Everglades 70th Anniversary: The story of the park’s beginning

From the historical newspaper archives (originally published on Thursday, December 4, 1997)

(A scandal of fashion and murder)

Guy Bradley died for the Everglades. 


Raised on Hypoluxo Island, son of Palm Beach pioneer settlers, he wound up face down in a skiff floating in the Everglades. 


His murder in 1905 helped curb a trade in egret feathers that almost drove the white birds to extinction. And it helped spark a movement that led to the establishment of Everglades National Park 50 years ago this weekend. 


Everglades National Park is still around. But the future of the Everglades is in doubt. 


Once, the Everglades covered 2,700 square miles from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. The state later drained the northern regions to form the Everglades Agricultural Area - sugarand vegetable-growing areas. 


Now a giant dike rings Lake Okeechobee. Interstate 75 and Tamiami Trail bisect the peninsula, blocking the flow. Demands by urban South Florida have drawn down the cushion of water. And farm runoff is blamed for compromising its quantity and quality. 


Parts of the Everglades still exist in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County, state-operated water conservation areas and Everglades National Park. 


Spanning 1.5 million acres, or more than 2,300 square miles, the park is second among national parks only to Yellowstone, with 9,250 square miles. The east Everglades expansion in 1991 added more than 100,000 acres. 


It is home to dozens of species, from the ever-tormenting mosquito to the rare Florida panther - wood storks and spoonbills, bald eagles and osprey, snails and kites, crocodiles and alligators, sea turtles and manatees, black bears, snook and sea trout, redfish and tarpon. 


It almost ended up with no egrets. 


The first martyr 


By the turn of the century, egrets and other birds of the Everglades were being hunted almost to extinction; their feathers were in demand as hat decorations. 


The fledgling Audubon Society was able to push through state laws to protect the birds, but Florida couldn't afford wardens, so the society raised money to hire four. One was Bradley. 


"That man Bradley is going to be killed sometime," a famed bird expert who had toured the area with Bradley said. "He has been shot at more than once, and some day they are going to get him." 


To another visitor, Bradley advised he was in pursuit of a nasty poacher and showed him his pistol. 


On July 8, 1905, 35-year-old Bradley was found dead. 


Suspected were Walter Smith and his two sons, habitual game violators. 


The killing was a national sensation. Witnesses said Bradley shot first. But furious residents torched Smith's house. Five months later, a grand jury in Key West ruled there wasn't enough evidence to try Smith. 


"Every movement must have martyrs, and Guy Bradley is the first martyr to the cause of bird protection," the national head of Audubon lamented. 


Bradley left a wife and two sons. A marker in the park says he "gave his life for the cause to which he was pledged." 


The murder, and that of another Audubon warden three years later in Charlotte Harbor, helped boost public support for bird protection. 


>>RELATED: Storms come and go; the Everglades endures

Conservationists targeted the consumer end of the slaughter - New York's garment district - and pushed through a state law there that banned use of feathers in hats, despite the efforts of lobbyists and cries of industry officials that thousands would be left jobless. 


After the industry began sneaking the feathers in through Europe, the federal government passed similar laws. 


But back in South Florida, conservationists argued more was needed than a handful of rangers paid with private money. Soon the movement wasn't just about protecting birds. As South Florida's real estate boom began, and completion of a road from Florida City in 1915 spurred interest in farming the area, the fight became one of preserving a unique ecosystem. 

>>RELATED: Who named Lake Okeechobee’s Kreamer, Ritta, Torry Islands?


Royal Palm State Park 


In 1916, Royal Palm State Park was established 15 miles southwest of Homestead. In 1930, Congress heard the first call to establish a national park. It would take 17 years of lobbying before the park was dedicated, stalled by the Depression and World War II and revived when the state gave $2 million to buy private lands and donated another 800,000 acres of state lands. 


In its first year, Everglades National Park had only 7,482 visitors; with improvements to the facilities and approach routes and the increasing significance of the park, that figure is now around 1.5 million a year. 


Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, caused about $54 million in damage to park facilities and carved a 25-mile-wide scar, downing thousands of trees. But the Everglades has been in the path of hurricanes for eons: Much of its wildlife survived the storm, and new vegetation rapidly overtook felled trees. The park reopened less than four months after the storm. 


Once again, the Everglades had survived the fury of nature. Assaults by civilization have been more devastating. They are as palpable - perhaps more - as when President Harry Truman rode up U.S. 1 to the mainland on Dec. 6, 1947, during one of his Key West vacations. 


There, on a wooden platform, and with 57-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas, chronicler of the Everglades, at his side, he dedicated America's newest national park. 


>>RELATED: Read other stories revived from the old newspaper archives 

"Today we make the achievement of another great conservation victory," Truman said. 


"We have permanently safeguarded an irreplaceable primitive area."

View the original story in the historic newspaper archives

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