When retired Yellowstone historian Lee Whittlesey told his longtime friend Dr. Patricia Owens, a former Wabash Valley College professor, that he wanted to use her work in a book project he had been working on, she was surprised.
As a way to stay connected, Mr. Whittlesey and Dr. Owens often exchanged works they had published throughout the years.
“Sending him the article was just an exchange of writings, as we have often done. What was surprising was that my words filled a gap for him – helped him find the perfect way to begin chapter one and introduce the book,” Dr. Owens said.
The quote that Mr. Whittlesey used is from an essay Dr. Owens wrote in 2015 for the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous entitled “The Buffalo Trace.”
“It was the theme-essay printed and distributed by George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, where I am a volunteer,” said Dr. Owens. “I sent Lee a copy of the essay, and he told me that my words were just what he had been trying to develop for the book’s introduction.”
The book Mr. Whittlesey was working on is “The History of Mammals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, 1796 – 1881: A Multi-Disciplinary Analysis of Thousands of Historical Observations,” which Whittlesey co-authored with Sarah Bone.
According to the book itself, it “attempts to tell the stories of all known travelers who recorded their observations of animals while on trips to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park—during the period 1796 through 1881….
[The] authors spent nearly thirty years finding the sources, inputting them into a huge, NPS-owned computer database, analyzing the data with the help of the database, writing the conclusions, producing 71 illustrations, having the book reviewed by numerous scientists at Yellowstone National Park in the NPS’s Yellowstone Center for Resources, and finally causing the book to be reviewed by three other, professional, paid historians.”
Of Mr. Whittlesey and Ms. Bone’s work, Dr. Owens said, “These two volumes are outstanding, and I am honored to be quoted in the first paragraph of the first chapter.”
Dr. Owens worked for Mr. Whittlesey during the summers of 1998 and 1999 at the Yellowstone National Park archives. In total, during her time at WVC, Dr. Owens spent five summers working at Yellowstone National Park.
According to Dr. Owens, the American West has always been of interest to her and has been the focus of her studies.
“As a child, and as an adult, I have traveled widely in the West,” said Dr. Owens. “In many ways, it is home. Home is where the heart is.”
Dr. Owens is an expert in the 19th-century American West, Lincoln and the Civil War and has studied historical interpretation, park planning and management extensively.
During her 35-year career at Wabash Valley College, Dr. Owens taught a wide range of courses: American History, Western Civilization, World Geography, American Government, Introduction to Asian Culture, Introduction to International Relations, Native American History, Frontier History, American Character, America During the ’60s, Environmental History, History of Illinois, and Composition.
She was voted Teacher of the Year eight times by WVC’s student body.
During her time at WVC, she also published several articles and hundreds of book reviews, presented numerous papers, served on the Editorial Board of Journal of Illinois History, received the Yellowstone Peer Award-Branch of Cultural Resources, and was a member of the T. A. Moulton Centennial Celebration Steering Committee-Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
She also sponsored the WVC Student Senate, Peer Counselors—a program she founded—and the Model United Nations program.
Dr. Owens continues to serve in various positions with distinction. She currently serves as volunteer archivist at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes. In 2015, she won the George and Helen Hartzog Award for Outstanding Individual Volunteer for the Midwest Region of the National Park Service for her impressive work organizing and indexing the park’s vast archives; she was one of seven national winners.
She also continues to publish articles in academic journals, such as Journal of the West and Annals of Wyoming. She also continues to do book reviews for Library Journal and School Library Journal and various state historical societies.
Since retiring from WVC, Dr. Owens has traveled extensively. She has been to China to see pandas, been on safari in Kenya, and traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada to see polar bears. Dr. Owens is a 1968 graduate of Robinson High School. She is the daughter of the Reverend Doctor James W. and Loretta Owens. The Reverend Owens was minister of the First United Methodist Church from 1963 to 1969.