In 1909 the first Oklahoma Game Warden was hired. There is an ongoing debate on what his name was but the fact remains the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation as we know it today began with the hiring of a Game Warden. Soon after. the State Gam: Warden hired 8 deputy Wardens to assist with the enforcement of the new state's fish and game laws. Hunting licenses were $1.25 in those early days and for many years a Warden's salary was based on the fines he collected from violators. Can y ou imagine what it was like to patrol the backwoods of Oklahoma in 1909? The whole state was backwoods! From the wooded ridges of southeastern and northeastern Oklahoma to the prairies and grasslands of western Oklahoma the road system was in its infancy and I imagine most of the patrolling was done from horseback. It was many years later before Wardens began using cars. The laws in those days were few and far between but so was the abundance of wildlife. Unregulated sustenance and market hunting had decimated the wildlife in our state and the first of Oklahoma's wildlife protectors had a tough job.
In 1933 the first deer gun season was established in several counties in eastern and southeastern Oklahoma. You might think most of the Wardens gathered together for the first special emphasis ever conducted in our state. Wardens today still do the same thing whether it is to work the Canton Walleye Rodeo or to protect the paddlefish during their spring spawning run. In the fall, Wardens gather in groups to conduct special emphasis projects to protect our deer herds. Working the decoy deer, special patrols on a WMA during a controlled hunt, or working an aircraft assignment to look for spot lighters are all examples of projects modern day Wardens conduct in doing their jobs. The first Wardens working in our state could not image what we do today, and I cannot imagine what it was to work as a Game Warden in the early 1900s or even in the 40s or 50s! Today we have 4 wheel drive trucks, night vision technology, boats, planes. airboats, atvs, and a host of other equipment to do our jobs. Early day wardens didn't even carry sidearms! Imagine that!
In the oldest ODWC publication I have, (actually we were then called the Game and Fish Commission) the state Game Warden was named Jeff Kendall. His position's title was changed to the director in 1957. Enforcement personnel were called Rangers and remained so until the title was changed back to Game Warden in 1991. The starting salary in 1944, according to the operation manual of the Game and Fish Commission, was $125 per month for Rangers and $300 per month for the Warden. Firearms were not furnished but according to the manual a sidearm could be carried "when there is impending danger". It was also recommended the ranger carry a rifle rather than a pistol when he feels a firearm is necessary to carry a firearm for protection. Nowadays, we are issued a sidearm, a shotgun, and a rifle for protection and thankfully the beginning salary has crept up a bit.
Ask any retired Ranger or Warden today and most if not all will tell you their career with the Department was not ever a job but day after day filled with excitement, adventure, and experiences they will never forget. Being a Game Warden today is the most fulfilling career I can imagine and I never dread going to work. Following in the footsteps of men like John Doolen or J.S. Askew make me proud to carry a badge with the words State Game Warden embossed on it. Let us proudly look back on our centennial with reverence and let us also look forward to making our part of the second 100 years the best we can.
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