Talbot collection

Daniel Hector Talbot

D.H. Talbot (1850-1911) was a Sioux City businessman and amateur naturalist. His donation to the University of Iowa of 7,000 birds in 1893 is the single largest and arguably the most significant contribution to the Museum's research collection. 

Daniel H. Talbot was born in Iowa City on June 17, 1850. As a youngster, he dreamed of studying medicine at the University, "not for the purpose of practice, but to prepare myself for the study of the intricacies of nature." However, his father insisted he learn the brick-making trade.

In 1870, Talbot moved to Sioux City where he began speculation in land scrip. To encourage western settlement after the Civil War, the government alloted federal land, usually 160 acres, to all veterans. Scrip was the legal document the soldiers received to recognize their rights to the land. Talbot devised a legal way to circumvent the laws against buying and trading the land rights, and soon became very wealthy.

Talbot invested a major portion of his fortune in real estate in Sioux City. There he established a scientific farm where he conducted breeding experiments, including mating a buffalo bull to domestic cows and raising a herd of solid-hoofed, or mule-footed pigs. He also organized, financed and participated in a number of scientific expeditions including trips to Wyoming, Labrador, Yellow Stone National Park, the Gulf Coast of Texas and the Southwest, where he collected numerous birds along with many cultural aritifacts. He was a member of the American Ornithologists' Union from 1885-1896.

Talbot was a shrewd businessman, but in the end, others were shrewder. He lost his fortune in the Panic of 1893 which led to his bankruptcy and a legal judgment against him in the amount of $94,578.90. To save his beloved natural history collection from his creditors, he hurriedly arranged a last minute donation to the Museum of Natural History.

The 7,000 birds Talbot donated to the museum are all in the form of bird skins. There were no mounted specimens as far as is known. The collections are extensive and include for example nearly 600 Canada Geese, 250 Meadowlarks, 100 Bobwhites and 50 Snowy Owls. The birds are important because they represent the largest and best documented collection from the Midwest in the 19th century, before urbanization and the era of modern agriculture, while wildlife was still abundant in Iowa.

Along with the birds, Talbot donated his extensive 4,000 volume library to the University, including rare sets of J. J. Audubon's The Birds of America and Alexander Wilson's American Ornithology. His donation of cultural artifacts included significant items from the Southwestern pueblo cultures from the late 19th century. The Museum's collection of Cochiti pottery from Talbot, though small, has been called by one expert, "one of the most important . . . outside the Smithsonian."

Talbot's dream of creating a public park on his land in Sioux City was realized in 1912. Thomas Jefferson Stone acquired Talbot's experimental farm after his bankruptcy. Stone's son, Edgar, began developing the land into a park in 1905. In 1935 the State acquired the land and named it Stone State Park. Today the northern hills of the park have been designated a state preserve. The 90 acre region, called Mount Talbot, harbors one of the most diverse communities of butterflies in the state, including several rare species.