Guy M. Bradley was one of the country’s first game wardens. He was hired in 1902 by the American Ornithologist’s Union at the request of the Audubon Society. He traveled to Key West shortly after taking the job and was deputized by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office so he would have the authority to arrest those hunting illegally. He was shot and killed July 8, 1905, while attempting to arrest men for killing Egrets in the Everglades.
According to a number of historical accounts, Walter Smith, a well-known plume hunter, sailed to Oyster Keys Rookery. In sight of Guy Bradley’s cottage, Smith’s son Tom and a friend went ashore and started killing Egrets. Smith was reportedly angry with Bradley for arresting Tom on two previous occasions. He had threatened to kill Bradley if he ever attempted to arrest him or any of his family again.
After hearing the gunfire, Bradley approached Smith in his skiff in an attempt to arrest the son and his companion, who were loading dead plume birds onto their boat. There was a subsequent confrontation. Smith claims Bradley fired his gun first, hitting his boat. Smith shot and killed Bradley with his rifle.
Smith turned himself in to authorities in Key West the following day. Bradley’s body was found by his brother, still adrift in his skiff. Smith spent five months in jail because he couldn’t make the $5,000 bond. He was found not guilty of murder after the grand jury reportedly found there was insufficient evidence to convict him, this despite evidence presented to the jury that Bradley’s gun had not been fired.
While Smith was in jail, Bradley’s two brothers-in-law took revenge, burning down Smith’s Flamingo home.
Bradley was buried on a shell ridge at Cape Sable overlooking Florida Bay. A monument was erected by the Florida Audubon Society. The grave was later washed away during Hurricane Donna in 1960.
It took two more such deaths before state governments began passing legislation outlawing the plume trade, and Congress finally banned the import of hats decorated with bird feathers.
Bradley’s original gravestone was recovered, and is on display at the Flamingo Visitor Center. A plaque was also dedicated to Bradley's memory, and reads: "Audubon warden was shot and killed off this shore by outlaw feather hunters, July 8, 1905. His martyrdom created nationwide indignation, strengthened bird protection laws and helped bring Everglades National Park into being."
Two awards were established in his name. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation established the Guy Bradley Award for achievement in wildlife law enforcement. Another, the Guy Bradley Lifetime Conservation Award established by the Audubon Society, is given to those who “promote conservation and offer workable conservation solutions.”