Fremont County, Iowa

Turnbull's Soil Collection
by Evelyn Birkby

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
August 5, 2008

People donate a treasure to a museum for a variety of reasons: because they feel what they have is special, has historical value or family history, and they want it to be preserved carefully in the way only a museum can do. Some gifts come from fascinating places, and some are just plain weird.

For example, a small local museum in Montana has a skeletal foot on display. It is the most famous piece in their collections. A western outlaw of the early days had a club foot and, after his death, somehow the bones of that foot ended up in the museum.

The Fremont County Historical Museum skeletons are only small pieces of bone of prehistoric animals discovered in the local rock quarry near Thurman. Two mammoth tusks, fish fossils, teeth of various kinds have been in special exhibits. Also, in the area of strange exhibits are kinchins and dirt. Yes, dirt.

When our museum was offered the soil collection, from Uva Turnbull of Farragut, some members could not understand why the museum would want little jars of dirt from various places around the world, but the board accepted them and put them on a shelf for the public to appreciate. Those little produce jars of earth have attracted almost more attention than anything else in the Fremont County Museum.

Uva Turnbull lived from 1895 to 1970. She started her hobby of collecting soil samples on a trip she took through Missouri, and down to Texas. Eventually, she had over 100 scoops of dirt from every state in the Union, and from such far away places as Newfoundland, Greenland, about 800 miles from the North Pole, Africa, France and England.

Uva said, “People think something big is afoot when they observe (a person) painstakingly collecting some dirt from their road side or field.”

This unique gift to the FCHM shows that no matter where people might live, simple cream jars and scoops of soil can transport a person into far places and give them a deeper appreciation of the lands of our world. Where and how they will be seen in the newly remodeled museum complex is still to be decided, but you can be certain it will be an interesting addition to the Fremont County Historical Museum’s displays.

The soils have been written up by interesting publications including the Des Moines Register and, most recently, the Farm Show magazine.

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Page updated on June 20, 2017 by Karyn Techau