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John L. Sinclair Papers

Identifier: MSS-461-BC

Scope and Content

The Sinclair Papers, consisting of fiction and non-fiction manuscript materials from the inception of an idea to the published form, comprise an essentially complete record of John Sinclair's long writing career. Additionally, the Sinclair collection is significant for its attention to regional subject matter--the history and lore of the Southwest. Covering the gamut of New Mexico's multicultural heritage from historical facts to tall tales to spiritual realms, Sinclair's writings reflect his breadth of experience as a cowboy, his work with the Museum of New Mexico, and his close association with Native Americans. They also reveal a genuine affection and respect for the ways of the land and people whose destiny he was to share.

Since the publication of his first story in l936, Sinclair has published three novels, several non-fiction books about New Mexico, and over two hundred magazine articles, short stories and novelettes, which have appeared in journals such as New Mexico Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Westways, American Heritage, and Southwest Review. While working at the Lincoln County Museum, Sinclair wrote perhaps his best known novel, In Time of Harvest, published by Macmillan in l943. It was reprinted in l979 by the UNM Press in its Zia Series of classic southwestern books. His second novel, Death in the Claimshack, was published in l947 by Sage Books. Cousin Drewey and the Holy Twister, his third novel, was published by Columbia Publishing in l98l and in paperback by Ace Charter Books in l982.

His non-fiction works include Profile of a State: New Mexico, co-authored with George Fitzpatrick and published by Horn and Wallace in l964; New Mexico: the Shining Land, published by the UNM Press in l980, and Cowboy Riding Country, which was published in l982 by the UNM Press.

Although the UNM University Libraries received the Sinclair Papers in January l987, Sinclair continues to write and to publish articles and stories. New editions of four published novels are also forthcoming in l988-90.

Sinclair's literary papers have been arranged and described in four series. Series I consists of Biographical material. Series II consists of Fiction and is further described in two sub-series: published works (novels) and miscellaneous works (published and/or projected novels, short story collections, and short stories). Non-fiction writings comprise Series III, which has been further described in two sub-series: published works (book-length collections) and miscellaneous works (published and/or projected book-length collections, articles and essays, and research materials). Series IV contains Correspondence, which is arranged in editorial and literary sub-series.

Monographs and periodicals have been transferred to the general collection, excepting those filed as an integral part of a writing project. All photographs have been transferred to the Photo archives. Photocopies replace photographs which were filed with relevant research materials.

An addition to the collection was processed in January 1997. The addition includes personal materials, correspondence, manuscripts, and news clippings.


  • 1849-1993

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.


Southwestern essayist, novelist, and raconteur John L. Sinclair was born December 6, l902 in New York City. His father, Captain John Leslie Sinclair, was a Scotsman who sailed clipper ships around the world in the late l800s and later held an executive post for the Bucknall Steamship Lines; his mother was Gertrude Corbin Sinclair. After Captain Sinclair's death in l906, young John was sent to Scotland to be raised in the Scottish tradition and to be educated in private schools in England, including Beacon, Perse, and Cambridge. Although the family owned a textile business with offices in England and Ireland, as well as grazing and lumbering operations in Australia, Sinclair prepared himself for a career in agriculture. In l9l9, he was apprenticed to learn farming, fruit growing, and stock breeding on the farms of the Duke of Buccleuch at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumsfriesshire, Scotland.

In l923, Sinclair departed for Western Canada, where he was to set up a ranching operation. On the train between New York and the Northwest, however, he met a New Mexico cattleman who convinced the twenty-year-old that New Mexico, not Canada, was the place for someone interested in cattle. After spending some time in the Roswell area, Sinclair decided to settle in New Mexico as an American citizen. He was, however, denied a family-financed ranching operation, and received only a small annual allowance. For the next l4 years, Sinclair lived the life of a ranch hand, learned the lore of the West, and studied the lifestyle and vernacular of the homesteaders. Sinclair died in 1993 at age 91 in Albuquerque New Mexico.

