No Bears to Hunt along the Indian River Lagoon, All Killed by 1930s, SLR/IRL

Mr Reginald Waters with black bears killed on Hutchinson Island, around 1930. (Photo credit Sandra Thurlow, Sewall’s Point,” A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast”/Reginald Waters Rice)
Mr Reginald Waters with black bears killed on Hutchinson Island, around 1930. (Photo credit Sandra Thurlow, Sewall’s Point,” A History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast”/Reginald Waters Rice)
Photo from my mother: Bill Pitchford’s “last bear.”

A friend of mine, Mrs Mary Chapman, once described Stuart News reporter, Ed Killer, as “the only reporter in America who got her to read the sports page.” I feel the same way. Ed Killer’s past Sunday article entitled: “Bearing Down for the Bear Hunt,” was quite the read, and I have been thinking about it the past few days.

Bears….to think that they used to live right here in along the waters of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and now there are none.

Today I thought I’d share a photo I have shared before, but it is certainly worth dusting off and bringing out of the archives again.

The above photos are from my mother’s book, “Sewall’s Point,” and shows Mr Reginald Waters with multiple black bears he killed on Hutchinson Island, a mother and two cubs,  around 1918.  The other is the “last bear shot on Hutchinson Island, 1926.” Historian, Alice Luckhardt, wrote a comprehensive piece on these black bears that once roamed our region. Here is an excerpt from a recent vignette:

“At one time, Florida black bears existed in fairly large numbers along the ocean coast between Jupiter and Fort Pierce, living in and among the mangroves and feeding on palmetto fruits and turtle eggs buried in the beach sand. However, as more people began settling the area, bears became unwelcome guests, and many were hunted and killed by early pioneers.

By the 1920s and early ’30s there were still a few wild black bears in the area. They found a tasty delight in honey and bee larvae from the numerous beehives in operation on Hutchinson Island at that time.

Jensen resident William Pitchford felt the only solution was to hunt down the bear that had been raiding his bee hives during the summer of 1931. Pitchford first thought to capture the bear using a steel trap he set out over several nights near the hives. The bear, however, was too smart to fall for that trap, avoiding it each night and still getting into the honey, destroying several hives.

Determined to end the bear’s raids, Pitchford, with the assistance of a neighbor, Vincent Wortham Sr., laid in wait one Saturday night, Aug. 8, 1931, with weapons in hand. As hoped, in the darkness of night, the bear appeared and the men turned on their flashlights. Pitchford immediately fired three times using his 303 Savage rifle, and Wortham fired his 32-20 Smith and Wesson revolver twice at the animal. The seriously wounded bear managed to scramble a short distance away before the two men later found him dead near the Pickerton farm. They managed to bring the 200-pound animal back to Jensen where photos documented the event, as this marked the last bear killed on Hutchinson Island.”

So, quite sad as far as I am concerned that we killed all the bears here. Let’s figure out how FWC, the Florida Wildlife Commission, the agency making the laws on bear hunting today “works.” —How do they fit into Florida government?  How were they able to determine it is OK to shoot bears this season? For one thing FWC is not “under the governor,” a situation many state agencies would “kill for.” Oh, no pun intended… 🙂

Also,  I must state that the structure of the agency is confusing like everything else in government.

There is “US Fish and Wildlife,” a federal agency, and then there is FWC, or the Florida Wildlife Commission, a state agency. One will also hear this same agency referred to as Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Why  I am not sure. So Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) are the same thing. If anyone knows more about this please let me know….

In 2004 the agency, FWC. was  restructured by an act of the Florida Legislature:

This excerpt below explains:

“The FWC was established with a headquarter in Tallahassee, the state capital on July 1, 1999 after an amendment to the Florida Constitution approved in 1998. The FWC resulted from a merger between the former offices of the Marine Fisheries Commission, Division of Marine Resources and Division of Law Enforcement of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP}, and all of the employees and Commissioners of the former Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) serves as the environmental regulatory agency for the state, enforcing environmental legislation regarding air and water quality, for example. In 2004, the Florida Legislature approved a reorganization of the FWC that integrated parts of the Division of Wildlife, Division of Freshwater Fisheries, and the Florida Marine Research Institute to create the ‘Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’ (FWRI) in St. Petersburg, Florida.It has over 600 employees. As of 2014 FWC had over 2,000 full-time employees, maintained the FWRI, five regional offices, and 73 field offices across the state.”

