Birds of a Feather Died Together: The Fight to Protect Florida’s Birds

Guy Bradley
Portrait of Monroe County Game Warden Guy M. Bradley Courtesy of Florida Memory

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

In the weeks surrounding Earth Day, it is important to note that the work of protecting the environment has often been difficult, depressing, and even deadly. These aspects of environmental history came together in turn of the century Florida with the killing of Guy Bradley, a game warden who had fought to protect Florida birds from the ravages of plume bird hunters. Called “America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism,” Bradley was one of a handful of people who were willing to put their lives on the line to protect endangered species (McIver, xi). His actions were part of a nascent bird conservation movement headed by the newly formed Audubon Society and President Theodore Roosevelt, whose lifelong love of nature, especially of birds, drove him to create the nation’s first bird reserves as well as a multitude of national forests, game preserves, national parks, and national monuments. Florida newspapers covered Bradley’s death and many other episodes in this early environmental struggle.

Pattern Hats from Paris
From The Pensacola Journal-January 6, 1906

Killing birds for their decorative feathers was an age old practice, but it did not become an industry until the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the extraordinary growth of the American economy during the Gilded Age combined with a fashion craze among wealthier women for hats adorned with colorful bird plumes created a profitable market for the plumes of egrets and herons. By the late nineteenth century the last sanctuaries of these beautiful birds were the coastal wetlands and the Everglades of South Florida. Plume hunters scoured these areas for the birds’ rookeries, where the nesting birds presented an easy target for skilled marksmen. A plume hunter could receive as much as ten dollars per plume. In 1886, the American Ornithologists’ Union estimated that as many as five million birds were being killed each year for the supply of the millinery industry.

Easter Hats
From The Pensacola Journal-March 20, 1921

Although 1886 saw the first organized attempt to educate the public about the devastation of the plume bird population, it was not until 1900 that Congress passed the Lacey Act, a law that prohibited birds taken in violation of state laws from being transported across state lines. The Lacy Act was largely the result of the efforts of women who learned of the terrible toll the plume trade was having on the nation’s birds. Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall led this effort and organized the first state Audubon Society in Massachusetts in 1896. Four year later, the Florida Audubon Society was created and lobbied the state legislature to to pass Florida’s first bird protection act in 1901. The law provided for the protection of plumed birds by outlawing the killing of such birds or the sale of their plumage, imposing a fine of five dollars per bird on anyone in violation of the act and up to ten days imprisonment. Unfortunately, the law did not provide any resources for enforcement. It was up to private philanthropists to come up with the funds to pay for at least one warden to police the coast of South Florida for plume hunters. The job was given to Guy M. Bradley, a former plume hunter who had been by hired by the Audubon campaign to save the plumed birds. In 1902, Bradley took up the post of warden for Monroe County.

Lacey Act
From The new enterprise-December 10, 1903

Florida bird conservation received national attention in March 1903, when President Roosevelt backed legislation establishing Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon as the first federal bird reservation. Roosevelt needed little urging to take this step as he was appalled that so many birds were being killed just so their plumes could adorn the hats of fashionable women. After his friend Frank M. Chapman, ornithologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History, laid out a detailed plan for the establishment of the reserve on the island, Roosevelt signed off on the project and agreed to appoint Paul Kroegel, an Indian River farmer and longtime bird enthusiast, as the first national wildlife refuge warden for Pelican Island.

Uncle Sam's Florida Aviary
From The Chipley banner-August 6, 1903

Meanwhile, Bradley began his work as game warden in Monroe County, where he focused his efforts on protecting the nests of the great white heron. Plume hunters had made the white heron their favorite target as the heron’s feathers were among the most prized feathers of the plume hat business. The Audubon Society supplied Bradley with a boat, which he used to police the islands off Cape Sable. His efforts soon paid off. Due to his vigilance, the number of plume birds taken in the area dropped dramatically; however, the resulting drop in supply only raised the price of the feathers as the millinery industry tried to meet the still widespread demand. Plume hunters had already shot at Bradley, who put his life on the line every day he was on duty. On July 8, 1905, he paid the ultimate price when a group of plume hunters known as the “Smith Gang” resisted Bradley, who approached them as they were shooting double-breasted cormorants. The gang refused Bradley’s order to stop the hunt. An argument ensued and Walter Smith, the leader of the gang, shot and killed Bradley.

Bradley Shot LA Herald
From the Los Angles Herald-September 17, 1905

A grand jury refused to indict Smith, who had powerful allies in the county, where plume hunting was a popular and lucrative business. Bradley’s murder and the mysterious disappearance of DeSoto County warden Columbus McLeod in 1908, encouraged the National Audubon Society to increase its efforts to end the plume trade. In 1911, New York became the first state to pass a tough plumage bill. This law was followed by federal efforts to restrict the trade. Although the business continued in Florida until World War II, stricter state enforcement ended plum hunting in the 1950s.

Citations and Additional Sources

Brinkley, Douglas. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (New York: Harper, 2009).

