Our acquaintance with and understanding of the McBeths comes through their personal papers. They were prolific writers.
Sue McBeth's letters (over 150) form the largest personal text collection of this website. Kate wrote fewer letters, but her journal and notebook provide a rich store of material.
The content and style of the documents reveal much about the sisters. Frequently, under the guise of a gentle aside, the McBeths made damaging professional or personal observations about each other and colleagues. Sue's consistent use of the term "boy" or "boys" in reference to adult students is jarring to contemporary readers. Nez Perce people retaining traditional spiritual beliefs and culture are characterized as "heathen," "wild," and "uncivilized" by both sisters.
The original spelling, punctuation, and grammar
are retained in all documents on this website. For example, Sue McBeth
consistently spelled "receive" as "recieve," and she rarely capitalized
the names of weekdays. Both women employed self-styled abbreviations.
Sue refers to herself in third person. Strikethroughs [
The original letters are microfilmed in the American Indian Correspondence: The Presbyterian Historical Society Collection of Missionaries Letters, 1833 - 1893, these films are available for use in the University of Idaho Library.
Ministers and Agents
Letters from ministers and federal agents add to our understanding of the sisters. While supporting efforts to Christianize the Nez Perce, they were frequently measured in their enthusiasm toward the McBeths.
Peaka Soyapu, written by Julia Frazier (a close friend of the McBeths) following Kate's death in 1913, is a biographical sketch of Kate's life. It contains many factual errors but accurately reflects a culturally approved attitude toward mission work.