Jim McMullen

Jim McMullen — Panther Man

FB July 19, 2023

(This article was written as a 2-part post for FaceBook when I learned that my friend had passed away in June 2023)

I got word last week from one of his daughters that my friend James P. McMullen had passed away in June at the age of 80.  It has been about 25 years since I followed Jim into the Florida Everglades, but between 1988 and 2000, I wandered down to Golden Gate (just outside of Naples) between 15 – 20 times to climb in the van with Jim, drive into the Glades and then cruise the sloughs and high ground, looking for tracks of the Florida panther.

I had come across his book, Cry of the Panther, and after reading it, I called his publisher and contacted him.  Jim couldn’t believe that I had a Tracking Project (!) and he invited me down to join him.  He took me walking, thigh and waist-deep into the waters near the Fakahatchee Strand.  After an hour or so, he turned and asked me what I thought.  “I love it!” I told him and he just laughed. “You’re weird,” he said.  “No one comes out here with me.”

Book cover -- Cry of the Panther by Jim McMullen
Book cover -- Cry of the Panther
Jim McMullen and John, Golden Gate
Jim and John, Golden Gate
Jim McMullen in his element, Fakahatchee Strand
Jim in his element, Fakahatchee Strand
Jim McMullen, mapping our day's travels
Jim, mapping our day's travels
gator sunning
Gator sunning

Jim spent his life after his return from Vietnam in service to the Florida panther, bringing awareness to the necessity of preserving the ecosystems of Florida. For years and years he gave talks and visited schools, working with a female panther he had raised from a kitten who he named Tracker.

Sometimes we stayed overnight, using fallen palm leaves as a mat, with a small fire and a bit of food we had carried in with us.  But most of the time, it was day hikes into whatever area Jim thought we might find panther sign.

Don’t you ever worry about snakes? I asked him.  No, he said, you can see ‘em better from eye level.  

Giant water moccasins, rattlesnakes, gators and turtles, bear and raccoon, hawks, turkey vultures, every wading bird you can imagine… I guess you could say we immersed ourselves in the magic that is the Florida Everglades.  We were protected by our awareness.

My daughter, @ Jade, remembers these adventures to Naples as she would stay with Jim’s daughters while we were in the swamp.  My family and I send our best wishes to Jim’s daughters and his extended family.  He was a unique and gifted person.

“Bringing the pieces together again.”

So many things were starting for us around 1987! Mohawk leader Jake Swamp had suggested we join our non-profits — the Tree of Peace Society and The Tracking Project. We called it Tracking the Roots of Peace. We had the first year of Hawkeye Training, our boys’ camp and our first Tracking in the Southwest courses for adults. The idea to take groups out with Jim into the Everglades came up quite spontaneously.

Out bush with the Santa Fe Council group; Jim McMullen
Out bush with the Santa Fe Council group
Friendly gator
Friendly gator

Boston Attorney Michael Last attended one of our Southwest trips and then proposed a vision he had had of taking environmental lawyers, educators and advocates out into the bush, exposing them to The Tracking Project’s teachings. He relished the feeling of peace he had found with us out in the high desert.  He was tired of the adversarial nature of the legislative process between environmentalists and corporations — he wanted to introduce everyone to the concept of peacemaking and the peace that can come from the Natural World.

Mike assembled the participants and Jake and I met with the first Council in Santa Fe, NM in 1991.  The next year we took the council — now known as the Santa Fe Council for Environmental Excellence — to the Everglades to meet with Jim. The combination of TTP skills together with a day out with Jim in the Glades and the Tree of Peace ceremony was a winner.  We did a program each year from 1992 – 1998, 19 programs in all.  Our participants were quite literally immersed in the Everglades!

The team grew again in 1993 when Jim introduced us to tribal judge / Seminole tribal member Andy Buster, who joined our group offering his deep knowledge of the Glades. Andy, often joined by his wife Helene (Seminole member) has been on our Native Advisory Council since that time.

Jim was delighted with all the people we were able to train and all the partnerships that were initiated through the Council.  Without his guidance, the programs would never have taken place.

Blessings to Jim and his efforts on behalf of the Florida Panther.

Gator climbing
Gator climbing
Andy, Mike, Jim, JS, Jake
(L to R): Andy Buster, Michael Last, Jim McMullen, John Stokes, Jake Swamp
The Santa Fe Council group, knee deep in the swamp; Jim McMullen
The Santa Fe Council group, knee deep in the swamp
Jim McMullen and John at sunset (photo by Suzanne Stokes)
Jim and John at sunset (photo by Suzanne Stokes)