William Beynon Papers

Mss.B.B467

Date: 1933-1969 1933-1937 | Size: 0.5 Linear feet

Abstract

Born to a Welsh father and Niska mother of high status, William Beynon was raised in Victoria, B.C., speaking both Niska and English. A member of the Wolf (Laxgibu) phratry, he became an hereditary Tsimshian chief in 1914 upon the death of his maternal uncle, and a year later, began to work with the anthropologist C. Marius Barbeau, collecting narratives and artifacts. During the mid- to late-1930s, Beynon worked closely with Franz Boas, providing him with an extensive series of narratives and translations from the Tsimshian.

The Beynon Papers includes a series of correspondence between Beynon and Franz Boas, 1933-1937, along with a small number of narratives in Tsimshian with interlinear English translations. The letters complement, but do not overlap with those in the Boas Papers.

Background note

Born to a Welsh father and Niska mother of high status, William Beynon was raised in Victoria, B.C., speaking both Niska and English. A member of the Wolf (Laxgibu) phratry, Beynon was schooled in some of the traditional responsibilities of a hereditary Tsimshian chief, however he later wrote that when he first traveled to Prince Rupert in 1914 to perform rites associated with the funeral of his maternal uncle, a chief of the wolf phratry, he felt that he was insufficiently knowledgeable about the rituals and obligations of being a chief. Only reluctantly was he persuaded to accept the title he inherited from his uncle, adopting his uncle's name, Gusgain. His status was no doubt enhanced among the coastal Tshimshian by his marriage to a niece of Tsibase, chief of Kitkatla.

During C. Marius Barbeau's first season in the field, 1915, Beynon signed on as a field assistant and translator, beginning what would become a forty year association with anthropologists and linguists. Through Barbeau, he became familiar with Viola Garfield and Edward Sapir, and in 1936, began an intense association with Franz Boas. Working for canneries in the summer months, Beynon avidly pursued ethnographic work at other times of the year, often working for more than one client at a time and, according to Barbeau, occasionally selling material more than once. Following in the shoes of Henry W. Tate and George Hunt, Beynon organized expeditions to both coastal and inland Tsimshian villages, soliciting informants and recording, translating, and interpreting (in more than one sense) texts, rituals, and material culture. Speaking both Nass and Gitksan dialects, he was as productive as he was valuable in describing Tsimshian society, describing secret (and illegal) potlatch ceremonies, and , amassing a remarkable trove of narratives, many of which have yet to be published.

Scope and content

A small collection consisting of both correspondence and ethnographic texts with interlinear English equivalents, the papers of the Tsimshian ethnographer and field assistant William Beynon are a useful addition to the study of the cultures of the Northwest Pacific Coast. From Boas's first, tentative interest in discovering a new field assistant to his eager encouragement to record additional narratives (for a price), the collection also provides an interesting view onto the mediation between an anthropologist and his ethnographic subject.

The letters both to and from Boas chart the development of the relationship between the two, giving detailed information on Beynon's field plans and the steady stream of manuscripts sent back to New York. More valuable than the correspondence, perhaps, is a series of texts recorded, transcribed and (in most cases) translated by Beynon. Among these are two copies of manuscripts that were apparently previously collected by Henry W. Tate, and the first four manuscripts sent east by Beynon. At least two other manuscripts appear to show Boas's efforts to correct (or, at least, understand) Beynon's orthography.

Two additional items of later provenance have found their way into the collection: a 1940 letter from Ella Cara Deloria to Boas, informing him of her new address, and a manuscript by the anthropologist Irving Goldman discussing Boas's ethnographic work on the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw).

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information

Provenance

The Beynon manuscripts were once held by Irving Goldman, and were transferred to the APS in September 2002 (M2002-30).

Preferred citation

Cite as: William Beynon Papers, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Catalogued rsc, 2002.

Related material

The Franz Boas Papers (B B61) include 65 letters, bills, or receipts relating to Beynon's work with Boas, 1936-1941. Beynon is also mentioned in Boas' correspondence with Viola Garfield and Marius Barbeau.

A microfilm of the extensive collection of William Beynon Tsimshian Manuscripts (Film 1416) at Columbia University is available for consultation at the APS. These are the manuscripts referred to in Beynon's correspondence with Boas.

