Former game warden Arthur D. Jones of Aquasco, Md., who died last week at 89, was the scourge of illegal hunters and poachers in Southern Maryland for nearly 30 years. As the only game warden in four counties, he became legendary for his ability to sniff out game law violations and apprehend perpetrators.
A game warden's job was considerably different in the 1930s and '40s than it is today. With little or no training, a man was sworn in as an officer to protect Maryland's fish and wildlife for a salary that was paltry by any standards. The game warden had to provide a car for transportation, and his workweek was rarely limited to 60 hours.
A game warden of that era was as well known as the preacher but treated with considerably less respect.
"He was the first man my daddy taught me to run from," Aquasco resident Arthur Leitch Jr. said of Jones.
Despite that, A.D. -- as the warden liked to be called -- was respected in Southern Maryland for his fairness. People believed that if A.D. caught his brother violating the law he would lock him up. He might turn around and pay the brother's fine, but he would not let him off with just a warning.
Jones had no formal education in the natural sciences, but he gained an immense store of knowledge from years in the field.
He kept meticulous records of the life cycles of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Professional scientists and biologists often sought him out for advice, and he frequently brought injured animals or unusual specimens to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center or the Chesapeake Biological Lab.
He loved nature in all its forms, taking pleasure in a glimpse of a salamander or the sight of an eagle's majestic courtship flight. Although he was a hunter, trapper and fisherman, he was a staunch defender of animal rights and a fervent believer in the principles of wildlife conservation.
The camaraderie between the rural community and the game warden was often shared by those who sometimes violated the law. To many poor people, hunting, trapping and fishing were important means of supplementing incomes and diets.
Hunters who illegally killed large numbers of game animals were not respected, and people thought of them as outlaws. If the generally honest hunter took an extra rabbit or duck and was caught, however, he would generally own up to his violation and pay the fine.
Jones' official arm stretched to legendary lengths. Once he was patrolling in Calvert County on a dark fall night and came upon a group hunting for raccoons out of season. He quietly mixed with the group without identifying himself.
"The dogs soon treed a raccoon, and one of the hunters shot it out of the tree," he later recalled. "It tumbled down the hill and landed right at my feet. The hounds were yapping excitedly around the raccoon, and a young fellow ran up, grabbed a dog by the collar with one hand, and handed me a burlap sack with the other.
" 'Here, hold this,' he said. Just then, another fellow ran up and recognized who I was. 'Boys, we got troubles,' he said. 'This here is Mr. Jones hunting with us!' "
Not all of his pursuits ended without a hitch.
"One time I knew that some men were net-fishing at night out-of-season near Broomes Island and taking hundreds of cow rockfish oversize spawning females ," he once recounted. "I rowed up the river in a skiff as quietly as I could. Just as I thought I was getting close, I heard someone from shore say, 'Psst! You better get out of here. The game warden is coming.' "
Sometimes considered eccentric by those who did not know him well, he refused to wear a tie, to be tape-recorded or to drink whisky from a glass. He ordered almost all his clothes from L.L. Bean or Eddie Bauer mail order houses, but for some reason known only to him, he would not wear them for at least two years after they were purchased.
He befriended wild creatures and sometimes kept them to observe for a while. Every morning he would call for three crows he knew and would feed them; for one period he even carried a small grass snake in his pocket as a pet. He reluctantly let it go after it crawled out while he was not looking and wound up on a friend's lap.
Born in 1895, he grew up on a farm in Princess Anne County.
He used to tell me -- with a straight face -- that on warm summer nights at the farm after a soaking rain, "you could lay down in the field and listen to the corn grow. It makes a little whisper of a squeak."
Some thought him eccentric, for he liked to recite a kind of jabberwocky poetry to children and to sleep outside year round.
But was it really eccentric for a man who loved nature as much as he did to stay up all night at the edge of a marsh listening to owls hoot and frogs croak? Or to drive to Chincoteague and watch the sun rise over the ocean?
The passing of A.D. Jones marks the end of an era, one of tightly knit rural communities and unending supplies of fish and game. It is a time, too, when young people no longer become game wardens -- they enlist in the Natural Resources Police.