Missouri’s Audubon – Part One

In today’s post we shall start to look at the life of Charles W. Schwartz, one of this country’s most influential wildlife artists. Charles was a very amiable man who, in partnership with his energetic and talented wife, Elizabeth, was a benevolent force in the conservation and environmental movements of the 20th century.

A force that was truly much more than the sum of their parts – and there were a surprising number of “parts”. Together, they produced 24 movies and wrote or illustrated a dozen important books – including Aldo Leopold’s classic A Sand County Almanac. Charles designed over a dozen of the most popular stamps in the fish and game hobby and Charles and Elizabeth both contributed to a  “team effort” which resulted in one of the most beautiful federal waterfowl stamps of all time.



Although nationally known for his wildlife drawings, paintings and sculptures, Charles made a decision early in his life to promote an awareness, understanding and empathy for nature and the importance and value to mankind for wildlife conservation and game management – at the expense of becoming commercially successful.

No less an authority on commercial wildlife art than Maynard Reece acknowledged his supreme talent as an artist and stated “Charles could have gone down any path he chose.” He would choose not to enter the federal duck stamp competition or, for that matter, any art contests or competitions (the many wonderful stamps he created toward the end of his career were assigned to him as part of his job by the Missouri Conservation Commission). Charles chose a different path.

Instead of spending a significant portion of his life creating a relatively small number of larger multicolor works of art like contemporaries Maynard Reece and close personal friend Sir Peter Scott, Charles focussed on detailed black and white sketches and drawings. This decision allowed for a tremendous body of work that would span everything from children’s books to scientific journals – eventually numbering in the thousands (As we shall later see, there were some notable exceptions, including the eight foot tall murals he created at the behest of the Commission). I believe the choice to work predominately in black and white was a calculated move on his part (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. Sky Dance of the Woodcock – from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949).



If you read A Sand County Almanac, you will find a series of short pieces that lay somewhere between anecdotes and essays, all with a common message. In a nutshell, it is something like this: As humans, we spend too much of our time busily moving through life, hardly taking notice of the vast majority of the plants and animals we share this planet with – much less taking the time to gain an understanding and appreciation for their right to life or the important ways they contribute to the quality and success of our own lives.

Often, when we do take notice of nature, it is only because something beautiful briefly captures our attention and provides us with immediate gratification – a therapeutic moment for sure, which should not be discounted too heavily in this day and age. Aldo Leopold, himself, offered this assessment: “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.”

As he and Aldo were kindred spirits, Charles no doubt recognized this human trait and, I am certain, also realized that for most of us – that is where our attention span too often ends. For this reason, he purposefully removed the gloss that color provides and preferred to work in black and white – both in his photography and his illustrations.

He has been quoted as saying “black and white reduced everything to its simplest terms”. However, I believe there was a much more tangible benefit; when you are exposed to his art (the illustrations, especially) you bypass the fleeting “skin deep” impression and are taken to the next level from the outset. This provides a rare opportunity to delve deeper, perhaps resulting in a more meaningful, lasting impression.

In other words, Charles wanted to remove the distraction which is multicolor and, in so doing, facilitate a deeper insight into our world. His attention to detail and his connection with nature allowed Charles to present birds and animals in a way that was not only anatomically correct and completely natural – but in a way that captured the imagination of viewers of all ages (see Figure 2).



Figure 2. In Wildlife Drawings (1980), Charles explains that for a long time before humans arrived, both the buffalo and the coyote lived together in the wilds of Missouri. Today, only the coyote remains – the buffalo has disappeared.



For these shared qualities, Charles W. Schwartz has often been referred to as Missouri’s Audubon. This is his story.




Today, the citizens of the “Show Me” state, are understandably proud of of their unique and exceptional wildlife conservation and management tradition. According to an article written by Heather Feeler in the February, 2015 issue of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDOC) magazine, The Conservationist:

“For those of us who have grown up in Missouri, especially the last few decades, we’ve had the privilege of enjoying conservation at its finest – healthy forests to hike, abundant wildlife to watch or hunt, and ample fish to catch. We have a beautiful state with immense outdoor opportunities. While we are lucky to live here, the rich conservation resources have nothing to do with luck. It’s because citizens have led the way, year after year, for a better conservation future.” Charles and Elizabeth were two of these citizens.