Several narratives collected by Beynon are located in the collection of the American Council of Learned Societies Committee on Native American Languages, including his "Ethnographic and folkloric texts of the Tsimshian" (no. 35; Freeman and Smith 3771), "Tsmishian Kinship terms" (Pn5a.2, Freeman and Smith 3776) and "Tsimshian word list" (Pn5a.3; Freeman and Smith 3777). Additional material collected by Beynon is found in three of C. Marius Barbeau's reports to the APS Phillips Fund Committee, "The Gwenhoot of Alaska" (Freeman and Smith 3767), "Temlar'ham"(Freeman and Smith 3769), and "Wolf clan invaders from the northern plateau..." (Freeman and Smith 3770).

The other main sources for manuscripts collected by Beynon are Columbia University and the Canadian Centre for Folk Cultural Studies at the National Museum of Man, Ottawa. A portion of the English texts at Columbia have been published by the Metlakatla Indian Community in multiple volumes as Tsimshian Stories.

Bibliography

Winter, Barbara J., "William Beynon and the anthropologists," Canadian Journal of Native Studies 2 (1984), 279-292.

Indexing Terms


Genre(s)

  • Ethnographic texts

Personal Name(s)

  • Beynon, William, 1888-1958
  • Boas, Franz, 1858-1942
  • Deloria, Ella Cara
  • Robinson, James
  • Tate, Benjamin
  • Tate, Henry W.

Subject(s)

  • Gitksan Indians -- Rites and ceremonies
  • Natural Philosophy -- Study and teaching
  • Tsimshian Indians
  • Tsimshian language


Detailed Inventory

Beynon, William.
Correspondence
1933-19373 lin. feet
Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-05-22
May 22, 19331p.

Recommended to Boas for his interest in Tsimshian narratives by Viola Garfield, Edward Sapir and Marius Barbeau.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-06-01
June 1, 19331p.

Is interested in pursuing Tsimshian stories.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-06-14
June 14, 19332p.

Enclosing account of the holder of the chief name Nieswexs took his place. Terms for providing texts. Differences between Tsimshian villages, informants.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-07-08
July 8, 19331p.

Will write about proposed work.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-08-17
August 17, 19331p.

Beynon's price is more than he can afford. Sending a copy of a manuscript by Henry Tate, which should be rewritten in proper style.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-08-28
August 28, 19332p.

Negotiation on compensation for work. Has begun work on four short manuscripts.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-09-05
September 5, 19331p.

Sending on of Tate's manuscripts.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-09-11
September 11, 19331p.

Sending more of Tate's manuscripts dealing with the adventures of the Gispaxlot's tribes and Legex..

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-09-14
September 14, 19331p.

Very interested in Beynon's stories and the price is not excesive.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-09-22
September 22, 19331p.

Suggests he spend not more than $50 a month for Boas.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-09-28
September 28, 19331p.

Thanks for payment and books. Enclosing manuscripts 5 and 6.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-10-11
October 11, 19331p.

Boas collected the tale of Dzagagilac in 1888 and 1900.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-10-25
October 25, 19332p.

Enclosing manuscripts 7-10, synopses.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-10-26
October 26, 19331p.
Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-11-09
November 9, 19332p.

Wishes clarification on writing several words.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-11-10
November 10, 19331p.

Understands that there must be several stories about the origins of the four societies (phratries).

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-11-11
November 11, 19332p.

Enclosing manuscripts 11-14, synopses. Offers services at Hartley Bay and Kitamat, which he will visit in December or January.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-11-29
November 29, 19331p.

Much to be done in Gitamat.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1933-12-06
December 6, 19331p.
Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-12-11
December 11, 19331p.

Sending manuscripts from Tate's work. Has secret societies stories imported from the southern tribes into the northern.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1933-12-22
December 22, 19331p.

Sending more of Tate's work. Tate's difficult style.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-01-08
January 8, 19342p.

Sending more Tate material. Odd story of hermaphrodite, for which he had seen a reference when he was on the Nass.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1934-01-18
January 18, 19342p.

It has been a long time since he has heard Tsimshian, but there are some things about which he is doubtful in Beynon's work.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1934-01-18
January 18, 19342p.

Regarding compensation for work.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-01-22
January 22, 19341p.

Concentrating on Tate's material.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-02-03
February 3, 19341p.
Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1934-02-12
February 12, 19341p.

