Florida Museum of Natural History

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)

Heade as Avocate: Heeding Didymus

The same sporting habits of the clubby set that provided Heade with his sinecure at the Hotel Ponce de Leon came under fire in Didymus's acerbic letters to Forest and Stream. Over the years, Didymus mentioned his travels in Providence, Maine, Chicago, Wisconsin, Jamaica, and Panama, but in Florida, he found particular commitment to place. His agenda was three-fold: (1) limits for hunt-club privileges, (2) management of game and non-game species, and (3) prohibition of sale and trade in game species and their products.

Didymus denounced those who "monopolized" the best hunting tracts and labeled them as game and trout "hogs."69 "If I were the autocrat of America," he boasted, leaving the democratic vein, "no club or set of men should own more than 5,000 acres instead of 15,000 or 20,000 which some clubs have."70 His examples were a mixed bag: "Wealthy men have bought up nearly all the approachable land in the Adirondacks... for fear that others besides themselves might have some pleasure."71 This was a somewhat dated reference to the activities of the Saturday Club, a well-heeled group of Agassiz's admirers interested in preservation. Heade even brought in the clergy: "If preachers would give us more sermons on selfishness and less on dogmas they would benefit the world far more."72 His sermon on selfishness had its own twist, and Didymus was not afraid to lock horns with local interests that promoted daily competitions for trophy catches, for example, 500 redfish per person. "This record-breaking business I find is kept up at the different hotels along the coast and published as one of the chief attractions, but when they find the attraction oozing away they'll come to the conclusion that they've acted about as wisely as the man who killed that famous Klondike goose."73

In the hey-day of plume hunting, Didymus bravely aimed his pen at those who killed thousands of birds in Florida and Brazil to market their feathers. He did not mince his words as he exhorted other sports writers join him in opposition to "game butchers" and "market-shooters," men in his opinion too lazy to do real work and too greedy to eschew easy profits.74 About the plume trade, he claimed, "A young lady at my present resting place indignantly denies that women are any longer at the bottom of this needless bird slaughtering business."75 The "necessity of virtue" required action, and Didymus continued, "She says that nearly all women who have souls worth saving have joined the Audubon Society."76 One type of club activity had hatched another.77

Defying club convention, in 1899, Didymus outed the identity of one George O. Shields, who wrote under the pen name Coquina, for pandering to blood tastes with accounts of "fire-fishing" and "the torture of reptiles."78 Trying to cobble together a consensus for moderation, Heade discussed the consequences of entrenched public attitudes: "Florida has legislators of wonderful foresight, who can always be relied on to see the danger of extermination game and plumage birds after they have disappeared."79 Every voter was part of the problem as long as "protection of our small and useful birds are matters beyond their grasp... and they [the politicians] are in no danger of losing votes."80 Didymus demanded "sensible game laws and their strict enforcement" as good policy and good business.81 The State of Florida imposed bag limits and license fee of $10 for non-residents in May of 1899, and Didymus supported the stiff new law for two reasons. First, he agreed, "We need money to enforce the law," and, second, he concurred, "There is a growing [local] impatience at the wanton character of many of the shooters who invade the State from the North."82 Furthermore, "The Indians," he wrote of the Seminoles, "know that [hunting] one of their sources of income is being destroyed, but what can they do to prevent it?"83

After almost two decades, his was not yet the popular mantra. He opened a letter published in October of 1898 on a note of disgust. "I doubt if there is a State in the Union where everything in the shape of a bird and beast is being so rapidly exterminated, regardless of common sense or common interests, as in Florida."84 He was trying to make extinction a political issue. With sad conviction, he wrote that sea turtles, "like their friends, the manatee, seem to have a limited future."85

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Footnotes

69. Didymus, "Are there Monopolies?" Forest and Stream, 15 September 1881, p. 128.

70. Didymus, "Game Preserves," Forest and Stream, 28 November 1903, p. 422.

71 Didymus, "The Preserve Question, Forest and Stream, 25 December 1987, p. 511.

72. Ibid.

73. Didymus, "Senator Quay's Snappers," Forest and Stream, 29 January 1898, p. 90.

74. Didymus, "Concerning Big Bags of Ducks," Forest and Stream, 2 December 1899, p. 449.

75. Didymus, "Birds and Bonnets," Forest and Stream, 14 July 1892, p. 28.

76. Ibid.

77. See Mark V. Barrow, Jr., A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology after Audubon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 127-134.

78. Didymus, "Exterminatory Peregrinations," Forest and Stream, 10 June 1899, p. 445, continued 24 June 1899, p. 485.

79. Didymus, "The Florida Manatee," Forest and Stream, 15 August 1896, p. 117.

80. Didymus, "Walloping the Citizens," Forest and Stream, p. 12 May 1900, p. 336.

81. Didymus, "Shooting and the Golden Rule," Forest and Stream, 15 January 1898, p. 49.

82. Didymus (10 June 1899), p. 445, and (24 June 1899), p. 485.

83. Didymus, "Florida Plume Birds," Forest and Stream, 17 April 1897, p. 304.

84. Didymus, "Florida Turtle Eggs," Forest and Stream, 22 October 1898, p. 325.

85. Didymus (15 August 1896), p. 125.

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