The Merrill J. Mattes Research Library at the National Frontier Trails Museum is believed to be the largest public research library in the nation focused on the overland trails, and the acquisition and settlement of the American West. Only a few years old, the remarkable collection houses over 3,500 volumes, many of them rare books of Western Americana.
The collection was begun in 1991 by the late Merrill J. Mattes, a co-founder of the Oregon-California Trails Association, with the generous donation of his own personal library. That original nucleus of 1,350 volumes reflected Merrill’s many years as an award-winning National Park Service historian and also included works of his own authorship, such as The Platte River Road, and The Platte River Road Narratives. The National Frontier Trails Museum, funded by the City of Independence, has purchased nearly 2,000 additional books for the library.
The library includes a great deal more than just books, however. The holdings include over 50 cubic feet of manuscripts, 2,000 maps, hundreds of periodicals, plus photographs, drawings, and microfilm.
The scope of the collection covers nearly every subject imaginable in the American West, from Lewis and Clark to the transcontinental railroad. Other collection categories include western artists, forts, American Indians, transportation, Mormons, archaeology, women, fur trade, Pony Express, mining, the Hispanic Southwest, trail guides, buffalo, military, and books on the tools and material culture of 19th century America.
Geographically, the library ranges from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and covers the years of approximately 1800 to 1880. The major focus, however, is on the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails. To this end the collection includes nearly 2,500 trail diaries, letters and recollections including several original diaries and letters.
While anyone is welcome to use the library free of charge, it is a research library and the books and other materials may not be borrowed. Researchers are given a copy of the research policies to read and sign before using the collections.
The Mattes Library is housed at the National Frontier Trails Museum, 318 W. Pacific Street, Independence, Missouri, 64050, which is about five blocks southwest of the old courthouse square. It is adjacent to the national headquarters of the Oregon-California Trails Association. The phone number of the Trails Museum is (816) 325-7575.
9 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Monday - Friday, by appointment only
The Library is not available on weekends.