Robert Dechert collection of litigation papers regarding the ownership of the William Clark papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Robert Dechert (1895-1975) was a Philadelphia lawyer and collector of rare books who was interested in the "early days of the West." He appears to have taken great interest in the legal battle that occurred when some papers created by Captain William Clark, leader with Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, were found in a desk in Minnesota. He collected as much legal material as possible to document the case.
Following the death of Sophia V.H. Foster in 1952, Captain William Clark's orginal field notebooks about the Lewis and Clark expedition were found in the desk which had belonged to General John H. Hammond (successor to Clark as Superintendent of Indian Affairs following his death). According to a document in the collection, "on January 5, 1878, [Hammond] was instructed to close out the office of the Central Superintendency of Indian Affairs, the headquarters of which was then at Lawrence, Kansas,"(Item 1-3 in box 1, folder 1) and this appears to be how Clark's papers came into Hammond's possession. Representatives of the Minnestota State Historical Society authenticated the papers which date from 1803 to 1805 while assessing the material contained within the desk.
The U.S. Government brought suit against the descendants of Hammond, claiming the records were government property. Both Lewis and Clark were officers in the United States Army, and their expedition was authorized by the government with the stipulation that observations and notes were "to be rendered to the war-office for the purpose of having the calucations made concurrently by proper persons within the United States," (box 2, folder 4). The Hammond family and the Minnesota Historical Society, however, believed that the papers were Captain Clark's to deal with as he pleased and were not official records of the expedition.
In the Minneapolis Federal Court on October 1, 1956, Judge Gunnar H. Nordbye ruled that the United States government had no claim to the collection of field notes. This case was considered an important precedent in determining prime ownership of manuscripts and documents with a federal background. On November 19, 1957, the United States government appealed the decision, but the decision was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals on January 3, 1958. In 1959, the papers were given to Louis Starr, an heir of General John H. Hammond.
The collection consists of correspondence, legal documents, and reference materials related to litigation in the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals regarding the ownership of the William Clark papers. The collection includes copies of most of the briefs filed in the U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals in connection with this litigation; clippings and articles about the set of manuscripts and the case; and correspondence between Dechert and various individuals interested in or involved with the case. The correspondence traces Dechert's efforts to collect as much material about the case as he could.
The arrangement of the collection is based upon a numbering scheme that Dechert created. This numbering scheme has been preserved--a few items were unnumbered by Dechert and are placed at the end of the collection
Gift of Peter Dechert, June 1978.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Clémence Scouten
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 June 19
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.