McIver, Stuart B. Death in the Everglades: The Murder of Guy Bradley, America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).

Portrait of Monroe County Game Warden Guy M. Bradley. Between 1902 and 1905. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Website. Accessed April 17, 2017. https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/13858.

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New Content: The Lakeland Evening Telegram

New Building
The Lakeland evening telegram-April 15, 1914

Notice anything new? Our new Florida paper for this digitization cycle, The Lakeland evening telegram, is now up in Chronicling America. We’re pleased to announce that the content from the paper’s debut on November 1, 1911 through the December 31, 1917 issue has been ingested and uploaded for public use. What kind of news will you find in the Lakeland evening telegram? Read on to find out!

The Lakeland evening telegram was published by Michael F. Hetherington as Polk County’s first daily newspaper. It began in 1911 with the motto “published in the best part of the best town in the best state.” The motto truly sets the tone of the paper, and one of its most noticeable features is their unrelenting editorial enthusiasm for Lakeland. More so than other papers in our collection, The Lakeland evening telegram ran articles written locally and by other papers around the state praising the city that housed it. Knowing this, it may not be surprising to learn that when a second motto was added to the paper in 1914, it doubled down on the pro-Lakeland message, proclaiming “boost-remember that Satan stayed in Heaven until he began to knock his home town.”

Boosters Devil
The Lakeland evening telegram-August 1, 1914

This support for Lakeland stems from the fact that Hetherington genuinely loved the city. Editor of the first daily in Miami, the Miami Metropolis (now called the Miami News), Hetherington went to Lakeland on an assignment and was so taken with it he sold his Miami paper and moved to Lakeland. While The Lakeland evening telegram was not the first or only paper in Lakeland (Hetherington moved there in 1905 after having purchased the Lakeland News), it was one of five papers in Florida (and the only inland paper) receiving service from the Associated Press. The paper was so successful that in 1913 they announced that they would be constructing their own building because “the institution has been sadly hampered by cramped and unsuitable quarters.” In keeping with the tone of the paper, they point out that “the management believes that more can be accomplished for the good of Lakeland” once the new building was completed. When the building opened in 1914, it was covered extensively. This coverage included photographs of the interior and exterior of the new building, as well as a flattering story on Mrs. M.F. Hetherington, Michael’s wife, whose contributions to the success of the paper were “no less important than that of her husband.” In addition to being outspoken Lakeland boosters, The Lakeland evening telegram was also a fervent supporter of their own publication, frequently running self-congratulatory stories from other papers.

The Hetheringtons
The Lakeland evening telegram-April 15, 1914

Given The Lakeland evening telegram’s tendency towards self-promotion, it may not be surprising that one of the features that sets this publication apart from other papers is the fact that it publicly celebrated its birthday annually. In these birthday columns, the paper presents a hagiographic account of their continued success in spite of the fact that creating the paper was “against the better judgment of our best friends, and, we confess, not without some misgivings on our own part.” While talking about their triumphs, they also emphasize how the paper has helped boost Lakeland’s profile nationally, as well as helped support local businesses. These quirky columns are a must read for anyone interested in this particular paper.

Our First Birthday
The Lakeland evening telegram-November 1, 1912

In addition to being fervent supporters of Lakeland, The Lakeland evening telegram includes topics you’d expect to find in a Florida paper during the time period such as international and national news related to World War I, the Women’s Rights Movement, and presidential elections. Reports of local events including agricultural news with emphasis on the citrus industry, local school events, and other happenings like personal travels, church notes, and fashion tips also fill the pages of this periodical.

What happened to The Lakeland evening telegram? In 1922, The Lakeland evening telegram merged with the Lakeland Morning Star to become the Lakeland Star-Telegram. Samuel Farabee, who started the Lakeland Evening Ledger in 1924, bought the Star-Telegram in 1926 and merged them, forming the Lakeland Evening Ledger and Star-Telegram. Another title change came in 1941, when the paper was sold to Cowles Communications Inc. and called itself the Lakeland Ledger. The paper changed title and ownership one last time; it was renamed the Ledger in 1967 and was purchased by its current owner, the New York Times, in 1971. While some of these dates are outside of our current digitization date range, we’ll be uploading more issues of the The Lakeland evening telegram, through the end of 1920, in the near future.

Citations and Additional Sources:

Hetherington, M F. History of Polk County, Florida: Narrative and biographical. Chuluota, Fla: Mickler House, 1971.

Seeing Lakeland: A guide and handbook to the city and its suburbs. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.

Lufsey, R E., and Kelsey Blanton. History of Lakeland. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.

The Grapefruit League: Baseball in Florida

George Cutshaw
George Cutshaw of the Brooklyn Dodgers from The Daytona daily news February 25, 1915

April 3, 2017 is Opening Day, marking the beginning of the baseball regular season following over a month of spring training. Baseball fans are already aware that many teams hold their spring training here in Florida because winters are relatively temperate. Due to this Florida connection, our Chronicling America newspapers are a treasure trove for fans of baseball history and its surrounding culture. As baseball moves into the regular season, let’s take a look at some articles that discuss spring training in Florida, including the rumored origin of the name “Grapefruit League.”