Has sent money. Cannot raise the monthly total for informants to $75.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-03-11
March 11, 19341p.
Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1934-03-12
March 12, 19341p.
Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-03-19
March 19, 19341p.
Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1934-03-22
March 22, 19342p.

Representing spelling of Tsimshian.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-04-27
April 27, 19342p.

Enclosing manuscript 34, the last of Tate's, and 35-39, synopses. Manuscript 39: "It was an elaborite affair staged in a moderbn atmosphere. Even the food served was entirely white man's food in the manner of the white man. The Chief himself was a half-breed with a splendid education and a very bright man in public life, with little or no knowledge of his Native antecedents having been raised in the south in the city of Victoria. But the older people created the atmosphere for the festivity which was very impressive. Their distribution of wealth to the guests took the form of money presents."

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-04-30
April 30, 19342p.

Could come to New York. Still studying Boas's grammatical questions.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-05-21
May 21, 19341p.

Completing a new series of Hartley Bay stories. Social organization amongthe coastal tribes: Halait groups may be more important and less variable than clans.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-05-26
May 26, 19341p.

Sending the Halait manuscript. Studies of the Halait.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-06-25
June 25, 19341p.

Forwarding manuscripts 45-48, including continuation of the Halait material.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-07-16
July 16, 19341p.

Sorry to hear plans for the visit have fallen through. Asks for prompter remittances.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-07-28
July 28, 19341p.

Sending manuscripts 49-53 and bill.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-10-29
October 29, 19341p.

Remitting manuscripts 59-63. Working with three informants to standardize phonetic spelling and pronunciation: the best informants in his and Viola Garfield's view.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1934-12-19
December 19, 19343p.

Manuscripts 64-68; synopses. Asks again for sufficient sum each month for informants and whether there has been improvement in his phonetics. Includes invoice listing stories, consultants used for each, rates paid, and time required.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1935-03-18
March 18, 19353p.

Manuscripts 69-74, synopses. Includes invoice listing stories, consultants used for each, rates paid, and time required.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1935-04-15
April 15, 19351p.

Sorry he would not advance him money, but will take Boas's offer of advance of $25 for Kitkatla and Skeena River villages. Hopes for advance to cover informant expenses during summer field work among the Gitksan, Gitselasu, and Kitzemgelelm. Understands from Garfield that nothing has been done in Gitksan; Beynon speaks both Gitksan and Nass dialects.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1935-04-22
April 22, 19351p.

Main informant is an excellent one.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1935-05-12
May 12, 19352p.

Forwarding manuscripts 80-86. Includes invoice listing stories, consultants used for each, rates paid, and time required.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1935-08-09
August 9, 19352p.

Forwarding manuscripts 97-104. Attempting to record the myth 'Am'ala, which Boas wanted. Hopes to be able to provide a full account of Gitksan potlatches in the winter. Says that the Gitksan have retained their old ways better than most Tsimshians since their hunting territories are about their only asset and because they have a sympathetic Indian agent.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1935-08-09
August 9, 19351p.
Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1935-12-30
December 30, 19351p.

Forwarding manuscripts 114-118, including account of elevation of Ginax'engik chiefs. Has recorded a Tsimshian version of Lagabula from informant who had worked by Henry Tate.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Franz Boas to William Beynon. 1936-01-06
January 6, 19361p.

Desires a description of the objects used in the Halait, particularly the meaning of a tube open at both ends.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-01-23
January 23, 19361p.

Forwarding manuscripts 119-122, synopses. Legex.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-01-27
January 27, 19361p.

Information on Halaits.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-03-30
March 30, 19361p.

Forwarding manuscripts 123-126.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-06-15
June 15, 19361p.

Forwarding manuscripts 127-129. Leaving next month for the Skeena canneries and will get material, particularly Lagabula narrative. Will also try to get Gitksan material.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-07-04
July 4, 19362p.

Forwarding manuscripts 130-133. Using two new informants, Harry Brooks and William Henry Pierce. Has recorded the story of how a woman cohabited with a dog from an elderly woman who gave a version that included the "embarrassing scenes" omitted by Pierce.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-09-12
September 12, 19361p.

Forwarding manuscripts 139-145.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-10-17
October 17, 19362p.

Survey for the Forestry Dept. has been delayed by weather. Discusses significance of secret societies as a general matter. Mentions Nisga'a and Gitksan.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1936-12-18
December 18, 19361p.

Forwarding manuscripts 152-158.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1937-01-15
January 15, 19371p.