In order to better understand what could have inspired such a prodigious and indefatigable effort on their parts, we must first go back and examine a nearly 150 year period during which Missouri’s once abundant wildlife resources were in turn exploited, taken for granted and, ultimately, ensnared in a political tug-of-war.


Early Contact

French, British and Spanish fur traders arrived in the area between the late 1600s and the early 1700s. Not only did they hunt and trap for food and furs for their own subsistence – but intentionally overharvested many animal species for profit. Perhaps their most deleterious long-lasting effect was to influence some Native Americans to take much more than they needed from the land, themselves, in order to trade with them for such useful items as kettles and knives.

The French, especially, were successful in introducing European trade to the local Osage tribe and developing a significant and lasting fur trade relationship. Prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the cumulative effects of this early fur trade was fairly minimal, however, the seeds for exploitation of Missouri’s wildlife resources had been sewn. Following the Louisiana Purchase, the Osage would continue to harvest beyond subsistence levels in order to trade with Americans (see Figure 3).



Figure 3. Osage Traders. Courtesy of artist Charles Banks Wilson.



Prior to 1800, present day St. Charles County, located just to the west of St. Louis and near the confluence of three major Rivers, the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri, was already making a name for itself as a prime area for game hunting, attracting many early market hunters from St. Louis. Among the notable professional hunter residents was Nathan Boone – the son of Daniel Boone.


The Louis and Clark Expedition

In 1803, the United States purchased the Territory of Louisiana from France. The “Louisiana Purchase” nearly doubled the current size of the U.S. and allowed for expansion west of the Mississippi River. Part of this vast Territory included land that would eventually (August 10, 1821) become the State of Missouri.

Shorty after acquiring Louisiana, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Louis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the new territory. Although the primary purposes were to find the best water route across what was now the western part of the U.S. and to establish an “American presence” before rival European powers could attempt to claim it for themselves, the expedition’s secondary purposes were clearly outlined: to study and record the area’s plant and animal life and to establish trade with the Native Americans who lived there.

On May 14, 1803, the expedition left St. Louis and headed west, into the heart of what we now know as Missouri (see Figure 4). They traveled along the Missouri River toward St. Charles and then up to what is now Kansas City. Upon their return to St. Louis on September 23, 1806, their comprehensive report included descriptions of “a stunning abundance and variety of fish, forests and wildlife” in the future State of Missouri.



Figure 4. The Lewis and Clark Expedition mapped portions of Missouri and studied the flora and wildlife present in 1804.



According to “Lewis and Clark in Missouri”, an article written by Shannon Cave and published in the Missouri Conservationist in January of 2004, “Expedition Journals often mention wolves, black bears, cougars, bison and elk.” When they reached the area between St. Charles and present day Kansas City, they recorded hearing coyotes (like the one drawn by Charles Schwartz in Figure 2). Prior to the expedition, coyotes were not known to inhabit the future state.


Westward Expansion

Almost immediately after Lewis and Clark’s reports were published, (primarily white) settlers began to pour into the future state. Among the biggest drawing points were inexpensive land, easy access via the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the abundance of fish and game. Initially the majority of these early white settlers, unlike the market hunters who resided in St. Charles County and more like the majority of the Native American inhabitants, pursued wildlife in a restrained fashion – hunting almost exclusively to feed and clothe themselves and their families. It should be noted that during the first half of the 19th century, the weapons available to hunt game were relatively primitive and frequently ineffectual.

In 1809, The Missouri Fur Company was established in St. Louis by a group of fur traders and merchants. The company greatly expanded the previously loose-knit trade – mainly bartering guns, ammunition, traps and whiskey. From this point on, many more Native Americans contributed to “the wildlife problem” in a measurable way. However, their negative impact would soon be heavily diluted by the cumulative efforts of an ever-increasing white population.

In 1812, the southern portion of the Louisiana Territory became the State of Louisiana and the area to the north was renamed the Missouri Territory. William Clark served as territorial governor from 1813 to 1821, at which time Missouri was granted statehood.

Westward expansion was in full swing by the middle of the 19th century, much of it inspired by the California Gold Rush in 1849 and the subsequent discovery of the Comstock Lode (silver) in Nevada in 1858 (see Figure 5). As the men made their way west, many stopped along the way for various reasons and some ended up staying. Others made mental notes of favorite places along their journey and, after either striking it rich or failing to do so, they returned to such states as Missouri and lived out their lives.



