Skip to main content

Collection 277 Papers of Jim Elliot

Identifier: CN-277

Scope and Contents

Correspondence, journals, notebooks, school records, poems, clippings, drawings, and other materials describing the ministry of Jim Elliot and his spiritual preparation for the mission field and death at the hands of Waorani Indians. Microfilm edition of materials available for researcher use.

[Note: In the Scope and Content description, the notation "folder 2-5" means box 2, folder 5.]

The materials in this collection consist of records (correspondence, tapes of sermons, journals, notebooks, Bibles, school records, poems, clippings, drawings, ) dating from the completion of Jim Elliot's elementary school years, 1941, through December, 1955, eight days before his death in Ecuador, with a few documents from later years. There are also two Bibles and a Greek New Testament belonging to Jim Elliot, which have his annotations. In several places in Elliot's journals, comments have been cut out. The journals were in this condition when received by the Archives.

Typed excerpts from Elliot's letters home, assembled with topics and dates, are in folder 1-2. They date from his freshman year at Wheaton College. The entry of April 1948, comments on a near-death escape on the railroad tracks near Wheaton College. A newspaper clipping of this event is in folder 2-1. Folder 2-11 contains a very interesting set of letters of correspondence with the Williams Community Church of William, Oregon, USA. The Williams church helped support his and his wife’s missionary work. Elliot had visited the church and had friends there, including the pastor Virgil Terry and the treasurer Clifford I. Kurtz. Elliot wrote to the church briefly but fairly regularly, describing his work, future plans, and the way God was working in his life. After his death, Elisabeth continued the correspondence until 1959, describing the community of Christians among the Waorani and her own work and Rachel Saint’s work among them.Elliot's abilities as an artist are reflected in the calligraphy and drawings, as well as in the architectural design for the home built in Shandia, Ecuador (folder 1-3). Folder 1-4 contains a handwritten collection of Quichua hymns and songs in the Quichua language which were written collectively for their mission work by Wilfred Tidmarsh, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Elisabeth and Jim Elliot.

Of particular interest are Elliot's journals, Volumes I through IV (folders 1-6 through 1-9). They contain handwritten entries dated from January 17, 1948, during Elliot's junior year in college up to the final entry, December 31, 1955, shortly before his death on January 8, 1956. These journals were published in 1978, with minimal editing by Elisabeth Elliot. They provide a first-hand encounter with the depth of Elliot's commitment to Christ's commission and to mission work. Folders 2-2 and 2-3 are notebooks kept by Elliot and include an assortment of compositions and poems (folder 2-2) and addresses, language notations, biblical quotations and commentaries, financial notations, data useful to his mission work, drawings, and diary entries. A few clippings are in folder 2-1. Pages of the notebook in folder 2-3 are those retrieved from the beach after his death and are photocopies because of the original pages' fragility and rust and water stains. More poems, both original and collected or copied, are in folder 2-4. Also in the folder is a hand-written book of poems and verse by Elliot.The collection contains three of Elliot's personal Bibles, acquired by him in 1945, 1946, and 1947, while he was a student at Wheaton College. One of these, in folder 3-3, is a Greek New Testament. The others are English language Bibles. All have Elliot's name written in front with a date. All have some annotations by Elliot. The annotations in the Bible in folder 3-1 are the most extensive. This Bible appears to have printed some blank pages for notes throughput and Elliot filled these with comments, ideas and outlines, as well as annotating many passages of the actual text, most in very small handwriting. In the back of the book are two pages filled with adages and thoughts about the Scriptures, some of which seem to be quotes and many of which appear t be Elliot's own. The Bible in folder 3-2, appears to be have been heavily used, but has only some underlinings and a few scatters written comments, The New Testament in folder 3-3 has only a very few annotations, apart from a poem written in the front, "Be True" by Horatius Bonar. Loose pages of notes which were stuck in the Bibles were kept in the same folder with the Bible they came out of. (1 pages in folder 3-1, 3 pages in folder 3-2.)The publicity in folder 2-5 includes an article written by Elisabeth Howard Elliot's father after a visit to Shandia before the deaths. A Life magazine story describes the Waorani encounters from photos and diaries and the subsequent discovery and burial of the five men. Also in the story are the events involving the five widows immediately after the deaths of their husbands. The stamps issued in Ecuador honoring the men are in folder 2-8.

