Julie McCown: The Rocky Mountain Huntress - Faculty Distinguished Lecturer

Julie McCown

January 13, 2022
The Great Hall

Reflection | Podcast | VideoPhotos

The Rocky Mountain Huntress: Recovering the Story of Martha Maxwell’s Frontier Taxidermy

American naturalist and taxidermist Martha Maxwell became famous in the 1870s for her skill and expertise in collecting and preserving specimens of Colorado’s wildlife. While not the first American woman naturalist, Maxwell is the earliest extant example of one acquiring and preparing animal specimens, engaging in the messy, dangerous, and bloody work previously left to her male counterparts. Despite Maxwell’s skill and fame as a taxidermist in the nineteenth century she is virtually unknown today. 

In this lecture, I will re-introduce On the Plains, and Among the Peaks; or, How Mrs. Maxwell Made Her Natural History Collection (1879), written by Maxwell’s half-sister Mary Dartt. Dartt’s book tells the story of a woman whose lifelong passion and dedication to work and education made her a pioneer in more ways than one; it catalogs Maxwell’s important scientific contributions and development of museum habitat groupings and lifelike taxidermy mounts, showcases engaging accounts of wilderness excursions on the frontier of the Western U.S. in the 1860s and 1870s, and testifies to a woman’s resolve to show through her work that women were capable of succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated field. 

Julie McCown is an assistant professor of English at Southern Utah University. She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2016. She specializes in early American literature, animal studies, women writers, and digital humanities. Her recent publications have focused on early African American literature, nineteenth-century American poetry, and nineteenth-century women’s periodicals. Her critical edition of Mary Dartt’s On the Plains, and Among the Peaks; or, How Mrs. Maxwell Made Her Natural History Collection is set to be published in Fall 2021 by the University Press of Colorado.


On January 13, SUU’s APEX event series kicked off 2022 with a faculty presenter, Julie McCown, sponsored by the Tanner Center.

Kyle Bishop, SUU’s English department chair and professor, introduced McCown. McCown is an assistant English professor at SUU. She has been with the school since 2017. She teaches early American Literature and Animal Studies — which tied in perfectly with the topic of her lecture.

McCown just published and released the critical edition of Mary Dartt’s book titled, “On the Plains, and Among the Peaks, Or, How Mrs. Maxwell Made Her Natural History Collection.” This book is the story of the famous naturalist and taxidermist, Martha Maxwell. Maxwell is also known as the ‘Rocky Mountain Huntress’.

After explaining the history of Maxwell and taxidermy, McCown explained that “the ultimate purpose of these animals was to serve as raw materials for Maxwell's taxidermies.”

Leading by Maxwell’s example, McCown expressed that in order to get things done, one must “get your hands dirty to get into that messy work.”

During a time when women couldn’t do much, Maxwell made a name for herself. McCown said that she was “acutely aware of how she would be a role model for women.”

When APEX director, Lynn Vartan, asked McCown in the Q and A what inspired and continues to inspire her, she expressed “pursuing things that get me jazzed and excited and interested — not just pursuing the research topics that I thought would be ‘studious’ or ‘academic.’

Leaving the audience with some words or wisdom, McCown declared that you need to “find that thing or that item that you are passionate about — or that gets you really excited or gets you nerdy and geeky — and pursue that.”


Audio Transcript