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D'Arcy McNickle papers

Identifier: Ayer-Modern-MS-McNickle

Scope and Content of the Collection

This collection consists of a wide variety of materials, with the largest number representing McNickle's writings and his papers from American Indian Development. Other materials include his diaries, newspaper clippings including book reviews, correspondence, McNickle's notes from teaching at the University of Saskatchewan, materials from the Center for the History of the American Indian at the Newberry Library, television and radio materials, photographs, and assorted personal papers of D'Arcy McNickle, with the bulk of the collection dating from about 1953-1977. There are also copies of anthropologist Sol Tax's papers, miscellaneous additions from anthropologist Omer C. Stewart, and some assorted papers concerning Canadian Indian organizations. The papers cover his life from his college years, his time at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, his career at American Indian Development, his tenure at the University of Saskatchewan, and his final appointment at the Center for the History of the American Indian.


  • Creation: 1913-1986
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1924-1977



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The D'Arcy McNickle papers are open for research; they are available one box at a time in the Special Collections reading room (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The D'Arcy McNickle papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of D'Arcy McNickle

Born on January 18, 1904 in St. Ignatius, Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation, William D'Arcy McNickle was a novelist, author, employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, director of American Indian Development, Inc., community organizer, activist, professor of anthropology, historian, and program director of the Newberry Library Center for the History of the American Indian.

Born to a French Cree (M├ętis) mother, Philomene Parenteau, and an Irish father, William James McNickle, McNickle was the youngest child, and had two older sisters, Ruth Elizabeth and Florence Lea. McNickle's mother applied for membership into the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (known as the Flathead) and she and her children were adopted and received a land allotment under the 1887 Dawes Act. His parents divorced in 1914 and for a time McNickle went by the name of his stepfather, Dahlberg.

McNickle attended mission and government schools for Indian children in Montana and in Oregon, and attended the University of Montana from 1921-1925. In 1925 McNickle sold his land allotment and left for Europe, attending Oxford University (1925-1926) and the University of Grenoble (1931). He eventually went to work in New York and also was briefly at Columbia University in 1933. Although he never finished a degree, McNickle received an honorary Sc.D from the University of Colorado in 1966.

Eventually McNickle went to Washington, D.C. to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs under John Collier. He worked under this "Indian New Deal" from 1936 to 1952 as an administrative assistant, a field representative for the commissioner, an assistant to the commissioner, and eventually the director of tribal relations. In 1952 he took up the directorship of the newly established American Indian Development, Incorporated, which was run out of the University of Colorado, Boulder. McNickle arranged workshops for Indian students who would arrive from across the country. Eventually the focus of the organization turned to the Navajo community of Crownpoint, New Mexico. In 1966 McNickle was invited to a professorship at the newly established University of Saskatchewan, Regina campus where he was to head and create an anthropology department. After officially retiring to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1971, McNickle went to Chicago in 1972 to help create the Newberry Library's Center for the History of the American Indian. In 1984, the center was named after him in honor of his life and his work, making it one of two organizations named after McNickle (the second is library at the Salish-Kootenai Community College on the Flathead Reservation).

McNickle is the author of three novels: The Surrounded (1936), Runner in the Sun: A Story of Indian Maize (1954), and Wind From an Enemy Sky (1978). His non-fiction work includes They Came Here First: The Epic of the American Indian (1949), Indians and Other Americans (1959 and 1970, with Howard E. Fey), Indian Tribes of the United States: Ethnic and Cultural Survival (1962, revised in 1973 as Native American Tribalism), and Indian Man: A Life of Oliver La Farge (1971). McNickle also wrote many articles including the entry for "Indians, North America" in the 1951 Encyclopedia Britannica and books reviews for American Anthropologist. He wrote short stories and poetry too, and was published in many popular magazines including Esquire, Common Ground, the Chicago Tribune Magazine supplement, and Frontier and Midland. These stories as well as unpublished ones are included in The Hawk is Hungry and Other Stories, edited by Birgit Hans (1992).

In addition to his paid positions and his writing, McNickle worked for several other organizations. He chaired the steering committee of the 1961 American Indian Chicago Conference and was the primary author of the conference's "Declaration of Indian Purpose." He was a founding member of the National Congress of America Indians, a fellow of the American Anthropological Association, and a member of the executive committee of the Society for American Archaeology (1972-1973).

Like his mother, McNickle was married three times: first, to Joran Jacobine Birkeland from 1926-1938, second to Roma Kaye Haufman from 1939-1967, and finally to his AID co-worker, sociologist Viola Gertrude Pfrommer, from 1969-1977. McNickle had two daughters, Antoinette Marie Parenteau McNickle (with Joran) and Kathleen D'Arcy McNickle (with Roma). He died suddenly of a heart attack in October 1977.


15.5 Linear Feet (34 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Literary and scholarly manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, and other materials of D'Arcy McNickle, American Indian author, government employee, community organizer, anthropologist, and historian. Records cover McNickle's work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, American Indian Development, Inc., the University of Saskatchewan, and the Center for the History of the American Indian at the Newberry Library.


The papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: D'Arcy McNickle's Writings, approximately 1920-1973
Boxes 1-12
Series 2: Diaries, 1931-1977
Boxes 13-17
Series 3: Book Reviews, 1936-1973
Box 17
Series 4: Correspondence, 1924-1977
Boxes 18-20
Series 5: American Indian Development, Incorporated Materials, 1952-1966
Boxes 21-24
Series 6: Sol Tax Correspondence, 1957-1975
Box 25
Series 7: Omer C. Stewart Additions, 1954-1986
Box 26
Series 8: University of Saskatchewan Materials, 1966-1971
Box 27
Series 9: Center for the History of the American Indian Materials, 1971-1977
Box 28
Series 10: Canadian Indian Materials, 1971-1973
Box 29
Series 11: Television and Radio materials, 1941-1975
Box 30
Series 12: Personal items, 1913-1977
Box 31
Series 13: Miscellaneous
Box 32
Series 14: Photographs 1952-1977
Boxes 33-35


3a 55 2-3


Gift of the estate of D'Arcy McNickle, 1983; Omer C. Stewart additions gift of Omer Stewart, 1986; and other additions noted in the accession file.

Processed by

Rebecca S. Graff, 2001

Inventory of the D'Arcy McNickle papers, 1913-1986, bulk 1924-1977
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States