Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rev. Yale Lyon, Centennial Scoutmaster

After serving a short time as a Housemaster at the Albany Diocese's Hoosic Boys' School and studying for a year at Magdalen College, Oxford University to complete a Masters in divinity, the young Yale Lyon accepted a charge call on July 13, 1910 from the vestry of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Unadilla, New York to become its new rector.

From the very first, it was evident that the new rector had a special place in his heart for the youth of his parish and his adopted community. He soon started a boys' club with a program of outdoor skills, citizenship, games and advancement he had found Robert Baden-Powell developing throughout England. The original patrol of five boys--Tom McKay, Charles Hildreth, Cecil Stearns, Neil Stearns and Howard Morse--were officially recognized as Troop 1 BSA, Unadilla, NY on September 7, 1910 when Yale Lyon received the troop's first charter from the Boy Scouts of America headquarters in New York City.

Scouting in Unadilla proved to be very popular, and the troop expanded rapidly in the next few months; by the time Yale Lyon was making plans to attend the next year a statewide encampment in Cooperstown, NY the troop had nearly 15 members.

In 1915, Yale Lyon published an open letter detailing the accomplishments of the fledgling troop:

"It may be of interest to Scoutmasters living in small villages, or to men contemplating starting a troop of Boy Scouts in rural communities, to know what a small group of boys has done during the last five years. Our troop was organized in September 1910, with 10 boys, and since that time has never had more than fourteen boys in its membership. But it has been able to accomplish certain definite things, which are within the power of any group of ten or twelve boys working together."

The list that followed included regular weekly meetings, monthly hikes in the autumn and winter, sports and games, strict attendance at church, service projects in the community on "clean-up" day and at holiday celebrations, and attending a long-term camp each summer--a proven program not much different than what Scouts in Troop 1 experience today.

The popularity of Scouting in rural Unadilla today and the troop's near-100 year unbroken charter record can be directly attributed to the Rev. Lyon's lifelong leadership and community spirit. His twenty-seven year "little experiment with a community project for boys" has proved a resounding and enduring success.

The Reverend Yale Lyon retired as Scoutmaster of Troop 1 in 1937 and, in failing health, from the active ministry in 1942. However, he continued to influence the life of his parish and his community, and to champion the Boy Scout movement, until his death in 1945. The troop he founded at the dawn of Scouting in America has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the ever-changing patterns of family life and technology. Today, the troop still meets regularly, still goes on camping, hiking and canoe trips, still conducts community service projects, and counts nearly 2,000 men among its alumni.

"They still exert their sway long after they have ceased to speak and toil."
---Unadilla chronicler Francis W. Halsey, St. Matthew's Centennial Celebration, 1909

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rev. Yale Lyon and the Pioneers of America

In the early days of Troop 1, only boys 12 or older could register with the Boy Scouts of America. To bring the popular new movement to Unadilla’s younger boys, the Rev. Yale Lyon devised the Lion Patrol and registered them in the Pioneers of America, another Scout-like organization that accepted boys aged 9-12, or the “pre-Scout” age.

The Pioneers of America rise from a small boys’ club in Clinton, NY was something just short of phenomenal. Started in 1915 by Hamilton College student Ernst S. Griffith, the forerunner of the Cub Scouts became a national organization in three short years.

Griffith had a great desire to be a Rhodes scholar, which required demonstrated athletic ability, scholarship and outstanding leadership. To qualify in the leadership category Griffith decided to form a new kind of boys club. The school club idea proved to be immensely popular, and soon officials elsewhere in New York schools were asking that similar clubs be formed in their schools.

Early in 1915 Griffith enlisted the aid of a number of Hamilton students and college faculty and the group created an organization similar to the Boy Scouts but designed for boys from 9 to 12. A handbook and a book of songs and games were published. A pin was designed and manufactured and an oath, a sign (the present two-finger Cub Scout sign) and a motto, “Never Turn Back!” were designed and copyrighted. Within three months there were 100 “troops” in six states and by the time WW1 interrupted their activities, there were over 400 troops in 14 states, including Texas and California.[1]

The national organization was formed with the noted jurist and juvenile court reformer Judge Ben B. Lindsey as Honorary President. Other leaders in boys’ work, including Yale Lyon, signed on as advisers or members of the Board of Directors but the active national officers were all Hamilton College students.[2]

The Pioneer Oath was “On my honor as a Pioneer, I will do my best to be clean in speech, in play, and in life, and to be true to others.” The uniform was a dark green jersey. Individual troop leaders were referred to as “Pioneer Masters.” Woman leaders were also allowed, but perhaps sensitive to being labeled “mistresses,” were called “Pioneer Pathfinders.” The activities were primarily those of supervised recreation. At the age of twelve the boy was expected to join the Boy Scouts or some other good organization for older boys.