Audio tapes T1-T4 contain sermons that Jim Elliot preached in the United States shortly before going to Ecuador. Tape T5 contains messages the Elliot family in South America recorded for their families in the United States. One is by Jim and Elisabeth ca. 1953, the other by Elisabeth and Valerie, ca. 1962.

The materials in this collection, though not extensive, are valuable for their insight into the spiritual development and deep commitment of Jim Elliot, which led him to accept the risks of the mission field and to seek encounter with the Waorani Indian tribe of Ecuador, which had a reputation for isolation and hostility.


  • Created: 1941-1959

Conditions Governing Access

Because of the fragile nature of many of the documents in this collection, only the microfilm copy may be used by researchers, not the originals.

Biographical or Historical Information

Philip James Elliot was born October 8, 1927, in Portland, OR, to Fred and Clara L. Elliot, one of three brothers in a family which included Robert, Herbert, and a sister, Jane. His father was an itinerant non-sectarian evangelist in the Puget Sound area and his mother conducted a chiropractic practice. Their home was frequently visited by missionaries who were an important influence on the family. By the time he was about eight years old, Jim was aware of his salvation by Christ.

He attended Benson Polytechnic High School, 1941-1945, majoring in architectural drawing and participating in sports with the goal of building his body for the rigors of missionary life. He also began preaching during these years. In his senior year, he was elected vice president of his class.

Jim chose to attend Wheaton College because of his brother Bob's recommendation; he enrolled in the fall of 1945 with the goal of total commitment to God and the active pursuit of the disciplines involved. He was granted a scholarship and worked part-time to support his studies. Elliot joined the wrestling team at Wheaton and made varsity in his freshman year. He began speaking to youth groups in the Wheaton area, and in his junior year began a journal as another means of spiritual discipline. In the summer of that year, 1947, he stayed six weeks in Mexico with the missionary family of his friend, Ron Harris. There he learned Spanish and felt his own call directed toward mission work in Latin America.

In 1948, Elliot and some of his friends narrowly escaped death in a car-train accident on the tracks in Wheaton. That year he was president of Foreign Mission Fellowship on campus and part of a gospel team for the Fellowship during the summer. Elliot chose Greek as his major, and graduated with highest honors in 1949. He lived with relatives in Glen Ellyn during his College years and attended Lombard Gospel Chapel.

For a year following graduation, Elliot returned to the family home in Portland to concentrate on Bible study. He worked at odd jobs and learned to preach on street corners, in jails, and at Plymouth Brethren assemblies. His future wife and former Wheaton College student, Elisabeth Howard, paid a visit to the Elliots on her return from summer missionary work in Canada. In June of 1950, Elliot spent several weeks in Norman, OK, at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, sponsored by Wycliffe Bible Translators. There he worked with a former missionary to the Quichua Indians of Ecuador and first heard of the remote and much-feared Waorani tribe in that country. [The name commonly used for the tribe at the time was "Auca" and this was the name by which they were called in almost all the literature of the time period.] His response was immediate and, after a ten-day period of prayer for guidance, Elliot wrote to Dr. Wilfred Tidmarsh in Ecuador offering to come to that field. A recently abandoned station, Shandia, established for work with the Quichua Indians, was in need of staff.

Elliot stayed on in Oklahoma City to work with Bible study groups on the university campus; he applied for a passport on Dr. Tidmarsh's urging to come as soon as possible. In September of 1950, Ed Mc Cully, another friend and Wheaton College student, wrote him indicating that he wanted to leave school and join a mission activity. The decision to go to Ecuador was postponed a year while Tidmarsh returned to England because they were unable to arrive in Ecuador before his necessary departure. During this period, Elliot preached, studied, and worked with youth in Huntington, IN, and Chester, IL, where Ed Mc Cully and Bill Cathers joined him in working on a radio broadcast series, The March of Truth. Pete Fleming of Seattle, WA, also indicated an interest in going to Ecuador with Elliot. A visit to Portland from Tidmarsh confirmed the decision to work in Shandia and passport, visa, and draft board arrangements were made. Elisabeth Howard had also decided to do mission work in Ecuador, but she and Jim went as independent missionaries to separate assignments.

Preparations to leave for Ecuador occupied the second half of 1951; included was an itinerary through the East speaking to acquaint Plymouth Brethren there with the work and to raise support from those groups. Elliot and Fleming sailed to Ecuador on the Santa Juana on February 4, 1952, and Jim made his first journal entry on February 27 in Quito. Elisabeth Howard arrived in Quito in April, 1952, to study language, tropical diseases, and medical work.

