History - Dall DeWeese

The Business Man

M17-38_Dweese_in_later_yearsWilliam Dallas DeWeese, known as Dall DeWeese, (1857-1928) was born near Troy, Ohio and spent most of his early years in the mid-West, but in 1884 he moved to Cañon City, Colorado to set up a nursery business specializing in fruit trees. DeWeese located his nursery in an area known as Lincoln Park and spent the rest of his life building his business interests in Cañon City.1 DeWeese played a large role in the promotion and irrigation of the land surrounding Cañon City, and successfully irrigated over 10,000 acres of land with his ditch systems and reservoir.

During his lifetime, DeWeese became a booster for Cañon City promoting horticulture and tourism and investing in oil and gold prospects around the area. The old municipal building on Royal Gorge Blvd. has a fireplace - designed by DeWeese - that contains archaeological artifacts and geological and fossil specimens he collected during his travels. In 1903, DeWeese undertook a world tour, but it was his trips to Alaska that had the most impact on him as a hunter-naturalist.2


Ive_Gone_HuntingIn 1897, Dall DeWeese headed to Alaska during the Klondike gold, but DeWeese’s own visit had different goals from those of the miners -for DeWeese was following up on rumors of a giant moose in Alaska. Although the trip was arduous and the party was plagued by mosquitoes, sand flies, and gnats, the hunt was a great success. DeWeese succeeded in collecting eight Dall sheep, two bears, and several trophy moose, but it was the capture of one particular moose that made DeWeese into a Coloradan celebrity.3 DeWeese’s giant moose trophy was widely covered in local newspapers; for example, the Denver Evening Post showed an illustration of DeWeese’s out stretched arms above the moose head. The illustration is a copy of the now familiar photograph which can be seen in the Royal George Museum and Historical Center, Cañon City, Colorado.4 

In May 1898, DeWeese received a letter from the Division of Biological Survey with the United States Department of Agriculture requesting that he return to Alaska to undertake a survey and complete a map  showing the location of geographical features such as glaciers, rivers, and lakes of the Kenai Peninsula and to collect specimens of large mammals, which were later deposited in the United States Museum of Natural History (now the Smithsonian Institution) zoology/mammal collection. Two specimens collected by DeWeese became type specimens. Type specimens are specimens that are used as the definitive specimen for that particular species (all other specimens would be compared to the type specimen): Alces gigas (Miller, 1899) and Vulpes kenaiensis (Merriam, 1900) – a moose and a fox.  M16-33_Emma_in_Camp_AK_1899

The following year, DeWeese and his third wife, Emma, traveled to the Kachemak Divide to continue the mapping survey he had begun the year earlier. It has been claimed that Emma was the first Euro-American woman to visit the area, and to mark the occasion DeWeese named a lake in honor of this achievement – Lake Emma – which is located on the Kenai Peninsula.5

The last final trip undertaken by DeWeese to Alaska occurred in 1901. Dismayed at the loss of the wild places and wildlife, DeWeese wrote a letter to the recently elected U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt to bring attention to the plight of the Alaskan wilderness along the Kenai Peninsula. For DeWeese, the Alaskan landscapes would be worthless without the large game mammals and birdlife, and as such it was not only the land that needed protection but also the wildlife that existed upon it.

 "This is a subject that appeals to every 'true-blue sportsman,' every lover of animal life, and all those who see beauty in nature, embracing forests, plains, and mountains throughout our entire country, and while the woods, plains, and mountains are naturally beautiful, we all agree that they are much more grand and lifelike when the wild animals and birds are present. There are now several organizations doing work toward the preservation of wild animal and bird life. There is much yet for us to do; to resolve is to act. Let us be up and at it."6  

In 1902, the Alaskan Game Act was passed. DeWeese petitioned and provided evidence to congress on the need for protecting Alaskan wildlife from commercial hunting.7 Over the course of his lifetime, DeWeese continued his call for wildlife conservation, whether it was at home in Colorado or at the national level. Although DeWeese continued to take his annual hunting trips he generally remained closer to home. Indeed, it was on a local “hunting” trip that DeWeese found his largest natural history specimen – skeletal remains of the dinosaur Diplodocus longus.

During the spring and summer months of 1914, DeWeese and Emma spent their afternoons in the Garden Park Fossil Area hiking the hills and searching for fossils. But it was not until the following spring, while exploring the green and purple badlands east of Four Mile Creek, that DeWeese found vertebrae of a Diplodocus skeleton. Throughout the following summer and fall, DeWeese worked hard on excavating the fossilized skeleton, but the project proved too big to complete on his own and DeWeese knew that he needed help. 

