Charles Wesley Allen, 1851-1942 [RG2635.AM]


RG2635.AM: Charles Wesley Allen, 1851-1942

Manuscript and papers: ca. 1893-1941
Chadron, Dawes County, Neb.: Editor, cattleman
Size: 1.0 cu.ft.; 2 boxes


Charles W. Allen’s autobiographical writing is enriched by the intimate knowledge of the West he gained as a mule driver, soldier, homesteader, blacksmith, editor, postmaster and cattleman.

He was born in Noble County, Indiana on September 10, 1851–the eighth of nine children–to William Maynard and Sophronia (Meeker) Allen. He spent his youth on the frontier of Iowa and Kansas. In the spring of 1869 he enlisted in the Kansas State Militia, Co. B 2nd Battalion and served six months. In 1871 he hired out to a trail boss who had brought Texas cattle up the Chisholm Trail. The herd was driven to the W.E. Whitcomb ranch on Box Elder Creek in Wyoming. For nearly a decade, Allen had his headquarters in the vicinity of Fort Laramie, Wyoming. He associated himself with Cuney and Ecoffy Freighting and Contracting Company, a major firm in the early West. From utility man he was promoted to “mule skinner” and served in that capacity for some time.

He married Miss Emma Hawkins, a mixed-blood Lakota who would bear him twelve children, on August 23, 1873. Following his marriage Allen went into business for himself, and until increased competition made it impossible, he conducted a freighting business in eastern Wyoming. He made one trip to Deadwood in the Black Hills in 1876.

In February of 1879 he sold his property on the Laramie River and moved to Pine Ridge, where the Agency was under construction. He freighted from the Missouri River to the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations and built schools for the Pine Ridge children. He accepted employment in Valentine, Nebraska in 1884, but soon became self-employed by purchasing a blacksmith shop, the first one west of Ainsworth, Nebraska.

In 1885 Allen homesteaded 160 acres 2 miles north of Chadron, Nebraska, and also turned to a new business. He formed the Democratic Publishing Company in Chadron with B.C. Hill, and on August 27 of that year, published the first issue of the Chadron Democrat. The newspaper was launched in competition with the Dawes County Journal, which E.E. Egan had begun publishing in a tent before the town was platted. The Journal was a Republican paper and a lively contest ensued over party principles and public printing. Additional rivals appeared in 1887 when the Northwestern Temperance Advocate opened. Addison E. Sheldon became the publisher one year later and in August 1889 changed the name to the Chadron Advocate. Although they were competitors and rivals for patronage, Allen and Sheldon formed a personal friendship which lasted for many years. Allen continued with the Democrat until 1891 and was an eyewitness at the massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. He sold the homestead near Chadron on December 7, 1893.

After leaving journalism, Allen again turned cattleman and tradesman on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He was the Pine Ridge postmaster from April 10, 1893 until he resigned in late October 1895. During this time he also owned a store in Pine Ridge. In 1896 Allen ran a store in Pass Creek, but he sold it and moved to the vicinity of the present town of Allen, South Dakota, which was named in his honor. He continued in the cattle business until his retirement to Martin, South Dakota. He later moved to the Soldier’s Home in Hot Springs, South Dakota, where he died November 16, 1942.

(Acc.78-95, et al.)


The Allen collection consists of two boxes containing manuscripts, correspondence, 1934-1941, biographical materials and miscellaneous material. The bulk of the collection is comprised of manuscripts written by Charles Allen. It contains three copies of Charles Allen’s manuscript autobiography, In The West That Was; three copies of the Life of Red Cloud; and a short manuscript titled “The Buffalo Range.”

All three copies the first manuscript, In The West That Was, tell nearly the same story in the same sequence but there are many differences in detail and writing style, as well as one major change.

The “early draft,” although undated, is almost certainly the NSHS Archive’s original typewritten draft. There are numerous errors, some of which were corrected and initialed by Historical Society Superintendent Addison E. Sheldon. The writing style is more cumbersome and it lacks the details found in the other two drafts. It contains a two page Appendix titled “Ancestral Summary,” which does not appear in the other two versions.

The “second draft” is a neatly typed carbon copy dated 1938 on the title page. This is probably a “clean” copy typed after Sheldon and his staff completed their review.

