FLORIDA KEY DEER

Turning Fact Into Fiction

My mystery/adventures are based on facts. So actual events often inspire the plot and individual scenes. Here are two tragic news items that inspired the scene that follows—the moment Kenzie knows she has to take action.

 

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deernews

Condensed Excerpt from Island Sting Chapter Ten

The hot southern wind had picked up, rolling cups in awkward circles, whipping newspapers, fliers, and candy wrappers across the parking lot. Look at that junk. She took off in an awkward dance, chasing and collecting trash. Step. Step. Scoop. She jammed handfuls of litter into the sidewalk trash bin. Step. Step. Scoop.
Kenzie trapped a runaway newspaper page against the curb, reached for it, and froze. The headline screamed, Severed Deer Head Dumped on Refuge Property. Each word a sucker punch. Sick. Sick. Sick. Kenzie stumbled to the Jeep and folded onto the front seat. She sat in a daze, arms wrapped around her knees, until the driver’s door opened.
“Kenzie, what’s wrong?” Her mom pulled the newspaper from Kenzie’s grasp. “Oh, dear Lord.” She drew Kenzie close and held her, finger combing her windblown hair. Then she raised Kenzie’s face. “Baby, there’s nothing you can do about this. Please, try not to let it bother you so. At least it wasn’t the deer you saved.”
“How do I know it wasn’t our little deer?
Her mom picked up the paper. “Did you read the whole thing? No, I guess not. It would have just upset you more. Look at this.”
Kenzie stared out the window.
“Okay, I’ll tell you what it says. It was a six-point buck. It was not your deer.”
“What difference does it make? It’s still a dead deer.” Another one.
“I don’t have the answers, baby. I don’t think anyone does.” Her mom smoothed Kenzie’s hair behind her ears and kissed her forehead. “We’ve just got to concentrate on all the good people out there. There’s nothing we can do about the bad ones. Come on, let’s go home.”

As they pulled out onto Key Deer Boulevard, Kenzie burst out, “I don’t want to believe there’s nothing we can do. I’m going to do something. I don’t know what yet, but I’m going to do something.”

History and Notes

Though the people and events in Island Sting are fictional, Big Pine Key, No Name Key, and the little Key deer are quite real. These miniature deer live side by side with their human neighbors and are as maligned by some citizens as they are revered by others.
At their shoulders, adult Key deer are about the same height as a German shepherd dog (24-28 inches). Fawns weigh no more than half a gallon of milk (2-4 pounds) at birth. They do not live in the wild anywhere in the world except the Florida Keys.

The majority of the population live on Big Pine Key and neighboring No Name Key. Of the less than sixteen square miles of Big Pine Key, over half is protected refuge land.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 1.23.14 PMThe earliest known reference to these deer dates back to 1575 and was found in the notes of a shipwrecked Spaniard held captive by the local Indians for seventeen years. Early ship log records indicate that the deer were used for food by natives and sailors. Settlement came to the islands slowly after centuries of exploration, and hunting continued long into the 1930s and ’40s. In the early 1900s hunt clubs were active, and members often used dogs to flush the deer.

Though hunting was officially banned in 1939, it wasn’t until the hiring of a tough game warden, Jack Watson, in 1946 that the deer population began to rebound. Watson was fearless. One story tells how he surprised three poachers who sneered at the odds: three to one. Watson brandished his six-shooter and explained their error. “There’s six of me.”

Another story tells of a rattlesnake bite he received while chasing poachers. He cut out the flesh surrounding the wound, relentlessly tracked the men, and, only after their capture, consulted a doctor. Watson was a gentleman, though, by family accounts. If he found a poacher’s car, he would leave a polite do-not-return note—before firing bullet holes through its gas tank.

Watson’s tough stance on poaching was a reflection of his love and respect for wildlife. He personally cared for old and injured animals, be it an ancient raccoon or a young deer. Locals fondly remember how Watson protected one deer with a broken leg by carrying it in the back seat of his car. Until its recovery, Bucky toured the islands with his head stuck out of Watson’s rear seat window. He and the game warden frequently visited schools, raising children’s awareness of the unique species.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 1.24.24 PMWatson served seventeen years as game warden and effectively put the Florida Key deer population on the road to recovery.

Amazingly, in 1947, around the same time Watson began his battle, eleven-year-old Gary Allen may have begun the official effort to save the endangered Florida Key deer. He wrote letters first to President Truman and then to President Eisenhower expressing his concern about the rapidly dwindling deer population and supporting the designation of protected habitat for the deer. Some people believe this young environmentalist prompted the establishment of the National Key Deer Refuge ten years later, in 1957.