by Laura Gonzales, Education & Volunteer Manager
Hello from your History Herald!
Did you know that in 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, crews discovered a major wildfire driven by strong wind? As the crew battled to contain the blaze they received a report of a lone bear cub seen wandering near the fire line. Suddenly, the firefighters were caught directly in the path of the fire storm. They survived by lying face down on a rock bed for over an hour as the fire burned past them. Nearby, the little cub had not fared as well. He took refuge in a tree that became completely charred, escaping with his life, but also badly burned paws and hind legs. The crew removed the cub from the tree and a rancher among the crew agreed to take him home. A New Mexico Department of Game and Fish ranger heard about the cub and drove to the rancher’s home to help get the cub on a plane to Santa Fe, where his burns were treated and bandaged.
News about the little bear spread swiftly throughout the state. Soon, the United Press and Associated Press broadcasted his story nationwide and many responded, inquiring about the cub’s recovery. The state game warden wrote to the chief of the National Forest Service, offering to present the cub to the agency as long as the cub would be dedicated to a conservation and wildfire prevention publicity program. The cub was soon on his way to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., becoming the living symbol we know and love, Smokey Bear. Smokey received numerous gifts of honey, and so many letters that they dedicated a private zip code just for him!
He remained at the zoo until his death in 1976, when he was returned to his home to be buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico, where he continues to be a wildfire prevention legend. In 1952, the popular anthem was written, and due to the song’s popularity and the addition of “the” between his name, Smokey Bear has been called “Smokey the Bear” by many adoring fans, but, in actuality, his name never changed. He’s still simply, Smokey Bear.
Now that summer is in full swing and outdoor adventure beckons, please remember to enjoy the outdoors responsibly so that together we may protect this beautiful state and all who call her home!
Learn more about Smokey at www.smokeybear.com
Sources and Resources for at-home learning: