Walter Kiener, Papers
Title: Walter Kiener, Papers
Creator: Kiener, Walter Bigler, 1894-1959
Dates: 1848-1959, bulk 1912-1959
Quantity: 126 boxes (47 linear feet)
Collection Number: RG 12-07-16
Language: English, German, French, and Spanish
Copyright: To inquire about usage, please contact Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries. For more
information see the Use Guidelines
Preferred Citation: Walter Kiener, Papers (RG 12-07-16). Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries.
Walter Bigler Kiener was born on 18 October 1894, in Bern, Switzerland. He attended school until the age of 15, when he began
work as an apprentice to his father, a sausage maker, as a way to help support his family. While working for his father, Kiener
attended night classes to make up for the inadequacies in his education. At a young age Kiener discovered that mountain climbing
could help him escape from his restlessness and the difficulties with his father that resulted from his lack of interest in
the family business. Kiener soon became a master of mountaineering, a skill that fueled his thirst for knowledge.
During World War I, Kiener served in the Swiss Citizen Army and spent considerable time as a frontier guard. In November
of 1922, Kiener left Switzerland and his family for America. He moved to New York and worked in a meatpacking house. After
seven months in New York, Kiener moved to Denver, where he became a foreman at a small sausage-making plant. Kiener's evenings
in Denver were spent taking classes in English and Citizenship and his weekends were spent climbing in the Rocky Mountains,
where he soon gained a reputation as an expert climber and guide.
In January of 1925, Kiener and another member of the Colorado Mountain Club, Agnes Vaille, attempted to become the first people
to climb the East Face of Longs Peak in winter. They were successful in making it to the top, but, while descending, they
were overtaken by a blizzard and by fatigue. Vaille died, and, in his attempt to retrieve help and save her life, Kiener lost
parts of all of his fingers except his left forefinger and parts of all of his toes and a part of his left foot. As a result,
he was no longer able to work in the sausage making plant. After his recovery, Kiener got a job as a ranger in Rocky Mountain
National Park and he worked as a fire spotter on the Twin Sisters lookout overlooking the very location of his climbing tragedy.
While a ranger, Kiener met some students and faculty from the University of Nebraska and chose that institution to pursue
a formal education. Kiener entered the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in the fall of 1925 as an adult special student.
He earned his A.B. degree in 1930 and his master's degree in 1931. Not only did he pursue an education, but he also became
a United States citizen in 1929. Kiener was elected to Sigma Xi in 1931. His master's thesis was entitled On the Vegetation of an Isolated Peak in the Rocky Mountains. Kiener continued his work at the University of Nebraska and completed his doctoral dissertation, Sociological Studies of the Alpine Vegetation on Longs Peak, in April of 1939. He received his degree in 1940.
After graduating, Kiener was hired by the University of Nebraska where he held the following positions over time: Assistant
in Botany (1930-1940); Ecologist, UNL Conservation and Survey Division (1941-1943); and Biologist, State of Nebraska Game,
Forestation, and Parks Commission, (1943-1955). He eventually became the Chief Biologist for the Commission and established
the Commission's Fisheries Research Department. In 1955 Kiener learned that he had cancer and retired. He devoted his remaining
years to the study of botany.
Kiener was a noted writer and lecturer and established an extensive personal herbarium of lichen and bryophyte specimens that
eventually numbered well over 50,000. Several species of plants were named after Kiener: Pleuridum kieneri; P. exsertum;
Splachnobryum kieneri; and Chara kieneri.
Kiener died alone on 24 August 1959, at Lincoln General Hospital, after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He willed
his papers, library, herbarium, and other personal property to long time friend Dr. Samuel Fuenning, Director of Student Health
for UNL. Fuenning presented all the items to the University of Nebraska State Museum through the University of Nebraska Foundation
in 1961. Today the entire Kiener plant collection is housed within the Charles E. Bessey Herbarium of the University of Nebraska
State Museum's Botany Division.
Scope and Content:
The papers consist of Kiener's personal and professional papers arranged into 11 series and include oversize materials. The
series include Personal Effects, Correspondence, Kiener's Writings, Research Files, Maps, Writings about Kiener, Newspapers,
Negatives and Photographs, Postcards, and Articles and Reprints. Work on the Kiener papers included the incorporation of three
smaller collections into a single collection. Kiener organized his research files alphabetically and this original arrangement
was maintained throughout the materials. The final collection consists of materials from the Nebraska State Museum and the
Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries.
Kiener's personal effects contain journals, diaries, and other more intimate items. The correspondence series documents Kiener's
professional and personal life, mostly from the 1920s to the 1950s. Kiener's writings include published and unpublished works
and research done for publications. The bulk of the collection is comprised of Kiener's research files. These materials document
his extensive lichen and botany research, Nebraska and Colorado wildlife, mountaineering, and his other interests. Kiener
also kept a collection of maps from North and South America, Switzerland, and areas of local interest in Nebraska and Colorado.
The writings about Kiener include articles published on his research or about plants named after him, newspaper articles about
him before and after his death, and a book about the history of Longs Peak that mentions the Agnes Vaille tragedy and his
climbing accomplishments. Also included is a short article about him written by Mari Sandoz.
