William Henry Over was born in Edwards County, Illinois in 1866. He moved to Minnesota where he was a merchant and later homesteaded in South Dakota. Although Over had only an eighth grade education, his inventive and inquiring mind allowed him to conduct experiments to improve seeds and investigation of fossil remains. He discovered two new fossil species which were named after him: a snail, Pisidium Overi and a clam, Anodonta Dakota, both found in Deuel County near Clear Lake. In 1913, Over moved to Vermillion, S.D., to work in the University Museum. At the time of his employment, the museum was under the direction of the State Geological Survey. For years, the Survey had collected biological and fossil specimens from all over the state. Since there had been no one to properly catalog and display them, most of the specimens remained in their shipping boxes. Over was expected to build a vigorous, modern, and progressive museum that could properly present its holding for public viewing.
As Curator of the Museum, Over had some limited funds and the time to travel throughout the state investigating fossil deposits and archeological sites. He identified numerous prehistoric Indigenous village sites and also found and identified a fossil crab which was named in his honor. It was named Dakotacancer overana.
Over believed in educating the public. He lectured often, gave guided tours of the museum and wrote extensively. In 1921, with Craig Thomas, he authored Birds of South Dakota. Over continued to write books on the natural history of South Dakota, as well as the archeological investigations that he conducted for the museum. Through those writing and his wide personal contacts in the scholarly community, he became nationally known for his contributions as a naturalist, paleontologist and archaeologist.
In May of 1936, President I.D. Weeks (USD) awarded W. H. Over the Doctor of Science degree in recognition of his scholarly and educational confributions to the University and the state.
In 1948, after thirty-five years of service to the museum. W, H. Over retired at the age of eighty two. In 1949, the Board of Regents renamed the University Museum the W. H. Over Museum. After retirement, he continued writing and pursued his interest in the history of South Dakota. His last publication was the Life History of Sitting Bull, in 1950.
On February 20, 1956, William Henry Over died, leaving behind a legacy of dedication to education and memories of wide-ranging interests.
Written by Ann Wilson.