually contain information on specific individuals, they may help you understand the culture in which your ancestor lived.

  • Annual Reports of the Secretary of War (SuDocs Number "W 1.1") Although the Office of Indian Affairs had primary responsibility for administration of Indian affairs, the War Department had significant dealings with American Indians. The annual report of the General of the Army, is perhaps the most important section of the Department's report for this topic. In addition, to an overall report concerning the operations of the army, the General of the Army's report contains the annual reports of the army's military district commanders. These reports frequently discuss American Indians.

Congressional Serial Set
In addition to annual reports the Congressional Serial Set contains many other reports, petitions and statistics pertaining to American Indians. Researchers can consult the CIS index, as well as Stephen L. Johnson's Guide to American Indian Documents in the Congressional Serial Set: 1817-1899, to locate such documents.

Indian Treaties and Laws
The texts of Federal laws and Executive Orders relating to American Indians, as well as treaties between the Federal government and Indian tribes are reproduced in Charles Kappler's Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Each volume contains an index.

Additional resources on the National Archives web site: