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Volume Three, Number Two

Smokey Bear Celebrates 50 Years
United States 1944-1994

Bear cub burned by wildfire lives to bring Smokey to life
--"Smokey" soon becomes darling of National Zoo--

In 1950, a careless act turned into tragedy when a fire burned wild and swept away over 17,000 acres of forest and watershed land in Capitan Mountains, Lincoln National Forest, N. M. Hundreds of firefighters battled the blaze.

A strong wind trapped 24 firefighters and only by laying face down with their faces covered with wet kerchiefs were they able to escape with their lives. The flames flared-up all around them and the smoke near choked them to death. When the fire died down the 24 firefighters spotted a badly burned little cub clinging to a charred tree.

They rescued the bear and did a quick look for mother bear, but the fire must have claimed her life because all around the firefighters, as far as they could see, the forest was blackened and bare.

Smokey's name was given to the small cub who escaped death by wildfire. With the love and care shown to the cub by Ray Bell*, his wife and daughter, Judy he soon recovered. A home at the National Zoo would be his ticket to living to a ripe old age.

In 1961, an orphaned bear found in the Magdelena Mountains of New Mexico became Smokey's lifetime companion. They named her "Goldie." They became the most visited attraction at the Zoo. Smokey lived until 1976 and is buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park, Capitan, N.M. story by Bridget Smith, Historical Gazette

*Editor's Note: My sincere apologies to Ray Bell (who was still alive and well, during the late 1990s) for having credited in my print version one Harold Bell for the rescue of the cub, Smokey. We were contacted by Ray's son, Donald Ray Bell, by email who corrected the mistake. My delight was in getting the chance to talk with Ray Bell from his home in North Dakota. Thank you both very much for helping me to get the real name in this story straight! Thank you, Ray, for directly contributing to our nation's history. The whole world knows of Smokey Bear.


The story above is from the front page of this edition. Another story is offered on the front page plus a photo of Hopalong Cassidy with Smoky at the zoo after Smoky's recovery. Page Two carried information about the US Forest Service and other agencies which have interests in the forests. I wonder what Smoky would think of the idea of "prescribed burns." It's my opinion that he wouldn't go for it. There are enough accidental lightning strikes and also arsonist types running around, so we don't need to increase the burning of forests. Let's find other solutions for our fibers so we can keep more of these older trees that really are not "sustainable" nor replaceable in our life time. Our children will never see the trees as large as I have seen. You know, having read enough of history now, I've read that hemp makes an excellent paper. It was good enough for the Declaration of Independence, so should be good enough for a "Thank You" note to Grandma.


In June 1994, at Pioneer Courthouse Square Portland had the opportunity to meet Rudy Wendelin and his lovely wife. Wendelin helped Portland, Oregon celebrate Smokey Bear's 50th Birthday!

Our newspaper carries five pen & ink illustrations by Rudy Wendelin, Smokey's official artist. Here is one photograph that our editor took that day. Somewhere in our archives we have a copy of our newspaper which Rudy autographed for us. Thank you, Rudy!

The radio station turned out to broadcast the event. The Forest Service made sure that Smoky was there to visit with Rudy. Those in Portland who visited the square that day for the celebration were also treated to lots of sunshine.

artist Rudy Wendelin & Smoky

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Bridget E. Smith, editor & publisher

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Historical Gazette
Published in Portland, Oregon
© 1991-