“Prevent fires and save the timber we need for peacetime homes and industry.”
OK, it wasn’t particularly catchy, but Smokey Bear was not yet 2 years old when he was assigned that campaign “platform” in 1946.
The cartoon bear with “a ranger’s hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees” made his first appearance in the Missoulian on July 9, 1946. We were launching a series called “Smokey Says” — 13 weeks of one-panel cartoons.
It comes up now because on Saturday, July 27, from noon to 4 p.m., the National Museum of Forest Service History is having a block party for Smokey’s 75th birthday. Upwards of 20 non-profits with games, music and what-have-yous will be at the museum on West Broadway, a mile or so west of the airport.
Smokey, the bare concept, was born in wartime on Aug. 9, 1944. But here, let a weekly column in July 1957, explain. It was called “Answers to Questions” by Haskin Service.
Q: "Was the first “Smokey Bear” a real bear?"
A: "No. The original Smokey was an idea, not a real bear. He was thought up by officials of the Advertising Council, U.S. Forest Service and state foresters, who wanted a symbol for peacetime forest fire prevention campaigns after World War II. His outfit of dungarees and ranger's hat was designed by cover artist Albert Staehle for a 1945 fire prevention campaign poster. He was named for "Smokey Joe" Woods, a New York City fire chief.
“The real "Smokey the Bear" dates from 1950, when an orphaned bear cub, with feet burned, was rescued from a disastrous New Mexico forest fire. He was promptly named Smokey, and was flown to the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. Now a big reddish bear, he lives at the zoo in a fireproof home, and is a ‘living model’ for fire prevention campaign posters.”
Smokey lived at the National Zoo until his death in 1976. By Congressional mandate, he was and is buried at Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan.
Those weekly “Smokey Says” messages in 1946 were a hoot.
One pictured a ranger-hatted, dungareed Smokey pouring water over a campfire as three young ladies watched.
“Hubba, hubba,” Smokey was saying. “Fire prevention ain’t such a bad job. Before you leave picnic grounds be sure your campfire is out.”
Missoulian editors played the July 31 “Smokey Says” on Page 10, next to a short story reporting that four boys ranging from 11 to 15 were headed to juvenile court after starting a 450-acre fire on Mount Sentinel.
Next to it, an angry Smokey was standing over a live campfire as three people walked away.
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“Hey, folks. This is a good way to eliminate a good camping spot!” his word bubble read.
Below the picture: “That’s just what someone did on Rock Creek, east of Missoula, last Sunday — eliminated a good camping spot. The dregs of the coffee pot poured on the embers in the makeshift fireplace didn’t put the fire out."
More than 700 mentions of Smokey Bear have popped up in the Missoulian, some in expected context, others not.
In 1953, he was a painted cutout pointing to an arrow on the fire danger meter at the Port of Entry, west of Missoula. He was doing the same thing in the window of the Western Montana Building and Loan building at Higgins Avenue and Broadway.
President Dwight Eisenhower’s visit to Missoula in September 1954 to dedicate the aerial fire depot netted him, besides a smokejumper helmet and T-shirt, Smokey Bear T-shirts for his grandchildren.
Who gets the income from the Smokey Bear commercial products? Someone asked Haskin Service a few months earlier.
“A. All royalties go directly to the U.S. Forest Service for use in fire fighting and prevention. Smokey Bear had earned $50,000 for this fund by mid-1954.”
Here’s the lede of a story written by the Missoulian’s Kevin Miller on Nov. 18, 1981: “A New Mexico Republican, angry over the granting of oil exploration leases in the New Mexico wilderness where Smokey the Bear was found, will try Friday to get the House Interior Committee to ban oil, gas and mineral leasing in all wilderness areas in the contiguous 48 states.”
In the fiery summer of 2000, Daryl Gadbow reported on a 20-pound black bear cub rescued by a state game warden from a wildfire in the East Fork of the Bitterroot. All four paws were badly burned and bandaged, and he spent his first weekend in a concrete dog kennel at a Hamilton pet clinic. Then the bear was shipped to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks rehab center in Helena.
The cub was informally dubbed “Smokey of the Rockies” in a Forest Service news release, but FWP game warden Joe Jaquith had nothing to do with that.
“I don't want this bear to grow up to be a poster child for anything,” Jaquith told Gadbow. “I want it to be released into the wild. This is going to be a wild bear if I have anything to do with it.”
Just last month the Bitterroot National Forest unveiled a free “Agents of Discovery” app. It’s a mobile phone treasure hunt of sorts, based on the history and natural features of four locations in the Bitterroot, including Lake Como.
Perry Backus of the Ravalli Republic wrote about the latter venue, noting, “When the young players complete their challenge, they can stop at the Darby Ranger Station or supervisor’s office in Hamilton to pick up a Smokey Bear commemorative pin.”
Way back in 1960, a Missoulian reporter referred to a teenage Smokey as "perhaps the most famous bear of all time." At age 75, he’s still that. His mission has changed from saving timber needed for peacetime homes and industry, but everybody knows he's still the fire-preventin' bear.