About the Sacks Collection

Sacks Collection of the American West


The Sacks Collection of the American West is a bibliography of primary and secondary sources on the 19th century American West. The bibliography covers people, places and events in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Oregon and Mexico. Created by Dr. Benjamin Sacks, the bibliography includes over 100,000 hand-written index cards, and over 50,000 supporting documents. The bibliography entries are cross-referenced and many are annotated.


Benjamin Sacks and Barry Goldwater were introduced in 1954 because of Sacks’ genealogy work on Arizona pioneers. One of Sacks’ driving interests was Jewish settlers in the West. Goldwater was taken by Sacks’ pursuit of detail. He saw Sacks’ genealogy work as filling in the gaps to the Goldwater family history which Bert Fireman, a Phoenix journalist, planned to write.  (The Goldwaters of Arizona was later completed by Dean Smith and published in 1986.)  Goldwater introduced Sacks to Fireman. Together, Goldwater, Fireman and Sacks founded the Arizona Historical Foundation (AHF) in 1959.


Dr. Sacks was officially hired by AHF as a field consultant in 1961. At that time, his index cards already numbered 35,000. Sacks’ generated the cards for his personal research and use. He authored two books, Be It Enacted: The Creation of the Territory of Arizona and Arizona’s Angry Man: United States Marshal Milton B. Duffield. He was working on a manuscript about Hermann Ehrenberg but was unable to complete it.


As a field consultant his main charge was to collect “unpublished maps, and information on Arizona town sites, pioneers and military posts.”  Over the next ten years, he added more than 70,000 additional cards to the collection. Both he and Fireman called these cards (and subsequent supporting documents) “exhibits.”  The cards and supporting documents were used for internal research at AHF and were not accessible to the general public until after Sacks’ death.


Sacks traveled extensively, visiting repositories in the West and across the U.S. in search of the sources listed in the collection. The repositories he visited include, but are not limited to, the Bancroft Library, Arizona Historical Society, Arizona State Library and Archives, Sharlot Hall Museum, the National Archives, and West Point. On these trips, Sacks would comb through newspapers, books, manuscript collections, and government records searching for references to Arizona and the West. In good research procedure, he wrote out an index card for each fact or idea.


Additionally, he copied by hand many of the source documents in part or whole. Sacks also had secretarial and research assistants who stamped, numbered, and cross-referenced the documents.  The bulk of documents and microfilm were added to the index card collection from 1961-1971.  He would send copies of documents on request to certain researchers referred to him.  He would also send copies of information to Fireman on request.  


During his lifetime, these materials remained with Sacks and were donated to AHF upon his death in 1971. Fireman noted in correspondence to Goldwater and others that he had “no idea of the bulk.” He anticipated “two or three years of intense work” to arrange the materials to make them more accessible to researchers.  


Fireman wrote to a mutual friend that he intended to arrange the files as Sacks may have used them.  He saw the Sacks’ collection as the purview of “advanced students.”  Despite multiple attempts to improve access, comparatively few researchers have used this collection, largely due to its bulk, complexity and inaccessibility.


In an effort to make the collection more accessible, a free online database is being created. We hope to connect all segments of the Sacks collection into a coherent whole using the latest technology and descriptive methods.  No longer the purview of “advanced students,” the Sacks Collection of the American West is a good starting point for any inquiry into the history of the 19th century American West.


The collection

Image of Card Drawers


Index Cards
The more than 100,000 index cards, which anchor this collection, were created by Sacks for his own use. The index cards include citations to books, newspapers, journals, correspondence, government documents, personal papers, maps, theses, microfilm and more. The cards are cross referenced and housed in four vintage card catalogs. Many are annotated.  The card catalog is available in the AHF reading room and is organized into four sections: Biography, Subjects, Place Names, and Newspapers.

This collection includes copies of many, but not all, of the source material (see below) cited on the cards. 


Source Material
The source material includes copies of primary and secondary sources, hand-written research notes, annotated bibliographies as well as microfilm.  There are a few original documents from the 1800s such as cashed checks, mortuary notes and a couple of issues of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. The source material is in good condition. Note that previously non-indexed source material has been integrated from the Sacks Manuscript Collection


Some source material is contained on microfilm reels. Primarily government documents and newspapers, the microfilm also includes personal papers, theses, maps, and company correspondence. The reels have been integrated into the AHF Microfilm Collection


Multiple terms are used to reference the supporting document files. Notations of Xerox, Photostat, and Letter files, and Large envelopes refer to biography and subject files.


The source material is arranged as follows:

Biography Files
Arranged alphabetically by surname.   They contain photocopies of various documents related to the individual. Note that the date ranges are approximate and refer to the sources. 


Subject Files
Arranged alphabetically. State-specific subjects are listed under the state, i.e., mines in Arizona are listed as "Arizona: Mines." They contain photocopies of various documents related to the subject. Date ranges are approximate and refer to the sources used.   


Numbered Documents
Stamped numbers (1-16316) on index cards correspond to stamped numbers on individual documents.  Many of the documents cover names and subjects also found in the Biography and Subject Files.


Files contain hand written copies of newspaper articles. Files are arranged alphabetically by newspaper.  See also microfilm http://www.ahfweb.org/download/AHFMicrofilm.pdf .

Sacks kept a number of notebooks with additional notes on people, places and events. Individual notebooks may contain material on several topics. The notebooks are numbered. The index cards cite the notebook number, and in some cases page numbers.


Arranged alphabetically. Biography and Subject files containing oversize documents, primarily prints from microfilm.