Kiener was an accomplished amateur photographer. The photograph collection includes photographs and negatives of his lichen
and botany research, the Rocky Mountains, Nebraska and Colorado wildlife and vegetation, and friends and family.
Kiener, Walter Bigler, 1894-1959
Forests and Forestry -- Colorado
Mountain plants -- Colorado -- Longs Peak
Natural history -- Colorado
Plant communities -- Colorado -- Longs Peak
Vegetation classification -- Rocky Mountains Region
Longs Peak (Colo.)
Rocky Mountain National Park
Twin Sisters (Colo.)
Nebraska Game, Forestation, and Parks Commission
Swiss Alpine Club
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Series 1: Personal Effects, Box 1-3
Kiener's personal effects contain journals, diaries and field notes, academic materials compiled during his time at the University
of Nebraska, his father's will, Swiss military documents, his certification as a meat butcher, awards and honors, the disposition
of his estate, and other personal items.
Series 2: Correspondence, Box 4-8
The correspondence consists of personal and professional letters in English and German. The bulk of the correspondence is
dated between 1925-1955. Kiener's personal correspondence consists of letters from acquaintances made while a ranger and mountain
guide on the Longs Peak and Twin Sisters mountain ranges, holiday greetings, evidence of a romance with a woman named Margaret(?)
and of its ultimate demise (Personal 1934-1935), and letters from family and friends. His professional correspondence covers
his lichen studies, alpine vegetation, Colorado vegetation, and Nebraska vegetation, as well as his memberships in professional
organizations. Both the personal and professional correspondence is arranged by year, then alphabetically by last name, and
then alphabetically by topic.
Series 3: Articles and Publictions, Box 9-10
The articles and publications are those created by Kiener. The publications illustrate his research and include drafts and
the final version of his Ph.D. dissertation and various topics, such as lichen, mountain climbing, birds, Longs Peak, botanical
explorations, and the Nebraska landscape.
Series 4: Research Files, Box 11-55
Kiener's research files make up the bulk of the collection and are representative of his work on lichen studies, alpine vegetation
studies, mountaineering, Colorado, the Nebraska State Game, Forestation and Parks Commission, Nebraska fisheries and lakes;
Nebraska counties, and Switzerland. The files also include research conducted for his thesis and dissertation. Some of the
folder titles include a notation, "from binder, " which means that the folder title is taken directly from the information
on a binder that originally housed the material.
Series 5: Maps, Box 56-57
The map collection contains regular and over-sized maps of Colorado, Nebraska, the United States, Europe, and Switzerland.
They are arranged by place names in North America and then place names in Europe.
Series 6: Articles on Keiner, Box 57, Folder 37-50
The writings about Kiener consist of journal and newspaper articles on his scientific studies, lichen research, mountaineering,
and the Agnes Vaille tragedy. Included is a short article written by Mari Sandoz, entitled, "Climber of Longs Peak."
Series 7: Newspapers and Newspaper Clippings, Box 57, Folder 51-58
The newspaper series contains clippings and excerpts from newspapers collected by Kiener.
Series 8: Negatives and Photographs, Box 58-94
The negatives include contain cellulose and glass plate negatives, mostly of scientific and professional subject matter. Their
are cellulose negatives, glass plate negatives, and lantern slides. The photo indexes included have numbers and information
on some of the photos in the collection. Among the photographs in the collection are images of Jules Sandoz in the Nebraska
Sandhills. The photographs are not numbered, but but they do correspond with some photos in the Sandhills index. There are
several photograph albums and formal portraits in this series. The subjects of the negatives and photograph collection are
Colorado mountains and vegetation, Nebraska wildlife and vegetation, lichens and other botanical specimens, the University
of Nebraska, Switzerland, and family and friends. Kiener kept many of his photographs in alphabetical order and that system
has been maintained. Some photographs in the collection are stamped with "photo by Walter Kiener" on the back. Photographs
taken by other individuals are marked as such, including photos of plant fossils taken by M.K. Elias. Many of the photographs
do not provide photographer or date information but may be attributed to Keiner. Kiener kept many photographic prints with
the original negative.
Series 9: Postcards, Box 95
The postcards are those collected by Keiner. The subjects include Switzerland, Colorado, Twin Sisters Lookout, the University
of Nebraska Botany Department, mountains, religion, wildlife, and selected photo postcards of friends and family.
Series 10: Articles and Reprints, Box 96-1265
The articles and reprints are those collected by Keiner. They are arranged by author last name and document the subjects Keiner
focused on in his research.
Series 11: Oversize Materials, Folders 1-12 oversize box, Folders 13-17 map case
The Oversize series consists of maps, publications, and prints or pictures collected by Kiener.
Please contact the Archives & Specials Collections for a container list or for more information on this collection.
Related Material and Resources:
Fuenning, S.I. "Walter Bigler Kiener (1894-1959)." The Bryologist. Vol. 63, 1960, pg. 64-66.
Kiener, Walter. On the Vegetation of an Isolated Peak in the Rocky mountains. Thesis (M.S.)--University of Nebraska (Lincoln campus), 1931
______________. Sociological Studies of the Alpine Vegetation on Longs Peak Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Nebraska (Lincoln campus), 1939
Selected letters from Kiener to Geneva Sayre are located at the Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany at Harvard University.
There are also letters from Kiener in the Archives of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University.