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Archive for Tuesday, October 4, 1994

THE DASHING KANSAN

October 4, 1994

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Lewis Lindsay Dyche left some large monuments to mark his 57 years on earth, but they don't begin to match the magnitude of his life story, airing Wednesday on KTWU.

Adventurer and naturalist Lewis Lindsay Dyche blazed across the globe and Kansas history like Indiana Jones cut with Henry David Thoreau.

By life's end, he had earned his own man-of-action nickname -- ``The Dashing Kansan.''

Dyche grew up in the late 1800s, befriending Indians and hunting along the Wakarusa River. Illiterate at 17, he became a Kansas University professor by 32. He collected hundreds of insect and mammal species on excursions around the world, and rescued explorer Robert Perry during an arctic expedition.

His legacy includes KU's Dyche Hall, built to hold the plant and animal species he captured and preserved. ``The Dashing Kansan,'' a documentary capturing Dyche's life, will air at 7 p.m. Wednesday on KTWU, channel 11.

``He was such a unique individual. You'd think that especially in Kansas, no one would have that kind of life. But he did,'' said Bill Shaffer, creator of the documentary based on the biography of the same title by Bill Sharp and Peggy Sullivan.

``I think he was one of those guys who lived at a time when things were really changing,'' Shaffer said. ``He was a hunter and explorer who stalked and skinned animals, and then turned gradually into a naturalist who tried to preserve species.''

Dyche enrolled at KU with $600 he earned in a cattle sale. He soon became involved in field excursions to collect insect and animal specimens for the university. The panorama of North American plants and animals in the KU Museum of Natural History is based on an exhibit created by Dyche for the 1893 world's fair.

At 32, Dyche was was named a full professor of anatomy and physiology and curator of mammals and birds. The documentary tracks Dyche's field excursions across the Midwest, as well as north to the Arctic Circle. He became famous nationwide for his trips and the whirlwind lecture tours that earned him his nickname.

The documentary also credits Dyche with spurring Robert Perry to discover the North Pole.

``Perry was about to give up -- it was such a frustrating pursuit -- when Dyche said he had found a logical way to get to the pole and that he would do it,'' Shaffer said. ``That immediately ticked off Perry. ... It got him off his duff, anyway. Whether he found it (the North Pole) or not is subject to debate.''

The documentary concludes with Dyche's later work as Kansas' fish and game warden. In an essentially ceremonial position, Dyche decided to reorganize the department, introduce tougher gaming laws and build fish hatcheries.

``I think he realized that animals were going be hunted into extinction,'' Shaffer said. ``He believed there was a chance to save them.''

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