Robert Leland Papers

Identifier: NC1035

Scope and Contents

Material in the Robert Leland Papers is exclusively concerned with issues of Indigenous Peoples, mainly the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Included is correspondence, notes, reports, legal documents, printed material, tribal records and maps relate to Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal concerns including water, economic development and Indian claims.


  • 1912-1980


Conditions Governing Access

Most of the collection remains open with no restrictions on use. Two of the boxes of material related to economic development of Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation and to a lawsuit brought by Leland against Reno TV Channel 2 require permission from Joy Leland for access.

Biographical Note

Robert Leland was born in New York City in 1912; his parents were Henry Leland and Marion Randall Leland. He attended New York schools and graduated from Amherst College, 1934, and Harvard Law School, 1938. Before coming to Nevada, Leland practiced law in New York City, 1938-1940; served as legal advisor to various Federal agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board, Civil Aeronautics Board, Office of Price Administration, and Foreign Economic Administration, 1941-1946; and practiced law in Washington, D.C., 1946-1952.

Leland came to Reno, Nevada in 1952 and began his Nevada law practice in 1956. In his law practice he specialized in real estate, business and water law, and Indian affairs and administrative law. He served as general counsel and water law advisor for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe from 1958-1971. During this time, Leland drafted legislation related to Indian affairs, water law and recreation for, and adopted by, the Nevada and California Legislatures. He helped organize a national "Save Pyramid Lake" effort which included spearheading opposition to the California-Nevada Water Compact in both states.

In addition to his law practice, Leland was President of the Leland Marine Company; and developed tree farming, fish culture, and rehabilitation of buildings, water system, roads, streams, and forests at Fuller Lake, Verdi. He acquired the Pacific Wood Lumber and Flume Company and donated most of its lands to the surrounding Toiyabe National Forest through the Trust for Public Lands.

Robert Leland was married to Dr. Joy Hanson Leland, research professor of Anthropology at the Desert Research Institute. He had two sons: Dr. John Park Leland who teaches writing at the Krannert School of Management, Purdue University; and Richard Randall Leland (deceased). He had one grandchild, John Eric Leland.

Mr. Leland was a member of the American, Nevada, and Washoe County Bar Associations; trustee of the Federated Church of Reno; delegate to Nevada and Washoe County Democratic conventions, and chair of the Washoe County Rules Committee; member of the Governor's Advisory Committee on Indian Affairs; associate member of the National Congress of American Indians; member of the Washoe County Personnel Committee; and advisor to the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, Truckee River Water Users Association, Washoe Project Advisory Committee, and Washoe County Community Action Association.

Leland died in Reno on October 24, 1986.


24 Linear Feet (28 boxes, 8 oversize folders)

Language of Materials



Robert Leland (1912-1986) was a Nevada lawyer who worked closely with Washoe and Paiute Indigenous Peoples. Material in the collection is exclusively concerned with issues of Indigenous Peoples, mainly the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. The collection includes correspondence, notes, reports, legal documents, printed material, tribal records, and maps relate to Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal concerns including water, economic development, and claims.


Arranged into the following series: 1) Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Records and Subject Files; 2) Pyramid Lake Economic Development; 3) Water; 4) Indian Claims; 5) Nevada Indians (Other than Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe); 6) National Indian Organizations; 7) Bureau of Indian Affairs; 8) Leland vs. Channel 2; 9) Maps; 10) Obituaries of Robert Leland; 11) Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The original donation of the collection was received in 1982 from Robert Leland. At the time of the original donation, Leland had removed some materials from the collection and retained these for his private use. Shortly after Leland's death and again in 1989, his wife Joy returned these and additional materials.

Related Materials

Additional information on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe can be found in the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe records, 1934-1979, collection number NC16 in the Special Collections Department.

Separated Materials

Photographs transferred to the Special Collections photo archive as collection number UNRS-P1989-50.

Introduction by Vine Deloria, Jr.