Figure 5. Artist’s depiction of the boomtown that was Virginia City during the height of the Comstock Lode, circa 1875.



The Homestead Act

The Homestead Act of 1862 accelerated settlement west of the Mississippi by allowing any U.S. citizen (who had never borne arms against the U.S. government and to include freed slaves) to claim 160 acres of surveyed government land – providing they “improve” the land by building structures and cultivating crops. Initially, the Civil War (1861-65) consumed most people’s lives and few took advantage of this opportunity.

However, after the war ended homesteading started to pick up steam. In 1865, settlers applied for a little under one million acres. In 1866, the number doubled to 1.9 million acres and by 1872 it was up to 4.6 million acres. By far the most popular places to homestead were Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. When homesteading ended in 1976 (except for Alaska), these five states had accounted for 20% of the 270 million acres of homesteads granted (see Figure 6).



Figure 6. The Homestead Act accelerated westward expansion in the 1860s.



It should be noted that the very nature of homesteading took a great toll on fish and wildlife – before we even discuss harvesting. The mass cutting of trees and clearing of brush in order to build homes, ranches and farms removed the cover and protection needed by many species necessary to thrive and altered their food sources. Deforestation often leads to subsequent erosion – spoiling the soil and otherwise causing it to enter the lakes, ponds and streams. This negatively impacts a variety of ecosystems and, as we shall see later in this series, everything – including game and fish – ties together in what Aldo Leopold referred to simply as “the land”.


Although the majority of the state’s native and white populations continued to view game and fish primarily in terms of subsistence, the large influx of new settlers put unprecedented pressure on Missouri’s wildlife. In addition to homesteading, there were several other developments during the second half of the 19th century that combined to seriously disrupt the equilibrium of Missouri’s wildlife resources:

First, rapid advancements were being made in weaponry – including more precision rifling and the inventions of the mini-ball, repeating firearms and metallic cartridges. Now, especially when the weapons where applied to hunting wild game, they were far more efficient than their predecessors. Second, between 1860 and 1880, the number of miles of railroad laid west of the Mississippi tripled.

Not only did the railroads facilitate yet another acceleration in westward expansion – it made it possible to ship crops and game east to distant cities. This led to an increase in the viability of market hunting as a “profession.” Finally, we begin to see the rise of the early sporting goods store. These would make available to hunters of all ethical persuasions the latest of what Aldo Leopold referred to as “gadgets” to enable them to maximize their results.


Simmons Hardware

Unfortunately for the state’s wildlife, one of the largest dealers in outdoor sporting goods, firearms and ammunition in the United States from the 1870s  – 1930s was located right in Missouri. Edward Campbell Simmons was born in Maryland in 1839. Edward moved to St. Louis in 1846 with his father and by the age of 17 had decided he wanted to make a career in the hardware business (see Figure 7).



Figure 7. Edward. C. Simmons, founder of Simmons Hardware.



In 1856 he took a job stocking shelves in a small hardware store and began working his way up. In 1874, after mastering every facet of his profession, he founded the Simmons Hardware Company in St Louis. Simmons was the first company to establish a nationwide brand for hardware based on the idea of a catalog. The company actually produced a number of specialized catalogs that, when taken altogether, totaled thousands of pages in any given year!

The greatly expanded railroad system made it possible for Simmons to ship it’s merchandise to huge regional warehouses it built in six different states to facilitate rapid distribution. Their house-made brand of tools was known as “Keen Kutter”, of which they produced over 800 different and are widely collected today. As it concerns our story, one of Simmons’ specialties was providing hunters – both amateur and professional – with all the latest firearms and hunting supplies (see Figure 8).



Figure 8. Advertisement for Simmons Hardware, circa 1890.



A Summary of Early Game and Fish Laws

During the 19th century, fish and game laws were sporadically enacted in Missouri. These early laws (the game laws, in particular) were ineffectual at preventing a steady erosion in the state’s wildlife resources – largely due to the fact that no provisions were made for law enforcement. It seems there was a pervasive belief throughout the populace that the abundant fish and wildlife resources first documented in the Lewis and Clark Expedition journals would prove to be “an inexhaustible source of food and income.”

Throughout the first half of of the century there were a number of bounty laws on wolves that were periodically repealed and then reinstated. In 1851, St. Louis County (which bordered the market hunting capital of Missouri – St. Charles County), established the first broad game laws in the state. Five month seasons were set for deer, prairie chicken, turkey, ruffled grouse and quail. A seven month season was set for woodcock and no game species was to be sold out of season.