Deciding to devote his time to both cowboy riding and writing about the Southwest, Sinclair rented a cabin in the Capitan Mountains in l928. In l933, on the advice of his friend Bill Lumpkins, he moved to Santa Fe, where he pursued writing, while making the acquaintance of local artists such as Will Shuster, Randall Davey, Alfred Morang, Fremont Ellis and B.B. Dunn. His first story was published in the pulp magazine West in l936, and a year later, his first feature story was accepted for publication by New Mexico Magazine.

Sinclair spent a year in Lincoln County and returned to Santa Fe, when, on the strength of his writing skills, he was hired by the Museum of New Mexico as a research assistant on its WPA Extension Service. The position involved preparing guides for exhibits and dioramas in the various branch museums. In l940, when the old Lincoln County Courthouse was restored for use as a branch museum, Sinclair became the curator there. For the next two years, he entertained the tourists with stories of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War (l878-l88l). He could also write to his heart's content, and during this time, he sold many articles and short stories to regional and national magazines. During the last summer on the job, he wrote his first published novel,In Time of Harvest (Macmillan Company, l943).

Following two years (l942-l944) of free-lance writing in Tucson and Santa Fe, Sinclair accepted a position as superintendent of the Coronado State Monument, a branch museum operated jointly with the University of New Mexico. His job was to meet, talk with, and guide the tourists through the ruins and into the Painted Kiva, and he continued to write. In l947, he married Evelyn Fox, a teacher he had met at the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe. As the Sinclairs worked together at the Coronado State Monument for the next fifteen years, they developed a close association with their neighbors, the Santa Ana Indians, and Evelyn continued her long-standing friendship with the Zia Indians, whom she had known since her days at the Laboratory of Anthropology.

Sinclair retired from his position with the Museum of New Mexico (and the Coronado State Monument) in l962. After spending several years in the southeastern part of the state, the Sinclairs returned to live in the Bernalillo area in l967, leasing a house near the Coronado Monument on the Santa Ana reservation. The Sinclairs lived in Albuquerque from l985 to l987, then returned to their home on the banks of the Rio Grande, with its panoramic view of the Sandia Mountains. Sinclair died in 1993.

John Sinclair has received numerous awards for his literary work. In l974, Saul Cohen (New Mexico Magazine, March-April, l974) listed Sinclair's In Time of Harvest as one of the ten best novels about New Mexico. In l978, Sinclair was made a life member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame for his contribution to the heritage of the American West. In the same year, he received the Golden Spur award of the Western Writers of America for his article "Where the Cowboys Hunkered Down," ( New Mexico Magazine, September l977). He also has twice received the Western Heritage Wrangler Award.


22 boxes (22 cu. ft.), plus oversize folder

Related Material

Ruth Armstrong Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico. Cynthia Farrah Writers of the Southwest Photograph Collection Photo archives, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico. Frank Waters Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.

Separated Material

Photographs and other pictorial materials have been transferred to John L. Sinclair Pictorial Collection.

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • Gibson, Daniel. "Tales of a New Mexico Cowboy." The Albuquerque Journal. March 23, l983.
  • Ireland, Tom. "Memories Best Part of 'Cowboy Country'." The New Mexican. March 3l, l983.
  • Locher, Frances C., ed. Contemporary Authors. Detroit: Gale Research, l982, p. 6l05.
  • Moore, John. Who Is Who in New Mexico. Albuquerque: Ward Anderson Printing Co., l957, p. 247.
  • Reynolds, Steve. "Writer's Eager to Get Back in the Saddle Again." The Albuquerque Journal. July 30, l987.
  • Tryk, Sheila. "Odyssey of a Scot." New Mexico Magazine. July, l980.


Note: Folder titles that are in uppercase letters are original folder titles used by Sinclair.
Finding aid of the John L. Sinclair Papers, 1849-1993
For Approval
Processed by CSWR staff
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 461 BC::John L. Sinclair Papers)//EN" "nmu1mss461bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131