I first met Robert Leland in the summer of 1965 when he was in Washington, D.C. working on the water rights problems of the Pyramid Lake Paiutes. He called the office of the National Congress of American Indians, where I had been working late, and invited me to meet him for coffee and conversation. We talked until the restaurant closed and in a short evening he was able to provide me with a fascinating background of the tribe, its current problems, and its future potential. Additionally, Bob was able to present such a vivid picture of the politics of the tribe that several years later when I was able to visit Nevada and meet with the tribal council, I was well-prepared to speak to some of their most pressing concerns.

Over the years then, I came to rely on Bob's counsel and advice on many technical problems and we became good friends, keeping in touch long after our lives changed radically and he was retired and I was teaching in a university. During the course of our close professional relationship I came to learn that Bob had been a stalwart supporter of the National Congress of American Indians, regardless of which political faction happened to be in office, and that he had always made it a point to come to the NCAI conventions and assist the delegates in drafting resolutions, in discussing national issues, and in promoting the growth of this national Indian organization. His close attention to detail was of considerable value in the days of termination when proposed legislation containing many innocent-appearing phrases actually had the seeds of destruction contained within them.

In the spring of 1967 John Belindo, who was heading the NCAI office in Washington, D.C., was able to smuggle a draft of the much heralded but secret "Omnibus Bill" out of Interior. This proposal was Stewart Udall's major effort in Indian legislation but it had some dreadful provisions, most notably it would have allowed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to mortgage tribal trust land to secure funds for economic development. It was dangerous in that many suspicious characters hovered around the Bureau seeking to gain concessions of Indian lands, water, and resources and allowing mortgages to be out on tribal lands would have opened the chicken coop to the great variety of predators waiting outside.

We had to quickly reach a consensus on how to respond to this proposal and so I called a special secret meeting in Denver to analyze the bill. Robert Leland was the only tribal attorney asked to attend this meeting. I was well aware that almost every other tribal attorney would have taken the draft bill, slipped out of the meeting, and contacted his tribes and claimed credit for having unmasked this Interior proposal. I knew, however, that Bob Leland would be more interested in helping us devise a strategy to stop the proposal than he would in getting credit for exposing it. It is a singular tribute to Bob's integrity that not a word of our meeting or strategy leaked out until we were prepared to oppose the bill and at no time, even when the fight against its approval was the most desperate, did Bob ever try to claim credit for his help even though his help was considerable.

So he was a man of rare personal integrity, and a good friend besides. What struck me most about Bob was his willingness to give support to the good people within the tribe in their time of real depression. He never abandoned any of them even if they were not in office at the time and he really cared for this little tribe of Paiutes and gave a good deal of himself to them in many ways. His papers show the broad scope of this research and concern and illustrate for future scholars and historians the nature of Indian life and political problems during the last half of this century.

I am honored that Bob's family has asked me to write a little introduction to be included with his papers in the University of Nevada, Reno library. I am certain that people using these papers will be guided by the warm, wise, and generous spirit of Robert Leland as they see him emerge in his correspondence and research. He was quite a man and I am pleased to have been included among his friends.

Vine Deloria, Jr. Tucson, Arizona

Processing Information

The original donation of the collection was received in 1982 from Mr. Leland and was arranged in post binders, each containing materials dealing (generally) with a single subject. Thus, correspondence, notes, phone messages, reports, tribal records, news clippings, and other material relating to a specific subject are together. Leland had also assigned subject categories to almost every document. Working with the original order and using Leland's subject designations whenever possible, the collection is arranged into nine series. No attempt has been made to achieve strict chronological order. Inclusive dates appear on most file folders.

At the time of the original donation, Mr. Leland had removed some materials from the collection and retained these for his private use. Shortly after Leland's death and again in 1989, his wife Joy returned these and additional materials, consisting of about ten cubic feet. Most of these papers were of the same kind as donated originally; they were integrated into the collection to conform to Leland's arrangement of the collection (with few exceptions, which are explained in each series description).

  • Attorney files
Guide to the Robert Leland Papers
Lenore M. Kosso and Susan Searcy
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
This collection was partially processed and arranged through funds granted by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and published with the support of family and friends of Robert Leland.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)