Cover image for Death in the Everglades : the murder of Guy Bradley, America's first martyr to environmentalism
Death in the Everglades : the murder of Guy Bradley, America's first martyr to environmentalism
McIver, Stuart B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Gainesville : University Press of Florida, [2003]

Physical Description:
xviii, 187 pages : illustrations, 1 map ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GE56.B73 M35 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"This is a fascinating account of the Florida plume hunters, the devastation they wrought, and the slow, painful progress--exemplified bravely on the hunting grounds by Guy Bradley--of the bird protection movement that ultimately succeeded."--Oliver H. Orr, Jr., Library of Congress (retired), and author of Saving American Birds: T. Gilbert Pearson and the Founding of the Audubon Movement

"A moving account of a raw frontier and a hero who lost his life trying to enforce the law."--Paul S. George, editor, Tequesta

Death in the Everglades chronicles the demise of one of 20th-century Florida's most enduring folk heroes. The murder of Guy Bradley represents a milestone not only in the saga of the Everglades but also in the broader history of American environmentalism. This fascinating biography of his abbreviated but eventful life is emblematic of the struggle to tame the Florida frontier without destroying it. As Stuart McIver unfolds the story behind this famous but little-known crime, he also provides a window into Florida history during the creation of modern South Florida.

Born in Chicago in 1870, Bradley moved to Florida as a young boy in 1876. Nineteen years later his father became associated with the developer and railroad magnate Henry Flagler, and in 1898 the family moved to the isolated coastal village of Flamingo. Situated on the southeastern fringe of the Everglades, Flamingo was a flash point in an emerging ecological battleground that drew the Bradleys and other pioneer families into a conflict later dubbed "the Plume Wars." At the turn of the century, the mass killing of egrets and other plume birds for feathers to adorn women's hats was a serious concern among the nation's growing cadre of environmentalists, especially among those who belonged to the Audubon Society, a conservation organization founded in 1886.

In 1901, at the urging of Audubon Society leaders and the American Ornithologists' Union, the Florida legislature enacted a bird protection law that provided for the hiring of local game wardens, and a year later Guy Bradley assumed the dual role of Monroe County's game warden and deputy sheriff. For the next three years, from 1902 to 1905, Bradley matched wits and sometimes weapons with an array of plume hunters and other nefarious characters, some of whom were strangers but many of whom were friends or acquaintances of the warden or his family. In the end, Bradley was shot and killed by Walter Smith, a man he had known for nearly a decade. How this murder came about, what happened to Smith and others left behind, and how Bradley's demise and subsequent controversies affected the environmental movement are intriguing questions that frame McIver's richly textured narrative.

With the instincts and skills of a master storyteller, McIver--long one of Florida's most historically minded journalists--has recaptured a tale for the ages, a story of personal sacrifice and collective awakening that altered the course of the state's natural and human history. Bradley should not be forgotten, and this book should not be overlooked by anyone seeking a full understanding of how the Everglades became a treasured but imperiled place.

Stuart B. McIver was a prolific journalist who also wrote numerous books, more than 500 magazine articles, and documentary films, for which he also worked as producer.

Author Notes

Stuart B. McIver is the author of 13 books on Florida, nearly 500 magazine articles, and the writer and producer of numerous documentary films, of which Alligator won the Venice Film Festival Silver Medal. Both Alligator and Marisa and the Mermaid won the CINE Golden Eagle award for documentary films

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It's one thing to dedicate your life to speaking out about the need to protect endangered species; it's another to put your life on the line. By vividly relating the highly dramatic story of Guy Bradley (1870-1905), first martyr in the fight to protect wild birds, prolific writer and documentary filmmaker McIver rescues from obscurity a key chapter in the history of American environmentalism. Bradley came of age in the wilds of south Florida at the height of the mania for feather-festooned women's hats, a craze that decimated the Everglades' once gloriously fecund rookeries. As wealthy entrepreneur Henry Morrison Flagler conjured Palm Beach and Miami out of the swampy wilderness, and tough, well-armed men did whatever it took to earn a living, millions of egrets, flamingos, and herons were systematically slaughtered. The first bird protection law was finally passed in 1901, and Bradley, smart and courageous, was hired to enforce it as game warden and deputy sheriff, a harrowing undertaking that ended in a fatal confrontation. With great finesse, McIver evokes Bradley's tumultuous world, chronicles the pitched battle to save wild birds, and resurrects a true folk hero. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the late 19th century, McIver explains, as many as five million egrets, herons, flamingos, spoonbills, terns, cormorants and other species were killed each year in Florida, shot by plume hunters who often decimated entire rookeries and sold the feathers to the American millinery trade to decorate women's hats. In 1901, to save them from extinction, the American Ornithologists' Union, backed by the newly formed Audubon Society, persuaded the Florida legislature to pass a law making the killing of birds other than game birds illegal. In his carefully researched account of the struggle between environmentalists and plume hunters, McIver (Hemingway's Key West) tells the story of Guy Bradley, a reformed plume hunter in the frontier town of Flamingo, who was hired in 1902 as game warden of Monroe County and three years later was killed while trying to enforce the unpopular law. McIver spends a lot of time on details of Bradley's family history and on the changes wrought on southern Florida by the developer and railroad magnate Henry Morrison Flagler, a story that is important in its own right but adds little to the account of Bradley's murder. His killer, a plume hunter whose son the game warden was trying to arrest for shooting birds, got off scot-free because there was so little sympathy for the Florida bird protection law. McIver's story might have been more effective if he had spent more time looking into the lives of the Everglades' settlers and showing how a law that increased their economic hardship could lead to murder. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

McIver, the author of 13 books on Florida, presents a tale of murder in turn-of-the century Florida set against a backdrop of the burgeoning environmental movement. Florida was wild and attracted restless people like the Bradley family, who moved there from Chicago in the 1870s. Guy Bradley grew to manhood in this frontier, which was a hunter's paradise. The prize was feathers, from egrets and other plume birds, used to adorn women's hats. In 1901, at the urging of Audubon Society leaders concerned about the mass killing of these birds, the Florida legislature enacted a bird-protection law that provided for the hiring of a local game warden. From 1903 to 1905, as warden and Monroe County's deputy sheriff, Bradley dealt with these poachers. The frontier violence, family feuds, and disagreements over the new law eventually led to Bradley's murder. But the author shows how environmentalists were then encouraged to create bird refuges, thus leading to the establishment of the National Wildlife Refuge System. In detailing the killing, McIver's book reads much like a novel, and will appeal to general readers.-Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley Coll., Mt. Carmel, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xi
Prefacep. xiii
Chronologyp. xvii
Mapp. xvi
1 The Feather Tradep. 1
2 The Letterp. 6
3 A Veritable Tropical Paradisep. 10
4 The Cruise of the Bontonp. 22
5 The Barefoot Mailmanp. 30
6 Tycoons of the Plume Tradep. 36
7 Cuthbert's Rookeryp. 46
8 The Palm Beach Dudesp. 54
9 Sharpshooterp. 64
10 Flagler Takes Chargep. 69
11 The End of the Worldp. 93
12 The Patriarchp. 100
13 A Matter of Lawp. 107
14 The Badgep. 113
15 On the Jobp. 121
16 A Boat Named Audubonp. 131
17 Trouble at Cuthbertp. 138
18 Life in Flamingop. 143
19 Back on the Jobp. 148
20 Shootout at Oyster Keysp. 152
21 No True Billp. 155
22 The Fight Goes Onp. 161
Notesp. 169
Bibliographyp. 179
Indexp. 183