Special Collections and Archives blog

Understanding Katie Lee


Katie Lee, Glen Canyon, Photo courtesy of Tad Nichols Collections

How does one begin to understand the complex person that was Katie Lee? As her collection is processed, Katie Lee’s life and personality becomes better known to those who come into contact with the materials. Katie is best known for her advocacy against the Glen Canyon Dam. She wrote about the canyon before the dam and sang about the injustice that had been done to the environment that she loved. These writings and songs give us a glimpse into Katie’s mind, but to understand her better, one must look at her personal life.

Katie Lee’s Collection in the Collection Storage Area. Photo courtesy of Britney (SCA Student Worker)

My name is Britney and I’m student assistant in Special Collections and Archives. I have the good fortune of being part of the team that is arranging and describing Katie’s collection so that we can preserve and make available the treasures she left us. As I go on this journey of learning more about Katie Lee through her archives, I would like to take you along with me. I’ll periodically post updates and interesting discoveries as I come across them. I hope you enjoy learning about Katie as much as I am.

One of the first aspects of Katie Lee that was most interesting is her sense of humor. It was dark, acerbic, occasionally vulgar, colorful, and frequently peppered with her favorite “F” word. Throughout her collection I have come across snippets of comics, songs, jokes, and other writings that showcase what Katie thought was funny.

Katie’s “DAM DAM” License Plate, courtesy of the Katie Lee Collection

Katie’s attention to detail and passion led her to write, revise, and re-write her books many times. 10,000 Goddamn Cattle and Sandstone Seduction, two of her most well-known novels, went through many rounds of revisions before being published.

Similarly, Katie’s passion is evident in her avid opposition of the Glen Canyon Dam. She protested the dam during and after it was built, writing letters to officials, singing about the destruction of the canyon, and writing novels. She never stopped protesting the dam, a testament to her perseverance and determination.

While processing Katie Lee’s collection, her more private life was revealed. Her woes and troubles are shown in the diaries that she meticulously kept and in the letters she wrote to friends and family. Similarly, Katie’s greatest accomplishments and triumphs are written in the same diaries and letters. She collected newspaper articles, magazines, fan mail, and correspondence that praised her work, writing, singing, and film-making. She kept many of the letters that she sent and received from a variety of people. It is in these documents that we can truly begin to understand Katie Lee and the impact Katie had on others.

Katie Lee Journal “Warning”
Photo courtesy of Katie Lee Collection


Katie Lee was born in 1919. She grew up in Tucson and attended the University of Arizona. After her career as an actress in Hollywood and a singer, she settled in Jerome, Arizona. Her deep love of Glen Canyon and the hatred of the dam there led her to become an avid advocate for its destruction. Katie continued to sing, write, and advocate into her older years. She passed away peacefully in 2017.