From the Pen of Carter P. Smith
As Paul Harvey used to famously quip in his down-home radio shows, “Now for the rest of the story.” It is the part about a powerful U.S. senator from the Hill Country, a popular Texas governor, a cantankerous state game warden and the dove hunt from more than 50 years ago that ultimately helped lead to the creation of a new state agency. If you haven’t heard it, you should. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
The story starts like this. A state game warden, out patrolling the Pedernales country during dove season, hears a bunch of shooting after legal shooting hours have passed. When the warden goes to investigate, he comes across a group of men out bird hunting, one of whom stays hunched down in the seat of the car as the warden approaches.
The game warden, unamused by the man remaining in the car, calls him out in less than flattering terms and promptly finds himself face to face with none other than a rather well-known senator.
The senator is, how shall we say, equally unamused by the encounter.
Under intense political pressure, the Game and Fish Commission director, supported by his commission, refuses to fire the state game warden, cantankerous though he may be. The senator goes to the governor, who at the time is looking to modernize and improve efficiencies in state government while aiding the financially ailing State Parks Board. The governor, senator and other legislative leaders hatch a political solution to their respective problems.
It ends like this. The Game and Fish Commission is merged with the State Parks Board to create the newly minted Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
True story. The players were none other than U.S. Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson, Gov. John Connally and Game Warden Grover Simpson. And, in spite of their differences at the time, all three went on to help the department succeed in its newly created state.
Johnson later went on to become a conservation-minded president and supported his wife in many conservation ventures in the Hill Country and beyond. Connally pushed for the eponymous “Connally bonds,” which financed the addition of more than a dozen state parks and natural areas to the department’s system of public lands. And, Simpson kept his job as a game warden, where he proudly served the department for many years protecting the Hill Country’s lands, waters, fish and game. And, as a personal aside, he later published a short instructional manual still used today on how to field-dress a deer called “Now That You’ve Killed It.” Yours truly used it when cleaning his first deer as a boy.
This year, we proudly acknowledge the “rest of the story” with a celebration of 50 years of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Suffice it to say, a lot has happened since then.
Redfish were saved from the commercial gill-netters, bighorn sheep were brought back from extirpation, brown pelicans were taken off the endangered species list, and deer dogs were banned from the Pineywoods. Meanwhile, world-class hatcheries were built and trophy fisheries were created. Marshes, grasslands, wetlands and forests were restored. New parks, natural areas and wildlife management areas were acquired. Birding, hiking and paddling trails were launched. The ever-popular Toyota ShareLunker, Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Outdoor Family and Lone Star Land Steward programs were conceived, and the state’s Game Warden Academy found a new home.
Yes, a lot has happened since that fateful day more than 50 years ago in the Pedernales country when a state game warden tangled with a powerful U.S. senator. In reflecting on all that’s happened since then, I have only one observation to share. I’m glad that it occurred.
Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.