At the beginning of 1916, DeWeese contacted Jesse D. Figgins, director of the Denver Museum of Natural History, and inquired whether the museum was interested in obtaining the dinosaur bones. Figgins was interested and asked DeWeese if he would be willing to donate the skeleton to the museum. DeWeese agreed, but knowing that the excavations would be long and expensive, the museum agreed to pay all of DeWeese’s expenses associated with the fieldwork, including the excavation, preparation, and transportation of the dinosaur.8

Horse_and_Sled_1916DeWeese employed two local men - Mr. Staples and Mr. Phay - to set up the camp and excavate the dinosaur skeleton, but before excavation could begin, the team cleared out an access trail to the quarry to join up with a road they had already constructed. The trail was wide enough for a horse-drawn sled to transport the crates of fossilized dinosaur bones out of the quarry and into Cañon City where they were loaded on to the Denver and Rio Grande train for transportation to the Denver Museum.

Removing the dinosaur skeleton was a complex and tiring task. First, the men dug out the side of the hill to reveal the rock facies where the dinosaur bones had been encased, and then they created a flat surface where they could prepare the bones before removing them from the quarry. The crew carefully removed excess matrix from around the bones before stabilizing them with shellac (a varnish that protects and seals the bone, but also acts as glue), and covering them with protective jackets made out of strips of burlap sack soaked in plaster of Paris. DeWeese’s quarry produced about two thirds of a skeleton of Diplodocus for the Denver Museum.


The acquisition of a Diplodocus  was an important addition to the Denver museum’s paleontology section, which was established as a section within the Geology Department only a couple years earlier in 1914. Robert Hammer, a curator at the museum, was concerned about the number of fossils being stripped from Colorado rocks and outcrops and deposited in eastern museums, and argued that the museum should undertake more collecting of fossils in Colorado, thereby ensuring that Colorado fossils remained in Colorado for the enjoyment and education of Colorado citizens.10

0090-501_DeWeese_and_boneDeWeese’s Diplodocus, although not complete, was an important paleontological specimen for the museum and for scientific research. Paleontologists from around the world come to Denver to study the bones recovered by DeWeese. The partial Diplodocus skeleton displays excellent preservation, and the donation of the dinosaur provided the museum in Denver with the impetus it needed to expand their collecting efforts and increase their scientific research in paleontology. Previously, the department had relied on donations or purchases of fossils to enhance their paleontological collection, but with DeWeese’s donation the museum began active field collecting under the direction of Philip Reinheimer.11

Since the museum acquired Diplodocus, parts of the fossilized skeleton have been placed on public exhibition, for example in 2005, some of the skeleton was exhibited as part of the museum’s tenth anniversary celebrations of their permanent exhibit “Prehistoric Journey,” and in 2008, a tail vertebra was exhibited in conjunction with the “Dinosaurs” travelling exhibit that the museum hosted.”12 The discovery of Diplodocus indicated to the museum that there was possibly still more dinosaurs to be discovered in the Garden Park Area, but the Denver Museum did not return to the area until 1937 with the discovery of Colorado’s state fossil, the Stegosaurus, but that's another story.

1David C. Dillon,“American Nimrod: The Life of William Dallas DeWeese (1857-1928) ,(Cañon City: Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center, 2008), 1. (unpublished manuscript). the DeWeese archives of the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and Historical Center , hereinafter known as RGRMHC, and letter dated Jan 7th, 1915 to JD Figgins, in JD Figgins archives of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science hereinafter known as DMNS

2See article “Trophies of a Canon City Nimrod,” The Canon City Record, vol. XXXVI; No. 41. Thursday, October 8, 1903, Smithsonian Institution Archives (hereinafter known as SIA), record unit 7320, box 4, folder 52.

3See Catherine Cassidy and Gary Titus, Alaska’s No.1 Guide: The History and Journals of Andrew Berg, 1869-1939(Soldotna, AK:Spruce Tree Publishing, 2003), 8.

4 “Largest Moose in the World,” Denver Evening Post, Saturday 18th, December, 1897, p.12.

5http://kenai.fws.gov/establishment.htm accessed 5/16/2011, see also Cassidy and Titus, 18.

6Game Law in Alaska, 57th Congress, 1st Session, Report 951:H.R. 11535, Mar. 14, 1902, 6.

7Caspar Whitney, “The Sportsman’s view-point,” Outing Magazine, April, 1902, and also see, Game Law in Alaska, 57th Congress, 1st Session, Report 951:H.R. 11535, Mar. 14, 1902.

8Letter from Dall DeWeese to J. D. Figgins dated March 22nd, 1916, Figgins boxes and folders in the archives at DMNS.


10See Hammer’s report in the 1914 Annual Report of the Colorado Museum of Natural History, in the archives of DMNS.

11Charles H. Hanington, The Colorado Museum of Natural History: An Historical Sketch, Proceedings of the Colorado Museum of Natural History,Vol. XVII, no.1. p.38.

12Personal communication with Heather Thorwald, Museum Registrar at DMNS, dated June 3rd, 2011.