Richard Dale Owen was born in New Lanark, Scotland, died in New Harmony, Indiana and a sculpture of him stands inside the Indiana Statehouse. Why?

His varied career included a tenure as State Geologist of Indiana, a memberĀ of the Indiana University faculty and the first president of Purdue University. So how did he end up in the State Capitol?

Richard Dale Owen

In February 1862, Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton named Owen commandant of Camp Morton, which had become a prisoner of war camp. “Combining strength and gentleness, he was a good disciplinarian and at the same time tempered his rulings with sympathy.”

Richard Dale Owen Statehouse

Many years after the conclusion of The Civil War, a Confederate man conceived of creating a “bronze memorial tablet somewhere in Indianapolis.” Taking up a collection from former Confederate prisoners who had been under Owen’s command, contributions were greater than anticipated, enabling the commission of a full bronze bust, designed by Tennessee artist, Belle Kinney, daughter of a Confederate soldier. Owen, too, had a connection to Tennessee, having been a professor of natural science at the Western Military Institute in Nashville, following the Mexican War.

Owen later returned to scientific studies in New Harmony (the southern Indiana town his father Robert Owen bought in 1825). Richard Dale Owen died in New Harmony after mistakenly drinking embalming fluid.

Owen by Belle Kinney

Do you have a favorite bronze statues or busts in Indy? Do tell!

Reference: Camp Morton 1861-1865 Indianapolis Prison Camp- Winslow & Moore, Indiana Historical Society

8 responses to “Friday Favorite: Richard Dale Owen”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    Wish to stay with this informative blog!

  2. Norm Morford says:

    Tiffany — I agree that his statue is worth seeing, BUT I think even more important is his involvement at New Harmony, Indiana. Anyone who has not studied the history of that community, begun by Geo. Rapp and the Rappites, and sold to Owen after two years, needs to read up on that chapter in Indiana history and then be sure to visit New Harmony. It is one of the best places in Indiana for a “quiet weekend away!.”

    Among his achievements — first kindergarten anywhere. Just now Obama is realizing how important care and education for all children in that period of the lives may be.

  3. Julie Bush says:

    This is one reason why I love Historic Indianapolis – I learn something new and historically important! We should all aspire to be like Colonel Richard Owen – strong yet gentle – a disciplinarian yet empathetic.

  4. Fred Nowicki says:

    How the heck do you “mistakenly” drink embalming fluid ????

  5. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    I do not know, but what a horrid way to go.

  6. Fred Nowicki says:

    Sounds like he was already drunk out of his mind or he did himself in.

  7. Tiffany Benedict Berkson says:

    I somehow doubt it, based on what I’ve read about his family…

  8. ken williams says:

    If you visit New Harmony be sure and see the open air church near the river. Rent a golf cart and see the whole town; you will be going back in time.

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