Everglades Biographies

Guy Bradley

At the turn of the century, wading birds in the Everglades were being relentlessly slaughtered by plume hunters seeking financial gain from the millenary industry. Alarmed by the looming extinction of these birds species, the Audubon Society acted to protect the remaining rookeries, or breeding colonies, from further decimation. In 1902, at the urging of Audubon Society members, the American Ornithologists' Union hired Guy Bradley, a Monroe County Deputy, to protect south Florida's wading birds from plume hunters. On July 8, 1905, at the age of 35, Guy Bradley was shot and killed in the line of duty. He was attempting to arrest a well-known plume hunter for killing egrets on Cape Sable.

An acquaintance of the Bradley family, writing in Field and Stream in January 1919, recounted the shooting incident as follows:

One Smith was residing at Flamingo at the time, and Bradley, believing that Smith was going to Cuthbert Rookery and also that he was molesting the heron rookeries on the Oyster Keys, went out one afternoon to investigate the latter's sloop which lay near one of the islands. He failed to return that night.

The following day, Bradley's body was found, still adrift off Bradley Key (the island that now bears his name) in his own skiff. Bradley's shooter, Walter Smith, turned himself into the authorities in Key West, where he spent five months in jail unable to raise the $5,000 bond. Smith had been angry with Bradley for arresting his son Tom on two previous occasions. Smith had earlier threatened to kill Bradley if the warden ever attempted to arrest him or any of his family again. Although Smith was eventually acquitted -- the jury ruled he had acted in self defense-- the incident aroused public outrage and laws were soon enacted to protect the birds' nesting colonies.

Bradley's obituary, published in Bird Lore in August 1905, characterized Bradley as "fearless and brave", noting his "extensive knowledge of the country and the birds that lived there."

The deceased acted as warden in Monroe County, a wild and thinly settled district, for over three years... During all this time he faithfully guarded his wards, the plume birds, traveling thousands of miles in the launch Audubon, in order to watch over them...A number of well-known ornithologists and members of the Association visited Bradley at different times, and always found him alert and faithful in the performance of his duty, and willing to undergo any hardship to protect the birds. He took a personal interest in his work and was genuinely proud when he could report an increase in numbers. ...Personally he was gentle and somewhat retiring, was pure in thought and deed, deeply interested in and a supporter of the small Union Church near his home. A young wife is left to mourn his sudden and terrible death, and his two children, too young to realize their loss, will never know a father's care.

Guy Bradley was buried on a shell ridge at Cape Sable overlooking Florida Bay. A monument was erected by the Florida Audubon Society. The grave was later washed away in a storm.

Biography prepared by Gail Clement, Florida International University


Guy Bradley
Photo reprinted in Bird Lore, 1905.

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