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Collection 092 Ephemera of Robert B. Ekvall

Identifier: CN 092

Scope and Contents

Oral history interviews, correspondence, photographs, and a manuscript that describe Robert B. Ekvall's education at Wheaton College, work as a missionary in China and Tibet, and military and diplomatic activities during World War II and after in China and Southeast Asia.


  • Created: 1933-1980

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical or Historical Information

Full Name: Robert Brainerd Ekvall

Birth: February 18, 1898, in Min-hsien, China

Death: May, 1983


Parents: Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) missionaries David Paul and Helen (Galbraith) Ekvall

Siblings: Alice G. (Ekvall) Joithe

Marital Status: Married M. Elizabeth Fischer October 26, 1921. After Elizabeth's death in 1940, he married Eva Kunfi

Children: David, Erik, Karin


- 1912 Home schooled by missionary parents on China-Tibet border

1913-1916 Wilson Memorial Academy, Nyack, New York, USA.

1916-1920 Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, USA. Graduated with a BA.

1921-1922 Missionary Training Institute, Nyack, New York, USA.

1937-1938 University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Did graduate work in anthropology.


1917-1918 Served briefly in the United States Army during World War I

1920-1921 Western Electric Company of Chicago, Illinois, USA

1923-1941 Missionary in China and Tibet for the Christian and Missionary Alliance. For a time he taught at the Bible school his father had founded in Gansu province, but soon moved on to evangelistic work among ethnic Tibetan pastoral people in Tibet, including several visits to the kingdom of Ngawa.

1927-1928 Furlough in the United States, caused by a forced evacuation because of political and military turmoil at the time in China

1936-1939 Furlough in the United States

1938 Published Gateway to Tibet : the Kansu-Tibetan Border, a history of C&MA mission work in that region

1939 Was co-author, with Harry M. Shuman, Alfred C. Snead, John H. Cable, Howard Van Dyck, William Christie, David J. Fant, of After Fifty Years: A Record of God's Working Through the Christian and Missionary Alliance

1940 His wife, Elizabeth, died in Tibet.

1941-1943 While visiting his son missionary David in French Indochina, he and David were interned by the Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the United States into the war. He was eventually repatriated back to the United States.

1944-1945 Joined the United States Army, served as captain in Burma, then became a staff office at Chungking, China. Was wounded in combat on July 7, 1945, and hospitalized for nine months.

1946-1947 Served as staff officer and translator with the military mission of General George Marshall in Peking, China

1947-1948 Assistant military attache in China

1949-1950 Assistant G-2 (intelligence) with the Second Infantry Division

1950-1951 Joint Armed Forces Public Information Officer, Seattle, Washington, USA. Honorable discharge from the Army in 1951.

1951-1952 Assisted the brother of the Dalai Lama on behalf of the Committee for Free China

1952-1953 Research Associate of the Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA

1953-1954 Recalled to active service in the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Served as a translator and Chief, Language Division of the Armistice Commission at the Korean truce negotiations. Also translated at the Asian and Indochinese conferences in Geneva, Switzerland.

1954-1955 Staff officer, Intelligence Division, stationed in the Pentagon in Washington, DC, USA

1955-1957 On loan to State Department as interpreter at the Sino-American talks in Geneva, Switzerland

1957-1958 Assistant military attaché in Paris, France. Retired from Army in 1958 because he was over-age for his grade.

1958-1960 Chairman, Inner Asia Research Project, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA

1960-1964 Research Instructor, Far East Department, University of Washington

1960 Published Faithful Echo, a memoir of his experiences as an interpreter during the Korean truce negotiations and the Geneva conferences.

1965-1969 Curator of Asian Ethology at the Thomas Burke Memorial Museum of the University of Washington

1969-1974 Research associate, Department of Anthropology, University of Washington. He retired in 1974.

Other significant information:

His father, David Ekvall and his uncle, Martin Ekvall, were the first C&MA missionaries in Tibet. After his father's death on May 18, 1912, Helen Ekvall returned with her children to the United States.

Fluent in Chinese, Tibetan, and French

Author of numerous missionary and scholarly works on Tibetan culture, including Religious Observation in Tibet: Pattern and Function (1964); Fields on the Hoof: Nexus of Tibetan Nomadic Pastoralism (1968); The Lama Knows/ A Tibetan Legend is Born (1979); also a novel, Tents Against the Sky (1955)


0.29 Cubic Feet

1 Box (DC), Audio Tapes, Photographs

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Materials

Oral History Interviews

Date Range: 1979-1980

Volume: .04 cubic feet

Geographic coverage: Tibet, China, United States

Type of documents: Reels of audio tape

Notes: This series consists of two oral history interviews with Robert Ekvall who was interviewed by Robert Shuster on October 12, 1979, and September 18, 1980. The time period covered by the interviews is 1900-1980.

Paper Records

Date Range: 1933-1935

Volume: .25 cubic feet

Geographic coverage: Tibet

Type of documents: Correspondence, manuscript

Correspondents: Leonard Hall, William Christie

Subjects: C&MA missionary work in Tibet and in other parts of the world

Notes: The paper records in this collection consists of four letters and a copy of a typed manuscript. Folder 1-1 includes three ALS (autograph letters, signed) that are from Ekvall to one of his financial supporters in the United States. The brief letters describe his missionary activities among Tibetan tribes people in Ngawa and elsewhere and a C&MA field conference held in Taochow, China. The fourth letter is a printed letter by William Christie, treasurer of the C&MA, to supporters in the United States, giving general statistics on the denominations missionaries.

Also in the collection are several copies of Ekvall family photographs dating from David and Helen’s work in China and Tibet during the first decade of the 20th century. The manuscript by Ekvall (in folder 1-2), is entitled “Attache Trek: China 1947-1948" and describes his experiences and extensive travels as an American military attache in China and Tibet during 1947. The manuscript was apparently never published. The table of contents of the manuscript is more of an index to the different topics covered in each chapter. The manuscript itself only goes up to the fifteenth chapter (out of 26 listed in the table of contents) and it is unknown by the Archives staff if the manuscript in the BGC Archives is incomplete, or Ekvall never finished it. The manuscript contains descriptions of Chinese Christianity as it was developing at the time and also of the diplomatic and military complexities of the time period. The collection also contains five pages of printed notes (folder 1-3) by Robert Carlson, who grew up on the Kansu-Tibetan border and was a longtime friend of Ekvall. In these notes he identifies by name many of the people referred to but not named in Gateway to Tibet (1938), Ekvall’s history of the work of Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries on the Kansu-Tibetan border.

Accruals and Additions

The interviews in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives in October 1979 and September 1980 by Robert Ekvall. The other material in the collection was donated by Robert Carlson in 1990 and 2007 and Ray Smith in 1997.

Accession 79-117, 80-122

March 5, 1980

Robert Shuster

S. Kouns

Revised, March 5, 1981

Robert Shuster

B. Pietra

Accession 90-37, 97-19, 07-21

Updated, April 11, 2007

Bob Shuster

Collection 092 Ephemera of Robert B. Ekvall
Bob Shuster
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US