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In Memoriam: Alfred L. Bush

Monday, November 13, 2023 12:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Alfred Bush, the longtime Curator of Western Americana at Princeton University and WHA Honorary Lifetime Member, died on November 9, 2023. A published obituary is available on Town Topics, Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper

You can read about Bush's significant contributions to the field of western history in a recollection written by the WHA's Immediate Past President Bill Deverell (see below). I have also included a link to the 2006 piece written by former WHA President (2017) Steve Aron on Alfred Bush and the collections at Princeton: "The Western Man in the Eastern Parlor"

Alfred L. Bush

We mourn the death of Alfred L. Bush (1933-2023), Princeton University’s longtime Curator of Western Americana. Alfred mentored generations of students, particularly Native American students, at Princeton. He was unfailingly loyal, utterly kind, and it was always delightful to spend time in his company. When I was a young graduate student, Alfred advised me to attend the Western History Association meeting. I had no funding to do so, but Alfred made it happen. We spent time together in Santa Fe and nearby pueblos, and Alfred guided me to documentary and human sources for an essay I wrote on the return of Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblo. Alfred was funny, irreverent, and could see through artifice in an instant. He took me once to a springtime luncheon at the home of a fabulously wealthy woman who lived on an huge estate near Princeton. At the long table set for our meal, I had never seen so many silverware items and goblets placed at each setting. “I don’t know how to do this,” I said to Alfred. “It’s ok,” he said, “just watch me.”

I watched Alfred Bush for decades, and I saw firsthand his geniality and generosity, his grace and humility. One day, decades ago, he and I were driving together on the Tesuque Pueblo, where Alfred’s adopted son, Paul, lived with his family. We passed a hitchhiker whom Alfred seemed to know. He stopped, and the man ran to our car. “Hi Bush!” he said. Alfred greeted him equally warmly (though I never knew Alfred to speak other than in his ‘indoor voice’). “Hello, Alfred,” he said. Our drive continued, with this young Native man referring to Alfred as “Bush” the whole time. After we dropped him off, I asked Alfred why our passenger called him by his last name. “Oh,” he said, “his name is Alfred, and he lives here. There can only be one Alfred.”

That was true of our friend, too. There was only one Alfred Bush. His work on western subjects, particularly through investigations of Native American photography – Native as both subjects and artists – was ahead of its time. So many of us are saddened by his death, and so many of us are proud to call ourselves his friends and his students. Alfred made a difference, and he will be missed.

William Deverell

Divisional Dean for the Social Sciences

USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences

Western History Association

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