In 1874 the first state-wide game laws set a three and a half month season on deer; a five month season on doves, a six month season on prairie chicken, woodcock and larks; a six and a half month season on turkey and an eight month season on grouse and quail. As with the earlier St. Louis County law, no species could be sold out of season.

In 1878 the first State Fish Commisioner was appointed and in 1879 two additional commissioners were appointed, thus creating The Missouri Fish Commission. According to “A License to Fish”, written by Kevin Richards and originally published in the Missouri Conservationist on August 2, 2003 (revised November 15, 2010), “In the early years, the primary function of the Fish Commission was to oversee the distribution of fish received from federal hatcheries and the construction of Missouri’s first state hatcheries [The first one opened in St. Joseph in 1881 and the second one in Forest Park, St. Louis in 1883] … Between 1880 and 1887, the Commission stocked the first rainbow trout in Missouri, plus any bass, crappie, and other species…”

In 1879 a law was passed whereby nonresidents were no longer allowed to hunt in Missouri. In 1883 funding was obtained to acquire the first railroad fish car and this greatly facilitated the stocking of fish throughout the state (see Figure 9). 1889 A four month deer season for bucks only was set and does were subsequently protected until 1894. A three month season was set for grouse; a five month season for woodcock and a six month season for prairies chicken.

In 1895 J. W. Henry was appointed the first State Game and Fish Warden – an unsalaried position.



Figure 8. Photo and caption from The First 50 Years by James F. Keefe.



As the 20th century dawned, a “perfect storm” was taking shape and it would soon spell disaster for the state’s once plentiful fish and wildlife populations: Between achieving statehood in 1821 and 1900, Missouri’s human population had increased enormously – from 66,586 to 3,106,665 and a considerable number of these were hunters and fishermen. While most were subsistence-minded amateurs, a new breed – the sportsman – was rising up all across the country and Missouri was certainly no exception.

Then there were the professional hunters and (to a lesser extent) fishermen, who viewed fish and wildlife largely as an economic opportunity to reap and sell to meat and fur markets. In Missouri, these men were emboldened by sporadic game laws with essentially no effective law enforcement and further empowered by the railroad’s ability to deliver their “wares” to anywhere in the country.

And, finally, there was Simmons Hardware. A provocateur, if you will, with their unprecedented ability to supply everyone with all of the latest and most high-yielding gadgets.


The Louisiana Purchase Exposition

In 1904 a large international exposition was held in St. Louis to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. This historic event is known both as the Saint Louis World’s Fair and as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. It remains one of the largest events ever held in the United States and was an amazing spectacle. It took five hours for the opening day ceremony crowd to enter, then an ensemble led by bandleader John Philip Souza “burst with patriotic fanfare” while far away in the White House, President Theodore Roosevelt threw an electric switch – setting off water cascades and fountains in Forest Park. It was a smashing success that made a lot of money.

The statistics are both fun and mind-boggling: There were 1,500 buildings located over 1,200 acres connected by 75 miles of roads and walkways (the Palace of Agriculture covered 20 acres, alone). Exhibits were presented by at least 50 countries, 43 of the (then) 45 states, and there were another 50 concession-type amusements on “The Pike.” From April 30 – December 1, 1904 (six months), 19.7 million people attended. A special series of commemorative postage stamps was printed by the U.S government and hundreds of different adverting and souvenir postcards were issued for the last great world’s fair before WWI (see Figure 10).



Figure 10. Unusual round advertising postcard issued for the Saint Louis World’s Fair by the Simmons Hardware Co.. This card is 8 inches in diameter and was sent through the mail on October 27, 1904.



While the exposition was a tremendous boost to tourism and the Missouri economy – there was a dark side for the state’s wildlife populations. According to “The Tilt Toward Conservation” which appeared in the October, 1995 issue of the Missouri Conservationist, market hunters and fish and game dealers delivered nearly four million pounds of quail, waterfowl, venison, grouse, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits and fish to the fair over the six month period – and decimated the state’s already dwindling fish and wildlife resources.

It also foreshadowed an ethical debate which continues to this day, pitting conservationists vs what Aldo Leopold refers to as the “Chamber of Commerce.” For much of post 1900 America – and until the middle of the Great Depression in Missouri – conservation would become a political football.