FWC commission 2015
FWC commission 2015
Organizational Chart FWC 2015
Organizational Chart FWC 2015
Organizational Chart DEP
Organizational Chart DEP

Looking at the structure one can see that the commissioners are at the top of FWC chart and the “people” are over the governor for DEP chart….


If the bears had a seat at the table, I wonder where they would be?

Bear sitting at picnic table, a popular image from Facebook, 2014.
Black bear sitting at a picnic table, a popular image on Facebook, 2014.


Full note from my historian mother when she sent the “last bear” photo:

“Jacqui, Here is a photograph of Bill Pitchford’s “last bear” that Alice Luckhart wrote about. I have a file on the Waters family who lived in Walton on Indian River Drive. The photograph of Russell Waters with the mother bear and two cubs had “1918” written on it. I am glad Ed Killer’s article explain that hunters will not be allowed to kill a mother with cubs. Reginal Waters Rice who supplied the photograph said his uncle Russell felt very bad about killing “the three bears.” Mom


FWC: (




FWC Board photos: (

US Fish and Wildlife: (US

Ed Killer’s TCpalm article (may need a subscription) (



Alice Luckhardt: (

JTL former blog post on black bears:

10 thoughts on “No Bears to Hunt along the Indian River Lagoon, All Killed by 1930s, SLR/IRL

  1. I love Ed but I disagree with most of what he wrote. I actually watched the videos of the hearing in Ft Lauderdale and spoke to a number of people involved in the lawsuit to stop the hunt. During this time I was shown screen shots by commissioner Priddy and her friends on line. Her friend planning to kill bears whether they permits or not. There are thousand of permits and the FWC thinks they will have this under control they don’t. I have written multiple blogs about the bears including one and only black encounter in Colorado. My letter to the editor is on the TC Palm website. I’m not sure if it got printed. I don’t get the paper every day. Most hunters I know won’t even eat bear because it doesn’t taste good. I’m not anti hunting. I found all kinds of fun recipes on lines for all the things in Florida we shoot, kill take home and barbecue. You can make Dove Au VIn if you want. Someone I spoke too said the FWC meeting were worse than SFWMD. To me they were the same. There was one commisioner -Bergeron- who right on the money. I also was involved in a documentary about Black Bears and spoke to a representative in person at the film festival. Its very frustrating that people don’t get what this is about – killing our animals, cementing everything, lining pockets. My issue with Floridians hunting the bears is they cannot be trusted. They decimated them once. We spent years getting them back. There should have been 300 permits issued period. These people don’t care if there are cubs. They are out for blood and slaughter. You can go to Maine where people have great experience hunting bears, bring one home and hand it on the wall.

    1. Thank you Cindy. Only through education, open discussion, public input and pressure on gov’t agencies will the situation be resolved. I personally don’t think shooting the bears/hunting the bears is the best answer. I think it sends a perverse mixed message about threatened species. Shooting what you protect—-getting the population up and then shooting your success…. on the other hand if a certain bear population is a real threat and people are living in the bears’ habitat some bears may need to be killed or relocated. People though make a choice to live in these areas. Like living by a water system with alligators. People need to adapt the habits they have CHOSEN to live in. Floirda is not Kalamazoo Michigan…….I need to study the issue more, but my gut feeling is “something is amiss.”

  2. Have you guys never watched Gentle Ben growing up? Most mamels have a family bond that is formed when it is cared for when it is a baby. Those that have made this bond are family and in a kill or be killed world everything else is on the menue. I would love to have a pet bear . Some of these pit bull bread dogs that would like to eat me could “talk to the bear” .Could you imagine a policeman going into a biker bar to break up a fight with his trained bear. What is sad is how people have lost their vison and lost their understanding of the world we live in.

  3. I was talking to a policeman about pit bull bread of dog at one of the IRL meetings and he said people don’t scare him near as much as these dogs. Anytime a policeman might have to worry about someone sicking the dogs on him —a full grown bear might be good company. I could even see a use in the military.

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