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HISTORY

Fannye Cook and the Beginnings of MMNS

Fannye CookIn the late 1920s, Francis 'Fannye' Cook led a grass roots effort to start the Game and Fish Commission. This grass roots effort largely included traveling education exhibits at local and state fairs. After the Commission was established by the legislature in 1932, Ms. Cook wrote the state's first game laws, and became the Museum's first director, thus founding the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

Fannye Cook was primarily a biological researcher. Though unseen by most visitors to the Museum, the biological research collections provide the foundation upon which much of our knowledge of animals, plants, and fossils is based, and most of these collections have their origins in the mid-1930's when Fannye Cook sought to document the flora and fauna of Mississippi through a statewide plant and animal survey. Drawing on skills acquired as a museum worker at the Smithsonian Institution and backed by federal funding from the Works Progress Administration, Cook established 18 satellite museums around the state and trained field collectors in the methods of collecting and preparing museum specimens.

Between 1936 and 1941, thousands of specimens of birds, mammals, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks, and other life forms were collected, catalogued, and curated. This work became the basis for a number of Cook's scientific publications such as Freshwater Fishes of Mississippi and Snakes of Mississippi. Cook's own work was said to rival that of the United States Biological Survey. The Survey had previously conducted extensive research on flora and fauna throughout the United States, utilizing Cook as a consultant for species identifications.

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We owe an incalculable debt to Fannye Cook who 70 years ago had the foresight and determination to document the flora and fauna of our state. Most of the specimens collected by Cook and her colleagues remain carefully preserved in our collections and are used today by Museum staff and other researchers. The administration of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science made a commitment years ago not only to safeguard these historic collections, but also to continue to build upon our biological collections as a resource of immense value to present and future scientists.

Fannye said, "In collecting specimens throughout the state, I have run into many interesting situations and have had many thrilling experiences. Wading through acres of swamp water infested with alligators and cottonmouth moccasins to reach heronries in which not only herons but Louisiana water turkeys, bitterns, rails, gallinules, grebes and other water-loving species were photographed or collected, gives rise to emotions of fear and exhilaration not produced by any other experience.

Like any institution, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is nothing without the people who work hard to turn the ideas behind it into reality. Along with its own dedicated staff, the Museum also relies on a group of volunteers who, out of their own devotion to natural Mississippi and the importance of science, donate their time to help the Museum pursue its mission of study and preservation.

Along with the help of its volunteers and staff, the Museum also relies on the financial help of a long list of friends of the Museum. With their continual help, the Museum has established one of the largest collection of biological specimens in the state, has helped preserve and protect Mississippi's vital and precious natural resources, and continues to be one of the state's most successful scientific and education attractions.

 


William H. Turcotte

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William H. Turcotte, a retired wildlife biologist, administrator, and longtime friend of MMNS, died of cancer on November 5, 2000. He will be missed not only by the Museum, which he dedicated so much time and effort to, but also by a wide array of organizations and persons invested in the study and conservation of Mississippi's natural resources.

Starting as a teenager and for many years thereafter, Turcotte worked in the Museum with our founding director, Miss Fannye Cook as a taxidermist and exhibit preparer. A passionate lifelong naturalist-going so far as to obtain a federal egg collector permit when still a boy-he eventually donated his extensive bird egg collection to the Museum. In 1974, Mr. Turcotte became an even more integral part of the Museum's future as one of the four incorporators of the MMNS Foundation.

Probably more than any other individual, Turcotte is considered the father of deer and turkey management in this state. Working with Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, local groups, and private citizens, he helped re-establish populations of deer and turkey around the state after both species had suffered decades of decline. During his 40-year career with the Game and Fish Commission, Turcotte served in every administrative post, from field biologist to executive director, up until his retirement in 1979. The agency later honored him by naming the Turcotte Fisheries Field Station for him.

During his retirement, Turcotte published two audio tapes: "A Guide to Mississippi Bird Songs" and "A Guide to Mississippi Frog Songs." He co-authored the book Birds of Mississippi, published in 1999 by University of Mississippi Press. Turcotte, who was known worldwide as an expert on songbirds, was a charter member of the Mississippi Ornithological Society, the Jackson Chapter of the National Audubon Society, and the Mississippi Chapter of the 8th Air Force Memorial Society.