The First State Hunting Licenses are Issued

In response to the huge debacle for Missouri’s wildlife that was the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, In 1905 Missouri joined Kansas, Montana and Oregon in requiring resident hunters to purchase a state license for the first time and Arizona, Kansas, Oregon and Vermont in requiring nonresident hunters to purchase a state license for the first time. No license was required to fish.

T.S Palmer reported in Game Laws for 1905; A Summary of the Provisions Relating to Season, Shipment, Sale and Licenses:

“Missouri [enacted] one general game law of 71 sections, declaring game and birds to be the property of the state; giving protection to nearly all nongame birds; providing for an efficient game-warden service; establishing resident and nonresident [hunter’s] licenses with fees of $1 and $15, respectively; prohibiting sale and export of game, except export of a limited amount under the nonresident license; fixing bag limits of 1 deer, 2 turkeys, and 25 other birds a day [my emphasis], with allowance of 2 deer, 4 turkeys, and 50 birds in possession at one time.”

The law was a progressive piece of conservation legislation known as the Walmsey Act or, more commonly, “Walmsley’s Law” after it’s sponsor, Representative Harry R. Walmsley of Kansas City. The law proved to be controversial and was met with a mixed response, much of it along party lines. Exacerbating hard feelings was the fact that it was written in such a way that caused much confusion as to whether the new license requirement applied to a hunter’s county of residence (it did).

The hard feelings did not prevent a huge number of resident licenses from being sold in 1905. According to The First 50 Years, a book on the history of the Missouri Department of Conservation by James F. Keefe, 47,746 resident licenses were sold at $1 each. Keefe also stated that the Legislature appropriated $50,000 for paying salaries to “Game and Fish Warden J.A. Rhodes and his 128 wardens, 53 paid, others part time.”

The First 50 Years includes a photocopy of a 1905 Resident Hunter’s License that was issued to a 15 year old boy. As you can see, it was the same form used to license resident hunters in 1906 (see Figures 11 and 12).



Figure 11. Photocopy of a 1905 Missouri Resident Hunter’s License. Courtesy of The First 50 Years by James Keefe.



Figure 12. 1906 Missouri Resident Hunters License.



A 20 Year See-Saw of Conservation Laws

According to The Tilt Toward Conservation, “When the legislature reconvened, the commercial fish and game lobby held the upper hand. And so began the 20-year see-saw of Missouri conservation laws. The legislature voted to gut Walmsley’s law, slashing funds for enforcement, legalizing the sale of fish and wildlife, and diverting proceeds from county by-county license sales to local road funds – even allowing year round hunting – every weapon in the market hunter’s arsenal was used to exploit Missouri’s resources.”

Richards reported that in 1907, non-residents were required to purchase a $15.00 license in each county where they desired to hunt or fish in Missouri. They were discontinued in August of 1909 because of public and political pressure.

In Game Laws for 1907, T.S. Palmer further stated that new laws permitted hunting without a license in the county of residence and a new license (fee $1) allowed residents to hunt in adjoining counties. A separate county license (fee $2.50) was good for the rest of the state (see Figure 13).


Figure 14. From Game Laws of 1907 by T.S. Palmer.


In Game Laws for 1908, Palmer clarified the $2.50 county license was for hunting in Missouri counties not adjoining the county of residence.

When the state legislature voted to allow hunting in the county of residence without a license and also abolished game wardens in 1907 – drastically reducing law enforcement –  the public reacted strongly and urged legislators to reinstate harvesting restrictions and enforcement.

In the First Fifty Years, Keefe states that in 1909, “All [current] game and fish laws [were] repealed, to be replaced by [a] new law [which included wardens], financed by license sales [my emphasis]. Sale of game is forbidden; grouse and prairie chicken completely closed, not to reopen until 1983.”

In 1909, Missourian’s were again required to purchase a license before hunting in their county of residence or an adjoining county (fee $1.00) and a new State[wide] Resident Hunter’s license was introduced, costing $5.00. Revenue form the state license was intended to provide funding for warden’s salaries (see Figures 14 and 15).



Figure 14. 1909 Missouri County Resident Hunter’s License. Note the fee paid was $1.00.



Figure 15. 1909 Missouri State Resident Hunter’s License. Note the fee paid was $5.00.



