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Reparative Reprocessing: Indigenous Representation in the William Boone Douglass Papers

By Leah Tams

*Image above: Photograph of the Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. Photographer unknown. Box 7, William Boone Douglass Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Early in the COVID-19 shutdown, Technical Services staff in Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library identified the William Boone Douglass papers as a candidate for reparative and inclusive description. Douglass (1864-1947) was a white lawyer and surveyor who investigated and documented lands in the southwestern United States. The original description of this collection, based upon box inventories and card catalog records, left much to be desired, especially as it related to Indigenous peoples and their roles in Douglass’ work.[1]

The collection guide, first created remotely in March 2020, made only one mention of Indigenous peoples: the Scope and Content note said the collection included two “notebooks on the Pueblo Indians.” The catalog cards, available here, mention several Indigenous groups, but they instead focus largely on Douglass’ activities and use problematic language to describe the lands and formations that he surveyed.

Catalog cards describing items in the William Boone Douglass Papers

The cards frequently use the term “discovered,” stating that Douglass “discovered” sites of archaeological interest and significance, including what is now known as Rainbow Bridge National Monument. This language falsely elevates Douglass’ work while erasing the fact that these sites existed on Indigenous land and were already known to the Indigenous people inhabiting the land. As I reprocessed the collection, the amount of material (about half of the collection) related to Douglass’ surveys of Indigenous lands made it clear to me that Indigenous people needed much greater representation in our description. I approached this by:

  • Identifying individuals and groups, then researching their histories.
  • Balancing the description, particularly the Biographical/Historical and Scope/Content notes, to include information about William Boone Douglass as well as the Native groups, individuals, and customs that he encountered.
  • Describing Indigenous lands, using Native language where possible.
  • Submitting NACO requests for the three Indigenous people whom I was able to identify in the collection.

In the end, I identified three people: Jim Mike (Paiute, most likely Southern Paiute), Francisco Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo), and Santiago Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo). In direct opposition to the card catalog’s description, Douglass consistently credited Jim Mike with the “discovery” of the Rainbow Bridge, making clear in letters, newspapers, and publications that Jim, often referred to as “Mike’s Boy,” knew of the formation and led Douglass and his team to it. Like Jim, Francisco Naranjo was at least identified by name in collection material: a photographic portrait provided his name, and it also included his “political” affiliation. The inscription said “Leader of the winter people,” and with this keyword I was able to find publications about Francisco Naranjo to help flesh out his biographical note.[2]

Photographic portrait of Francisco Naranjo, Santa Clara Pueblo. The photograph is sepia-toned, picturing a seated man wearing a dark suit and a large, light hat.
Portrait of Francisco Naranjo, Santa Clara Pueblo. Photographer unknown. Box 7, William Boone Douglass Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Santiago Naranjo was more difficult to identify because his portrait is not inscribed with a name or other identifying information–in fact, it is not inscribed at all. Because it was in the same group as Francisco Naranjo and other photographs of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, I took a chance and Googled “Santa Clara Pueblo Indians.”[3] The results yielded many images that resembled photographs in the Douglass collection, and one in particular to a portrait that I was hoping to identify. With the name Santiago Naranjo in hand and other photographs available online, I confirmed his identity and representation in the collection.

After identification, requesting name authorities for each individual and writing a biographical note for them proved to be the most challenging part of this process. While I could identify people by name, I had a much more difficult time using available, Western-centric records to craft biographical notes for each man. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Indian Census Rolls and other records of the federal government contain very conflicting information about each of them, with names and ages varying widely. Rather than trying to establish precision where it might not be possible, I opted to be honest about my uncertainty and the difficulty I had in pinning down information. For Francisco Naranjo, for example, I wrote:

“Francisco Naranjo, a Santa Clara Pueblo man, was born in the Santa Clara Pueblo of New Mexico in the 1840s (recorded dates vary from 1838 to 1848). He married Maria Catarina Tafoya (sometimes seen in records as Catalina), and they had at least four children together.”[4]

I included multiple dates and names that appeared in records, and I intentionally used terms couched in uncertainty such as “at least four children.” Santiago Naranjo’s biographical note is similarly transparent: “Santiago Naranjo served as governor of the Santa Clara Pueblo from at least 1911, possibly until 1929 or later. It is unclear if this term was continuous or interrupted.”[5] I felt that transparency around gaps in my knowledge would indicate that there is flexibility and room for improvement.

I used Western-centric government records for the biographical notes because they were the most accessible to me, but for the descriptions of Native land and groups as a whole, I strove to use information and description from the groups themselves. I used the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Navajo Nation Government, and Indian Pueblo Cultural Center websites to describe the Southern Paiute, Navajo, and Pueblo peoples and their ancestral homelands to ensure that I was using accurate language that reflected how the groups refer to themselves and their homelands.

Ultimately, I hope the updated collection guide for the William Boone Douglass papers provides a more balanced and inclusive description, providing information about Douglass and his work while more accurately characterizing it and highlighting the contributions of underrepresented peoples.


[1] The original description was the best staff could do at the time, since work was fully remote and none of the material was digitized; thus it could not be consulted. I also worked to create inclusive description for the women and formerly enslaved peoples represented in collection material, but for this post I am focusing on Indigenous representation.

[2] See, for example: Staff Correspondent, “Francisco Naranjo, the ‘Grand Old Man’ of the Pueblo Indians,” American Issue 6, no. 41 (October 10, 1911), 6-7, accessed August 4, 2022, https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_American_Issue/Z8RmZD48QBwC; Marilyn Norcini, “The Political Process of Factionalism and Self-Governance at Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 149, no. 4 (December 2005), 544-590, accessed August 4, 2022, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Proceedings_American_Philosophical_Socie/mGLtEiUTq54C

[3] I fully recognize that “Indian” is not an accurate or appropriate term. I used “Indian” because I believed it would be the most common term in Google’s image metadata, and thus would yield the best results.

[4] “William Boone Douglass papers, 1809-1948,” Archives & Manuscript Collection Guides, Duke University Libraries, accessed August 4, 2022, https://idn.duke.edu/ark:/87924/m1tk6v.

[5] Ibid. Note that this is not the full text of Santiago Naranjo’s biographical note.


Leah Tams is the Accessions Coordinator at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. In addition to accessioning material, Leah also processes small archival collections and additions. In her spare time, Leah loves snuggling with her cats and knitting.

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