In 1981 an Allen descendent donated the photocopy of what was probably the most recent draft, referred to here as the “final draft.” On the table of contents page Leigh DeLay, then Nebraska History editor, called it a “Cadillac among reminiscences.” A chapter titled “Short Bull – Brigand of the Badlands” found in the two earlier drafts had nothing to do with the overall story line and was replaced in this draft by “Trails and Trials of a Primitive People.” There were also three or four rewritten and retyped pages, as well as changes made in Charles Allen’s unsteady and unmistakable handwriting. The latter are usually minor corrections such as adding a dropped word or changing the tense of a verb–the kind of changes an author might make upon reading the manuscript for the last time.

The Allen manuscript is an autobiography spanning the author’s life from his journey to Wyoming in 1871 to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Allen writes about life on the frontier and about Lakota life and legends. Nearly one-third of the manuscript describes events leading to the Wounded Knee massacre, which he witnessed, and its aftermath. Portions of chapters three and four were published as “Red Cloud and the U.S. Flag” in Nebraska History, vol. XXI, No. 4 (October-December, 1940), p. 293-304.

The other major manuscript in the collection is the Life of Red Cloud, written by Allen in 1893 from notes he made of conversations between Red Cloud and his friend, Sam Deon. Three copies of this work [a typescript and two carbon copies of the typescript] are present in the collection. The history of this manuscript is complex. For a full discussion of its authorship and provenance, see the article “Rediscovering Red Cloud’s Autobiography” by R. Eli Paul [Montana History, vol. 44, no.3, pp. 2-17] in Box 2, Folder 6. A statement made by Allen to Addison E. Sheldon, the Secretary of the Nebraska State Historical Society, about his working methods for the Life of Red Cloud, is included.

The correspondence is composed largely of letters, 1936-1941, concerning In The West That Was. Correspondents include Addison E. Sheldon, and Elmo Scott Watson.

The biographical materials consist of an in-depth biography of Allen, written by NSHS staff as an introduction for In The West That Was, “Charles W. Allen, A Brief Biography.” The published version of this biography was substantially edited for space considerations; this version contains the complete manuscript of the biography. An obituary and other biographical articles are also included.

The last folder of miscellaneous materials contains a typescript copy of an article, “The Battle of Wounded Knee, Dec. 20, 1891,” written by Allen for the Chadron Democrat, and clippings of Allen’s poetry.

Note: Photographs of Allen are included in the Portraits collection [RG2411.PH]. A copy of Allen’s In The West That Was, is available in the Library.


Box 1

  1. In The West That Was, early draft, chapters 1-14
  2. In The West That Was, early draft, chapters 15-27, and Appendix “Ancestral Summary”
  3. In The West That Was: Memoirs, Sketches and Legends by Charles W. Allen, 1938. Revised and edited by Loraine Ferris, NSHS. 298 p. 2nd draft, chapters 1-9
  4. In The West That Was: Memoirs, Sketches and Legends by Charles W. Allen, 1938. Revised and edited by Loraine Ferris, NSHS. 298 p. 2nd draft, chapters 10-19
  5. In The West That Was: Memoirs, Sketches and Legends by Charles W. Allen, 1938. Revised and edited by Loraine Ferris, NSHS. 298 p. 2nd draft, chapters 20-27
  6. In The West That Was, final draft, chapters 1-14
  7. In The West That Was, final draft, chapters 15-27

Box 2

  1. “The Buffalo Range,” 3 p.
  2. “Account of Red Cloud MSS in Hands of A.E. Sheldon”
  3. Life of Red Cloud, [original typescript]
  4. Life of Red Cloud, [carbon No. 1 – Captain J.H. Cook copy]
  5. Life of Red Cloud, [carbon No. 2 – Luther North copy]
  6. “Rediscovering Red Cloud’s Autobiography,” R. Eli Paul, Montana History, vol. 44, no. 3, Summer 1994, p. 2-17
  7. Correspondence, 1934-1941
  8. “Charles W. Allen, A Brief Biography” by Richard E. Jensen, Senior Research Anthropologist, Nebraska State Historical Society
  9. Biographical articles; obituary
  10. Miscellaneous Materials

Added entries:

Allen, Charles Wesley, 1851-1942
Bison hunting
Freight and freightage
Frontier and pioneer life
Indians of North America
Newspapers — Nebraska
Pine Ridge Indian Agency (South Dakota)
Red Cloud (Sioux Chief), 1822-1909
Siouan Indians
Wounded Knee Massacre, S.D., 1890

WFS/LW/js 09-09-1964
RJ/KFK 09-24-1996
TMM 01-11-2017

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