Despite this, in 1910 the enforcement of game laws and licensing still left much to be desired. According to Keefe, “All over the state wildlife was exploited by market gunners who sent wagonloads of game to city markets. So politically powerful were these market gunners that they successfully fought off attempts to limit their activity well into this [20th] century (see Figure 16).



Figure 16. Photo and caption from The First 50 Years by James F. Keefe (click to enlarge).



In 1911, commercial and market hunting interests once more influenced conservative legislators to remove the teeth from the the 1909 game law revisions and “funds for conservation were slashed.” The see-saw continued.

In the March, 2015 issue of the Missouri Conservationist, Heather Feeler did not pull any punches, “In the early 1900s much of the state’s natural resources had been destroyed, pilfered or used up. Wildlife were killed in mass numbers and brought by wagonloads to city markets. Fish were dying in streams eroded by timbering and wildfire, It was a dark time on the Missouri landscape…”


The First Fishing Licenses are Issued

Public attention started to focus more on the depleted state of Missouri’s fish resources and a source of funding was sought with which to improve fishing prospects.

Richards stated, “In it’s Biennial Report to the Governor for 1917-18, The Missouri State Fish Commission recommended that fishing licenses be required for all male residents and non-residents who fish in public waters. The Commission also recommended that the law should exempt all male residents under 21 years of age…’

“In 1919, the Missouri Fish Commission was abolished, and the the Game and Fish Commission assumed responsibility for all game and fish regulations and fish stocking. Licenses were again required for non resident anglers. For the first time [my emphasis], licenses were required for residents to hunt and fish. All residents could continue to fish without a license within the boundaries of the county in which they resided. However, male anglers age 21 or over were required to buy the $1 County License to Fish (and Hunt) anywhere [should read elsewhere] in the state.”

In Game Laws for 1919, George Lawyer confirmed that resident county (fee $1) and resident state (fee $2.50) fishing licenses were issued and that the licenses were not required in the county of residence nor by women and minors. Interestingly, I have a resident state license with a $1.00 fee printed on it (see Figures 17 and 18).



Figure 17. Missouri Game Laws for 1919.



Figure 18. 1919 Missouri State Resident Fishing License. Note the $1.00 fee.



Keefe has reported that a total of 9,000 resident fishing license were issued in 1919. It is likely the fee on the license above was printed in error, as subsequent resident state-wide licenses were printed with the $2.50 fee. The following year, hunting and fishing privileges were combined into the same license – at no extra charge (see Figure 19).



Figure 19. 1920 Missouri County Resident Hunting And Fishing License. Note the fee is still $1.00.



During the 1920s, numerous efforts were made to restore Missouri’s fish and wildlife populations to some semblance of their glorious past – nearly all of these focussed on restocking. Unfortunately, none of these would have any lasting effect: In 1925, 300 wild turkeys were imported into the state and released; in 1927, farmers received 24,000 English ring-necked pheasant eggs to raise for stocking, 4,500 quail were imported from Mexico and a state wildlife refuge system was begun. In 1929, 95 deer and 646 turkeys were purchased and released into the wild.

Starting in 1925, Missouri Game and Fish News, a forerunner to The Missouri Conservationist, began publication. This likely necessitated a staff artist and the 1925 licenses benefitted by the addition of a neat hunting and fishing scene at the left side. In 1927 Missouri, rather late in the game, joined a nation-wide trend by printing the year date in large numerals on the face of the license, thereby making it easier for wardens to detect non-compliance (see Figures 20 and 21).

To see a gallery featuring Missouri hunting and fishing licenses issued from 1906 – 1938, click here.



Figure 20. 1925 Missouri County Resident Hunting And Fishing License (click to enlarge).



Figure 21. 1927 Missouri State Resident Hunting And Fishing License



Necessity is the Mother of Invention

In October of 1929, the stock market crashed and consumer confidence subsequently vanished – leading to a downturn in spending and investment which forced factories and other businesses to slow down production and begin laying off their workers. By 1930, 4 million Americans were out of work and by 1931 the number had risen to 6 million. Then the bottom fell out and within two more years, in 1933, over 15 million were out of work and looking for jobs.

As Keefe points out, “One effect of the Great Depression was a three year decline in income for the [Missouri] Fish and Game Department, from $365,163 in 1930 to a low of 266,390 in 1933.” While this seriously hampered the Department’s efforts at restocking – it really wasn’t working, anyhow.