Chief Tsiba-sa of Kitkatla has died at 98. "The writer as a chief of the Wolf clan was visited by messengers that had beensent out by the Kitkatlas to invite all of the Tsimshian chiefs and their spokesmen. I made a complete record of all the events... Even though I lived in Prince Rupert the delgatio[n] came to my residence very early in the morning and as soon as they entered they sang a dirge song and gave me my ground hog gift which notified me that there was a royal death at Kitkatla..."

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1937-02-15
February 15, 19372p.

Working on information on the death and ceremony of Tsibasa; none of the older type of speech heard twenty years ago.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1937-06-23
June 23, 19371p.

Forwarding manuscripts 175 and 176. Looking into Boas's question of the origin of royal groups.

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. 1937-08-30
August 30, 19372p.

Forwarding manuscript on royal status. Certain that Hartley Bay and Kitamat are the best places to study halait; "The difficulty with Port Simpson informants is that the religious contacts made with them has resulted in their almost total loss of past knowledge concerning the halait."

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Beynon, William.
William Beynon to Franz Boas. Undated
n.d.1p.
Deloria, Ella Cara .
Ella Deloria to Franz Boas. Circa 1940.
[1940]2p.

Sending her address.

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Boas, Franz, 1858-1942.
Originals of TLsS to William Beynon
1933-193617 TLsS

BRITTLE: HANDLE ONLY WITH CARE.

Beynon, William.
Texts
1928-19453 lin. feet
Beynon, William.
Gispaxlot tribal situation
ca.1933TMs, 2p.
Beynon, William.
Manuscript 1. Gid'astsu (Klemtu). Phratryal Peculiarities among the Gidastsu
1933AMsS, 8p.

Tsimshian with interlinear English.

Beynon, William.
Manuscript 1. Phratrial peculiarities among the Gid'astsu
1933TMs, 2p.

In English.

Beynon, William.
Manuscript 2. Origin name he.l gitxala. Account of the arrival of the first white man
1933AMsS, 28p.

In Tsimshian with interlinear English. Marginal notes, added in red in unknown hand.,

Beynon, William.
Manuscript 2. Origin name He.l, Gitxala, also an account of the arrival of the first white man
1933TMs, 7p.

Informant: George McCankey

Beynon, William.
Manuscript 3. The myth of Nugu.n'aks: Gid'astsu. Myth ofthe house of Temks... and all its subdivisions among the Tsimsyen
1933AMsS, 43p.

In Tsimshian with interlinear English. Marginal notes, added in red in unknown hand. "All of these houses on the different groups of people use this myth in connection with their myth of origin and crests and dirge and nursery songs." Related by James Robinson, age 70.

Beynon, William.
Manuscript 4. Retaliation of animals, or the extinction of the Gitwalksabe
1933AMsS, 4p.

In Tsimshian with interlinear English. Marginal notes, added in red in unknown hand. Informant Benjamin Tate.

Beynon, William.
Manuscript 54(?). Grammatical Forms
[1934]AMsS, 5p.

In Tsimshian with English translation.

Beynon, William.
Melska wala wileksam wildogita dzimsyen dil gidaganitz
1910-1926TMs,17p.

Typed narrative with interlinear transcription in different Tsimshian orthography.

Beynon, William.
Melska wal wileksam wildogit tsimsyen dil gidaganit and Melsgam waldogitga Haida dil gispaxlats
ca.1928-1945AMs,2p.

Incomplete narratives with interlinear English.

Beynon, William.
Tate Mss (1928)
1928-1946AMs,19p.

Incomplete narrative with interlinear English.

Beynon, William.
Tate Mss
n.d.AMs,18p.

Incomplete narrative with interlinear English.

Beynon, William.
Tsimshian word list
n.d.AMs, 5p.

Tsimshian words with English equivalents.

Beynon, William.
"The words you selected and the way in which I mean them"
n.d.AMs, 5p.
Beynon, William.
Miscellaneous manuscripts
n.d.AMs, 6 items

Includes first page (mutilated) of "The history of great war between..."; partial inventory of Beynon manuscripts; 4 cards with Tsimshian and English.

Goldman, Irving.
The mythology of myth
October 10, 1992TMsS, 13p.

Paper given at symposium, Fifty Years Later: The Legacy of Franz Boas, held at Barnard College, 1992.