According to Kevin M. McCarthy’s Baseball in Florida, baseball teams have been heading to the Southern U.S. for spring training as far back as the 1870s. Spring training, at the beginning, was intended to get players back in shape for the new season after their winter off. In the age of highly trained and well-paid professions, spring training allows teams to try out new players and ease into the season. It also gives fans the chance to see their team play in smaller, more intimate venues. The first team to use Florida as the site for their spring training was the Washington Capitals (also called the Senators) who went to Jacksonville for three weeks in 1888 (McCarthy 141). While baseball players didn’t have the best professional reputation in the early 20th century, it was economically advantageous for Florida cities and towns to court teams for spring training and did so by offering teams new fields and improved facilities. While costing municipalities initially, in addition to bringing the team and support staff to town, the spring training season also brought spectators and their families who were likely to patronize hotels, restaurants, and other local attractions.

Baseball teams have held spring training in Florida since the late 19th century, but the Grapefruit League, the name for the group of teams who train in the Sunshine State, originated in the early 1910s. McCarthy nails down 1914 as the year the league was established, but the event that is rumored to have led to the naming of the league didn’t occur until 1915 when a grapefruit was tossed out of an airplane with rather explosive results (McCarthy 146). While multiple versions of this legend exist, The Daytona daily news, the newspaper of the city where the incident occurred, published their version of the event on March 17, 1915 while Daytona was hosting the Brooklyn Dodgers during their spring training. In their report, famous woman aviator Ruth Law devised a promotional stunt with Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, during which she would toss a baseball from an airplane for him to catch. Law claims that she forgot the agreed upon baseball and instead “substituted a grapefruit” which she had in her plane. Robinson missed the fruit, which “walloped him on the arm” leaving quite the bruise. Another version of the story also mentions that the fruit exploded “all over his face, showering him with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice” (Gardner). One can only speculate how badly he would have been hurt if he had been hit by a baseball falling from around 500 feet above the ground!

Grapefruit Airplane
The Daytona daily news-March 17, 1915

Coverage of spring training in Chronicling America’s Florida papers varies from title to title and the depth of coverage is largely contingent on if the municipality was hosting a team during a given year. However, there are reports in most papers about spring training throughout the state. In our collection, The Daytona daily news during the years 1915 and 1916 stands out for its coverage of the Brooklyn Dodgers (Officially named the Brooklyn Base Ball Club but also referred to in our papers as the Superbas), who held their spring training near the city during those years. In addition to reporting the grapefruit debacle, the paper, as you would expect, reported upcoming games as well as offering summaries after they occurred. But beyond reporting sports news, The Daytona daily news treated the Brooklyn Dodgers like local celebrities, including stories in the paper about their leisure activities including their success while fishing, going on plane rides with the aforementioned Ruth Law, and a banquet held in their honor by local civic groups.

Brooklyn Baseball Fish
The Daytona daily news-March 7, 1916

Beyond just the team, The Daytona daily news, like many local papers at that time, also included brief notices about important out of town visitors. In the time period before and after Daytona hosted the Brooklyn team, the paper also reported the coming and going of the club owner, other team staff including doctors and managers, and even the out of town press who accompanied the team to cover training. Daytona, already a well-established tourist destination by 1915, apparently had sufficient infrastructure for the press who, according to this April 6th article, were happy with the telegraph services available in Daytona. Nevertheless, while the city was under the impression that Daytona would be home to Brooklyn Baseball spring training “for next five years, if not longer” in March 1915, after 1916 the Dodgers only returned to Daytona once for spring training in 1946. After this, mentions of the Superbas fade from the pages of The Daytona daily news. Due to it being a seasonal paper, there are no issues of The Daytona daily news during October 1916, when they played (and lost) the World Series to the Boston Red Sox.

Five years
The Daytona daily news-March 23, 1915

There is undoubtedly more information about spring training in Florida newspapers that haven’t been digitized yet, and our incomplete record demonstrates the need for projects like ours, which ensure public access to primary sources. For example, we haven’t yet digitized issues of Gainesville papers for the years 1919 or 1921 when the Giants and the Phillies, respectively, held their spring training there. Today, fifteen teams, including the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, still come to Florida for spring training and to play exhibition games against one another, providing entertainment for yet another generation of native Floridians and tourists alike.

Citations and Additional Sources

Gardner, Dakota. “The amazing story of ‘Uncle Robbie’ Robinson’s plane-assisted grapefruit catch.” Cut4 (blog) . March 13, 2014. http://m.mlb.com/cutfour/2014/03/13/69250856/wilbert-robinson-airplane-baseball-grapefruit-catch.

“History.” Florida Grapefruit League. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.floridagrapefruitleague.com/home/history/.

McCarthy, Kevin M. Baseball in Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 1996.

Semchuck, Alex. “Wilbert Robinson.” Society for American Baseball Research. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/5536caf5.