In 1931, Wallace B. Grange of the U.S. Biological Survey (forerunner to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) made a study of the pheasant “situation” in Missouri. He reported that since 1904, 15,107 adult pheasants and 80,000 pheasant eggs had been distributed throughout the state “without results” and recommended that stocking be discontinued.

Exacerbated by an extended drought (the western part of the state was part of the Dust Bowl), in 1933 the waterfowl season was the worst in Missouri’s history (see Figure 22); excessive heat and low levels of water in steams caused fishing to be very poor, despite endless stocking and a three day deer season permitted in 17 states resulted in a total legal harvest numbering a mere 68.



Figure 22. Still photograph depicting dead waterfowl on the Great Plains, circa early 1930s.



In 1934, Dr. Rudolf Bennitt, a knowledgable and highly respected Zoology professor at the University of Missouri (see Figure 23) and one of his colleagues, Werner Nagel, conducted a landmark – and sobering – study on Missouri’s wildlife populations. They reported less than 100 ruffled grouse, 2,000 deer and about 3,500 wild turkeys remained in the entire state. In addition, virtually all other animal and bird species were rapidly decreasing.



Figure 23. Dr. Rudolf Bennitt at work. Courtesy of The First 50 Years.



It was becoming clear to all that decades of political wrangling had prevented Missouri from being a good steward for its fish and wildlife resources. At this point the horses were so far out of the barn – they were barely visible on the ridge and getting fainter all time.



A Change in the Political Scene

According to Keefe, “The democratic landslide of 1932 which brought Franklin D. Roosevelt into the White House also brought significant changes in Missouri’s political scene. Guy B. Park, Democrat, took over from Governor Henry S. Caulfield. Governor Park replaced the Republican commissioner of game and fish [sic], John H. Ross, with Democrat Wilbur C. Buford, a St. Louis lawyer from an old Ozark Family long active in politics.”

In addition, Franklin Roosevelt, building on the family tradition established by his cousin, Theodore, raised public awareness for nature and wildlife and created a positive “environment” for preserving natural resources. Roosevelt established many programs aimed at putting people to work during the Depression, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (see Figure 24).



Figure 24. The CCC at work in Big Spring Park, Missouri during the Depression. Courtesy of The First 50 Years.



In 1934, Roosevelt, setting a bi-partisan example for the nation, appointed the conservation-minded cartoonist Jay N. “Ding” Darling, a staunch Republican, to the Committee for Wildlife Restoration along with Aldo Leopold, a progressive Democrat.

Together, Roosevelt, Darling and Leopold managed to quickly guide The Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act through congress – an amazing achievement given that it had been rejected, repeatedly, for well over a decade by a Congress divided along party lines (and who had feared the federal government infringing on the state’s rights to license hunters). For more on this, see John Olin, Ding Darling, Maynard Reece & King Buck: The Making of an Icon – Part Two.


Restoring Missouri’s Wildlife

On September 25, 1935, depending on various accounts, between 80 and 100 sportsmen and conservationists met at a hotel in Columbia and formed the Restoration and Conservation Federation of Missouri. They elected Edwin Sydney Stephens (known to many as Syd), a publisher and civic leader from Columbia as their president and authorized him to form a committee to draft a constitution and by-laws for the organization.

Stephens was born into a prominent Missouri family, had attended Harvard as a classmate of Franklin Roosevelt and was a master at public relations. After being elected president, Stephens devoted the rest of his life to conservation. He urged the Federation to seek a solution to Missouri’s wildlife problems by taking politics out of the equation. He envisioned a four-member commission that would be comprised of no more than two members from any political party (see Figure 25).



Figure 25. Two of the great conservationists of the 20th century – Ding Darling (left) and Syd Stephens (right).



According to Keefe, “Stephens was empowered to appoint a committee to draft a constitutional amendment that would form a four man, non-partisan commission to restore Missouri’s wildlife and forests. The amendment would be circulated by initiative petition and submitted to the voters at the 1936 general election.”

In order to win broader support, Stephens was advised by attorney J.T. Montgomery that the amendment should be drafted to include songbirds and embrace forestry. In other words, it should include the interests of all citizens of the state – not just those interested in hunting and fishing.

The final draft included “The control, management, restoration, conservation and regulation of the bird, fish, game, forestry, and all wild life resources of the state, including hatcheries, sanctuaries, refuges, reservations and all other property now owned or used for said purposes or hereafter acquired for said purposes…” (see Figure 26).



