Dr. George S. Metcalf was a field archeologist, a historian of the Great Plains, and a supervisor of the processing laboratory of the department of anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution.
In 1970, he was awarded an honorary Sc.D. by Luther College. After his death in November, 1975, his widow, Mildred Metcalf, worked with their daughter to donate his book collection to the Luther College Library. Margaret Metcalf Howie, a professional librarian and cataloger at Stephens College in Missouri, helped make the donation.
More than 90 books were added to the Luther College Library collection in memory of Metcalf. These books centered around Metcalf’s interest in the Plains Indians. An additional number of manuscripts were added to the Luther College Archives and are contained in the Clark Mallam collection.
George Stephen Metcalf was born in a sod house in Wauneta, Nebraska, in 1900. Although his formal education ended in the eighth grade, he became a professional archeologist, working as a field archeologist, historian of the Great Plains, and finally a supervisor of the processing laboratory of the department of anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution.
Metcalf was described by a colleague as an “omnivorous reader with an unusually retentive memory and a lively curiosity about what went on around him….” This same colleague considered him an excellent writer who brought perceptiveness and all the relevant available evidence he could uncover to his subjects. He authored numerous published articles, reports and bulletins in the course of his career.
Metcalf began collecting artifacts during his boyhood along the Frenchman River and its tributaries in southwest Nebraska. During his life he had first-hand experience with occupations such as farming, trapping and being a cowhand.
He began an association with the WPA during the 1930s working with A.T. Hill and the Nebraska Archeological Society in field archeology. He learned techniques of pithouse excavation from Hill and others. He was known for his sense of responsibility and for his ability to work with large crews of men. He was a meticulous worker, maintaining detailed and accurate records.
He worked in several factories during World War II, then returned to Nebraska (1947-1953) working on the Missouri River Basin surveys. From these surveys he transferred to the Smithsonian in 1953 working as a Museum Aid. During the next seventeen years, he served as an assistant on numerous field expeditions to the plains.
In 1970, he was awarded an honorary Sc.D. by Luther College. That same year, Metcalf was sent by the Smithsonian as its representative to help catalog the Gavin Sampson collection of artifacts at Luther College. He spent many weeks working with former Anthropology Department faculty member Clark Mallam and a crew of students processing this collection. During his time at Luther, Metcalf developed cataloging procedures and helped train students in basic laboratory techniques.
Over 6,000 artifacts were cataloged during his time on campus. The remainder of the collection of 15,000 artifacts was completed later that year. In 1971, Metcalf returned to Luther to assist in the cataloging of the ethnographic materials returned by the Norwegian-American Museum to the College.
Ref: Mallam, Clark, “George Metcalf” Citation for the Degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa, May 24, 1970; “Metcalf Library Given to Luther.” Luther Magazine (14) July 1977, 17-20; Wedel, Waldo. “George Metcalf: An Appreciation” The Central Plains Tradition: Internal Development and External Relationships. Report No. 11, Office of the State Archeologist, The University of Iowa, 1978, 4-5.