The True Story of Smokey Bear
The idea of Smokey Bear was conceived in 1944 during World War II
after an enemy shell landed on the Los Padres National Forest off the
coast of California. The United States Forest Service felt a national
symbol was needed to aid in a fire prevention campaign and after many
candidates, decided to use a bear. The Forest Service and the Wartime
Advertising Council named the bear Smokey after a well respected New
York Assistant Fire Chief, “Smokey” Joe Martin.
Capitan, New Mexico is famous for the birthplace and burial site of the world’s most well known bear. On May 9, 1950 in the aftermath of a devastating, human caused fire in the Capitan Mountains, a badly burned five pound black bear cub was found. Ray Bell, the warden that cared for the little cub, wanted to name the bear ”Smokey” after the national symbol for forest fire prevention.
Ray Bell with Smokey on his way
to Washington DC.
Shortly after he was found and was on his way back to health, plans
began to form that led to Smokey being placed the National Zoo in Washington,
D.C. There, he became the living symbol for forest fire prevention.
When Smokey grew old and plans were being made for his retirement, the people of Capitan wanted their bear returned to his hometown. United States Congressman Harold Runnels listened to their requests and introduced a bill advocating the return of Smokey Bear to Capitan. Thanks to the Congressman’s concern, and following Smokey’s death in November 1976, his body was returned to Capitan and buried at what is now Smokey Bear Historical Park.