The California Academy of Sciences
Library Special Collections
The California Academy of Sciences houses a collection of over 3,300 documents related to Indian affairs over the period 1922-1963. These papers came from the estate of Charles de Young Elkus, a San Francisco attorney whose sense of fairness manifested itself in his opinions and in the positive influence he exerted through his interest in the struggles of Native Americans of the Southwest. This interest spanned a wide range, from politics to social problems to art.
Charles Elkus and his wife Ruth became involved with the Native Americans primarily through the Indian reform movement of the 1920's. Through legal advice, leadership in public support groups, and numerous personal contacts, they helped the Pueblo Indians regain control over their lands and water, which had been taken by white squatters. Over the years the Elkuses also fought to reform the Bureau of Indian Affairs and improve Indian health care and living conditions. The movement of which they were a part eventually culminated in the Roosevelt administration's "Indian New Deal" of the 1930's.
The Elkus Papers were brought to the Academy in 1980 through the efforts of their son Ben Elkus. It is his hope that these papers are easily accessible for researchers and for those interested in the historical and anthropological content.
The Elkuses are also known for the collection of Indian arts and crafts they amassed between 1922 and 1967. They visited the Southwest frequently and collected artifacts out of a sincere appreciation of the native art forms. The collection, which includes some 1700 Native American artifacts, was given to the Academy in 1972 and is housed in the Anthropology Department. The entire collection can be searched in the Anthropology Department On-Line Database. The Elkus Collection of books related to the history of Native Americans was also given to the Academy and is now in the J.W. Mailliard, Jr. Library.
Ben Elkus wrote many stories based on his memories of going down to the Southwest during the time of his parents' involvement there. These stories offer insight into a time when our native history was still very much unchanged and traveling there was an arduous adventure. Included in Ben's stories are excerpts from the diaries of his mother Ruth Elkus, who also exerted her influence during the crucial decades of the 1930s and 1950s when Native Americans and whites stuggled with the problems arising from the clash of their very different cultures.