Lewis Lindsay Dyche

Dyche on a boat
Lewis Lindsay Dyche portrait

Dyche, age 19

Lewis Lindsay Dyche, Dyche Hall's namesake, was a Kansas naturalist who would become renowned as an explorer, lecturer, taxidermist and showman. He was responsible as much for the iconic Panorama exhibit as he was for some of the earliest conservation laws in Kansas.

At KU, Francis Huntington Snow took Dyche under his wing, sending him out to collect insects and spend time studying nature directly. Dyche followed Snow on numerous collecting trips out onto the plains and into New Mexico and Colorado. Such expeditions would become a way of life for him.

Dyche had long been adept at providing food for himself and his companions with his rifle. In 1882, he began to collect mammals for scientific study. That summer, Dyche’s shooting skills helped him acquire a steady stream of skeletons, skulls, and skins, beginning a process that would continue for the next 30 years. That fall, while still an undergraduate, he became an instructor in the Natural History Department. After receiving both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sciences degrees in 1884, he traveled to New York to study taxidermy with the well-known conservationist, William T. Hornaday.

The results of this state-of-the-art training can still be seen today in the KU Natural History Museum’s Panorama exhibit: the exhibit includes many of the 121 mammals Dyche prepared for the 1893 World’s Fair, the Chicago Columbian Exposition.

In 1894 and 1895, Dyche joined expeditions to Arctic Greenland with famous explorer Frederick Cook and later with Robert Peary. Dyche aimed to hunt reindeer, caribou, polar bears, seal and walrus as the expedition’s official naturalist. On his first trip, near the end of the expedition, the ship sank, taking Dyche’s cache of 450 birds, 65 mammal skins, and assorted bones and skulls down with it. The group was rescued by another ship.

His second trip, when he collected six walrus bulls, he deemed more successful. Dyche returned to Greenland for a total of 23 expeditions.

After returning from his Arctic adventures, Dyche traveled the across Kansas, giving entertaining lectures with his "Magic Lantern Slides."

The glass slides were shown using a rudimentary projector: a light behind the slides projected images onto a canvas screen. With his long hair, dressed in traditional Eskimo clothing, Dyche wowed the public.

In 1909, Dyche became the fish and game warden of Kansas. He had big plans: to end the corruption of deputy wardens, rebuild and expand the state hatchery, and make stricter hunting and fishing laws for better conservation of wildlife.

Over the course of his tenure, he rebuilt the state hatchery, strengthened regulations, and educated the public about proper aquaculture and the benefits of fish ponds. 

Dyche lobbied in Topeka for much of his last years, on behalf of the university as well as conservation. His most successful bill was known as the “Dyche Bill.” It expanded conservation efforts by prohibiting the types of guns used and the type of animals that could be hunted, and increased fines. Although the bill was met with public dissent, it was passed into law on March 9, 1911.

Dyche died in 1915 of exhaustion and pneumonia. His funeral was held in the Natural History Museum building in front of his fantastic panorama.

— History adapted from The Dashing Kansan, by William Sharp and Peggy Sullivan (Kansas City, Missouri, Harrow Books: 1990), KU History and Dyche Hall: University of Kansas Natural History Museum, 1903-2003, compiled by Carol Holstead and Barbara Watkins (Lawrence, Kansas, Historic Mt. Oread: 2003).