In June, the first aerial search of the Oriente territory where the Shandia station and the Quichua and Waorani tribes were located was made from the Mission Aviation Fellowship station at Shell Mera. Waoranis had recently killed five persons in that area. Shell Mera had been abandoned by Shell Oil Company as too dangerous a location because of the Waoranis' hostility and the killing of Shell personnel. Elliot and Fleming moved to Shandia in September 1952.

In February 1953, both Elliot and Elisabeth Howard came into Quito from their separate stations and agreed to marry. A flood had destroyed part of the Shandia station and the need to rebuild confirmed their decision. They were married on October 8, 1953, Jim's 26th birthday, in a civil ceremony in Quito. Their first home was a tent set up at a river junction called Puyupungu. There they set up a school for a family of Indian children. A new location for the airstrip at Shandia was selected, and a home completed. Elliots' daughter, Valerie, was born February 27, 1955, and in that month the Flemings, Elliots, and Mc Cullys were together in Shandia for a conference for the Indians.

With the assistance of MAF pilot, Nathanael "Nate" Saint, Elliot and Mc Cully located the first Waorani huts in the jungle near Arajuno in September that year. The Waoranis had recently killed a mother and two children in this area. This sighting firmed determination of the men to attempt contact, and weekly "drops" of gifts to the Waoranis from the plane were begun in October. As plans developed, Roger Youderian, a missionary working in Jivaria, was asked to join the men. Pete Fleming was the fifth man of the group hoping to make contact with the tribe.

Using a battery-operated speaker, the men made thirteen trips over the area, broadcasting words of friendship in the Waorani language and dropping such gifts as buttons, a kettle, a machete, and tinted photographs of each man. The Waoranis responded by sending back a parrot and feathered head-dresses in the drop bucket. Encouraged by these responses, the men decided to find a suitable landing strip for the plane. They selected a sandy beach, which they named "Palm Beach", on the Curaray River and made a successful landing on January 2, 1956. After four trips to bring in a radio and other supplies, they built a tree shelter and began shouting Waorani phrases into the jungle. Four days later, two Waorani women and a young Waorani man came out of the jungle. They appeared friendly, and "George" was given a brief ride in the airplane. The following day was spent quietly and without contacts.

On Sunday, January 8, after songs, prayers, and a service, the men radioed their wives at 12:30 p.m. that contacts were expected by mid-afternoon and they would radio again at 4:30 p.m. When there was no radio message at that hour, a search and rescue operation began. Flight over the area showed a damaged plane, and a ground search party left for the area. Planes and a helicopter from the Ecuadorian Air Force and the U. S. Army, Air Force, and Navy flew in for aerial search. The ground and air groups met on January 13 at Curaray Beach.

Jim Elliot's body was found downstream with three others. They had been killed by wooden lances and machetes, and the plane's fabric was ripped off and body damaged. Nate Saint's watch had stopped at 3:12 p.m. Because of the danger of another Waorani attack, the burial service lasted only three minutes. The Army party came out by canoe or helicopter over a two-day period, spending one day trekking through Waorani territory.

The deaths of the five men--Jim Elliot, Ed Mc Cully, Pete Fleming, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian-were reported world-wide, and they were regarded by many as twentieth-century martyrs. Elisabeth Elliot returned to Shandia and resumed the work of her husband. She subsequently wrote three books about the mission work and its consequences: Through Gates of Splendor, a biography of her husband, Shadow of The Almighty, and The Savage My Kinsman. She also edited The Journals of Jim Elliot. Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint went to live with the Waorani group in 1959. One of the Waorani tribe members later explained to the missionaries that "George" had told them that the white men planned to eat them, and that they would not otherwise have killed the men.


1.42 Cubic Feet

2 boxes (DC); Audio tapes other_unmapped

Accruals and Additions

The materials for this collection were received by the Billy Graham Center Archives in 1982 and 1998 from Elisabeth Elliot Gren. Three Bibles received with the other material in this collection were transferred to the BGC Museum. The letters in folder 2-11 were donated by the Williams Community Church of Williams, Oregon.

Accession 82-119

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

Revised March 24, 1995

R. Shuster

Updated July 21, 2003

Accession 98-38

R. Shuster

Updated: August 26, 2009

Accession 09-41

Bob Shuster

K. Hamilton

I. Smith

Updated: June 2, 2017

Accession 82-119 (annotated Bibles)

Bob Shuster
Collection 277 Papers of Jim Elliot
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Billy Graham Center Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US