Figure 26. The petition for a non-partisan Conservation Commission (click to enlarge).



The Restoration and Conservation Federation (now, simply the Conservation Federation), used a grass roots effort to reach people from all walks of life in Missouri. They also produced beautiful poster in full color that was, no doubt, very persuasive (see Figure 27).



Figure 27. “Bring Them Back to Missouri.” Courtesy of the Conservation Federation (click to enlarge).



The Missouri Conservation Commission

On November 3, 1936, Constitutional Amendment 4 passed by a vote of 879,000 to 351,000 and ushered in a groundbreaking new method for state management of forest, fish and wildlife resources – the Missouri Conservation Commission was born. It was unique for the following two reasons:

By virtue of the being established by constitutional amendment, Missouri’s forestry, fish and wildlife management would no longer be subjected to the whims of elected politicians and their appointees. Everything necessary to establish a modern conservation program was now under control of the Conservation Commission – not the state legislators.

Further, the continued non-partisan nature of the Commission was ensured by Stephens and his committee with the following provision: “[It] will provide a four member, non-partisan commission, each member serving six years, and with terms so staggered that not more than two will expire in any one four-year state administration.”

The amendment became effective on July 1, 1937 and Governor Stark named the members of the new Commission the following day. In addition to Stephens, the other members were now ex Fish and Game Department Commisioner Wilbur Buford and Republicans Albert P. Greensfelder and John F. Case.

Greensfelder was a businessman from St. Louis, a member of the State Planning Commission and was “deeply interested in forest and stream preservation.” Case was a newspaper editor and a well known farm leader. Rudolf Bennitt would be the technical advisor to the Commission. The next step was for the Commission to select a director.


Modern Management Based on Science

Stephens had read Aldo Leopold’s classic Game Management and was heavily influenced by it. In the book, Leopold spoke at length about the futility of continuously stocking game if the habitat was deteriorated and could not support it. This is what had they been doing on in Missouri for decades. Leopold’s concept has become known as the carrying capacity of the land.

The people in the previous Fish and Game Department paid little or no attention to Leopold’s advice on modern game management, so Stephens promised to replace them all with intelligent, educated professionals and manage Missouri’s precious wildlife resources using techniques based on science.

He relied heavily on the advice of Rudolf Bennitt, who would go on to become a national leader among research scientists and the first president of the Wildlife Society. The man selected to be the Director of the Missouri Conservation Commission was Irwin T. Bode (see Figure 28). Another of the first men hired was Starker Leopold, Aldo’s son, who was still at UC Berkeley obtaining his doctorate in Zoology.



Figure 30. Irwin T. Bode, the first Director of the Missouri Conservation Commission.



The Perfect Man for the Job

To say that Bode, who had a B.A. and a M.A. in Forestry, was the perfect man for the job would be a huge understatement. According to Keefe, “In 1931, J.N. Ding Darling led a fight to take politics out of conservation in Iowa and was successful in getting a bi-partisan commission established – the first such in the United States. In 1932 Bode took on the job of organizing this agency as [the] chief executive… presaging his later work in Missouri. “

When Roosevelt asked Darling to come to Washington (where he soon became the Director of the Bureau of Biological Survey), he brought Bode with him. Darling asked Bode to organize a system of cooperative wildlife research units around the country – the brainchild of Aldo Leopold. These were designed to train biologists in the methods of modern game management.

To read more about Aldo Leopold, the cooperative research units, the involvement of John Olin, SAAMI and the Pittman-Robertson Act, see John Olin, Ding Darling, Maynard Reece & King Buck: The Making of an Icon – Part One.

When he was asked to become the Director of the Missouri Conservation Commission, Irwin Bode was serving as Senior Biologist for the Bureau of Biological Survey in Washington. After accepting the new position on November 15, 1937, Bode would move to Missouri and make Stephens’ dream a reality.

In 1938, after Bode arrived in Jefferson City, his next steps were to organize the new Commission and to hire the best people he could find. Just over 30 miles away, at the University of Missouri in Columbia, a conscientious and motivated young man was receiving his B.A. in Zoology. He was a native son, born in St. Louis and, by all accounts, quite a talented artist and photographer to boot. The young man’s name was Charles W. Schwartz.



Continue to Part Two





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