Amateur Night: Home Movies from American Archives

Smokey Bear


Smokey Bear [excerpt] by Homer C. Pickens

Courtesy of the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, www.nmcpr.state.nm.us

16mm, Color, Silent, 1950. Commentary by Jimmy Pickens

Smokey Bear, the mascot of the United States Forest Service, first appeared on a poster on August 9, 1944. Wearing blue jeans and a forest ranger’s hat, Smokey says, “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” Three years later this was changed to the iconic “Remember…only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

The real life Smokey Bear was an American black bear cub who in the spring of 1950 was caught in the Capitan Gap fire, a wildfire that burned in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. The cub had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. The bear, originally named “Hot Foot Teddy” was rescued by Homer C. Pickens, Assistant Director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and warden Ray Bell. Renamed “Smokey Bear” in order to capitalize on the popularity of the fictional character, he was flown to the National Zoo in Washington DC, where he lived for the next 26 years. He received so many fan letters that the United States Postal Service assigned him his own zip code. Following his death in 1976 his remains were returned to New Mexico and buried at Smokey Bear Historical Park.

Homer C. Pickens (1903-1991) joined the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in 1931, working as trapper, patrolman, hunter and public relations administrator. He spent the first four years with the department tracking and hunting mountain lions before being transferred to Albuquerque, where he focused on public relations work. As part of his work he filmed many movies including the Smokey Bear rescue films. Following his retirement from the Department of Game and Fish he worked in wildlife management for the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1980 he published his autobiography “Tracks Across New Mexico.”

The Archives and Historical Services Division of the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives (NMSRCA) is the central archives of New Mexico State Government. The agency is mandated by law to collect, preserve and make available to the public and all branches of government, permanent public records, historical manuscripts, motion picture films, photographs and other materials that contribute to the understanding of New Mexico history.

The New Mexico Historical Film Collection [Collection No. 1959-000] consists of motion picture films, videotapes, and related materials collected by the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives between 1969 and 1999, and the records generated over the course of their administration. The films depict the landscape, artistic heritage, historical events, people, and life of the Territory and State of New Mexico.

The Archives and Historical Services Division of the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives is the central archives of New Mexico State Government. The agency is mandated by law to collect, preserve, and make available to the public and all branches of government, permanent public records, historical manuscripts, motion picture films, photographs, and other materials that contribute to the understanding of New Mexico history. The New Mexico Historical Film Collection consists of motion picture films, videotapes, and related materials collected by the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives between 1969 and 1999, and the records generated over the course of their administration.