A Tribute to Alan R. Woolworth

On Wednesday, August 13, 2014 we lost a dear friend, colleague, and mentor with the passing of Alan R. Woolworth, who would have been 90 years old on August 19. A public memorial service will be held Saturday, August 30 at 6:30 PM at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I am away from home and the files of biographical material from which to write the proper tribute I would love to give Alan. But I can share a little about Alan and his legacy by re-posting the remarks I made at the Gideon and Agnes Pond House on June 29, 2012. The occasion was the book launch party for A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity, which Zabelle Stodola and I dedicated to Alan. This post was originally published on July 7, 2012.

Alan Woolworth, about to celebrate his 88th birthday, arrived early to get a front-row seat, proudly wearing one of his “Nebraska” caps. Alan did the undergraduate work that led to his career in archaeology, museum collections, and research, at the University of Nebraska.

“Now I need to tell you another story. Zabelle is right. Alan did not technically contribute to this book. But I have to tell you why: it because even before I started he had already loaned me his entire private collection of Minnesota captivity narratives.

It started a decade ago with a single binder. Alan knew I had little children because they came along with me on many visits to his office at the Minnesota History Center. These visits started when there was only one child. Then there were two. Then there were three. (Before there were four!) Those were the days before Alan’s research collections were available in the Library and even though he was supposed to be retired, he’d come into the office just about any time anybody asked.

Alan loves children. But I think he took pity on me. Because one particularly crazy morning at home, my phone rang and Alan said, “I’m on my way into the office and I have something I think you could use. Can I drop it off on my way?”

A few moments later Alan was standing on my front porch in his long warm coat and woolen muffler with a very large binder in his arms. “This is from my house,” he told me. “It’s the same collection of my Dakota biographies that’s on my office shelf. Keep it as long as you need it. Photocopy what you want. Then return it sometime.”

I stammered my thanks and he was gone. Later, when my husband came home for lunch my oldest (at the time my only child) said, “Daddy! Daddy! Did you see them? Did you see them?! Those are Mr. Woolworth’s footprints in our snow!”

The binder was just the beginning of wonders loaned or gifted from his personal collection: material he’s collected at home over the years. Rolls of microfilm MHS does not own. Obscure old books. Boxes of research files like his captivity collection to peruse and copy at my leisure.

But more than simply share information, Alan trained into a generation of novice, impressionable scholars like me that what we do with history is share it. If we are blessed to find something, it may not be meant for us, but because tomorrow we will meet someone who needs that very thing we were given. Alan’s spirit of humility and generosity permeates our local research community. Outsiders like Zabelle often remark on how readily we share.  If we do, it is because Alan has taught us so well. Not by lecturing. But by modeling how it done. Alan, we are grateful!”



You must be having a marvelous time in that place where all unsolved earthly mysteries are now made perfectly clear, no trowels, photocopies, or binders necessary. I am smiling through my tears imagining all the people you are trading stories with –still wearing your favorite crusty red Nebraska cap, I think, as you wouldn’t leave home without it. You are loved and missed. My condolences to your family.



On Monday, August 18, 2014 Richard Chin wrote this biographical article, Alan Woolworth, who returned Little Crow’s remains, dies for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Alan’s obituary in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 27, 2014.

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2 Responses to A Tribute to Alan R. Woolworth

  1. Thank you Carrie. You’ve captured the spirit of Alan’s generosity beautifully. There will never be another soul like him….

  2. Donald S. Nothem says:

    I Met Mr Woolworth for the first time at the Camp Release Sesquicentennial in 2012 while attending College. I had retired from the Military in St Paul, Mn and returned home after almost 30 years to the small South Dakota border town of Gary, SD and chatting with Mr Woolworth he told me of his connection with the local area around Deuel County, SD. I had just completed a semester of Minnesota History at the College and have a love for it while growing up in the Southwest Minnesota area. Mr Woolworth was kind enough to send me a Autographed copy of one of his many authored books, this being of the 1858-1873 Construction of the Winona and St.Peter Railroad and how it was instrumental in settling most of the small towns between the Mississippi River in Minnesota the Dakota Territory. It was an Honor to have met and to have had him as a friend,

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