Yale Lyon, already holding summer
camps for his boys on the banks of the Susquehanna above Unadilla, began registering his Lion Patrol as Pioneers as early as 1914. In the spring of 1916 founder Griffith and Hamilton classmate Edwin R. Moore came to Oneonta and spoke to groups of boys and their parents and urged the formation of a troop there. Two troops were immediately formed and by July a camp was held on the Susquehanna near Colliers under the supervision of YMCA Secretary Reid Snyder.

All of the national officers went into service during WW1 and the Pioneers of America went quiescent. After the war the Boy Scouts of America organization was granted permission to use the Pioneer ideas and upon this foundation built the Cub Scout program. Lyon by 1918 was also using Baden-Powell's The Wolf Cub’s Handbook in unofficial Wolf Cub programs that continued as late as 1929. The Pioneers of America, having served its purpose passed from the scene.

[1]Forming the Pioneers by Ed Moore, column Oneonta Past and Present, Daily Star, Oneonta, NY.
[2] Boys’ Youth Organization Goes National, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, quoted in Project Innovation, School and Society April 1917 notes, pages 461-462, digitized Jan 7, 2008.

The "Army" Scout Uniform

By August 31, 1911, a new Handbook for Boys replaced the hastily drawn A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft by Ernest Thompson Seton, who combined parts of his own manual The Birch Bark Roll and Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. In Seton's handbook, the suggested uniform was a British model.
The new Handbook for Boys gave the new American Scout Oath, Law, advancement requirements, showed the newly approved uniforms and badges, and offered guidance for organizing patrols and troops. The handbook showed a uniform that looked like a miniature of the U.S. Army's garb. It called for a khaki campaign hat, a five-button, choke collar coat, knee
britches, and canvas leggings. The whole outfit cost $4.05; a haversack "closely modeled after those supplied the U.S. Government" was an additional $2.25. Neckerchiefs, a part of the uniform for decades to follow, at first were not offered.

Two distinct types of uniforms for leaders was offered--an adult version of the boys' uniform with leather puttees or a Norfolk coat-and-breeches combination for $6.50.

In Troop 1's archives are photographs of a young Yale Lyon and the original five boys of Patrol 1 of Troop 1--Charles Hildreth, Howard Morse, Thomas McKay, Cecil Stearns and Neal Stearns--all fully accoutered in the new uniform, ready to spend a week in the open on the shores of Otsego Lake tramping through Leatherstocking country or putting in a smart appearance at a local parade. In the only known photograph of Yale Lyon displaying his Lion Patrol pennant, he is wearing the Norfolk-breeches-puttees combination, a white shirt and a definitely nonregulation bow tie!

The uniform was both a plus and a minus for the young troop. Many of Troop 1's older alumni at their 75th reunion remembered that the uniform was a big attraction, that the two things that gave Scouting its distinction from other youth programs was the uniform and camping.

Old English Christmas: "Boy Scouts Will Have Regulation Hats!"

One of the earliest fundraising efforts for Yale Lyon's boys was an Old English Christmas entertainment held at the St. Matthew's rectory on January 9, 1911 to raise money for new uniforms. Announced in the Unadilla Times under the heading "Boy Scouts Will Have Regulation Hats!" the popular event included dramatic readings by Yale Lyon, a Yule log in the fireplace, and an authentic English boar's head dinner. Attended by a capacity crowd, the Scouts netted a "snug sum of $18" to purchase campaign hats for the twenty-seven youngsters who composed three patrols at that time.

The annual Yule Log celebration, a favorite of Yale Lyon's carried over from his Oxford college days, became a popular event that benefited the troop until one year the resplendent roasted pig's head on a platter scared the willies out of a young Scout and the event was discontinued.

But the new army-type uniform posed a problem, too, because it hinted at military training. That perception was understandable, given Baden-Powell's military background, the army-type uniform, and a program that at first included a lot of marching and drilling. With the impending loom of World War 1, people soon got the idea their boys would graduate from Scouting straight into the Army.

Louis A. Hornbeck, Otschodela Council's first professional Scout Executive remembered joining Troop 23 in Brooklyn in 1912 over his parent's misgivings. "Many people came here from Europe because the male member of the family was threatened with military service," he said. "I remember that was true of my father, who came here from Denmark. He didn't absolutely discourage me from joining, but there was definitely a concern."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Yucca Packs Wanted

Our Centennial Celebration Troop 1 1910 Reenactment Team is in need of 6 YUCCA PACK-style haversacks, as illustrated in BSA’s 1962 equipment catalog. These rectangular haversacks most closely resemble the Army-style backpacks the charter members of Troop 1 BSA Unadilla, NY were outfitted with when they were first organized in 1910.

Our reenactment team is scheduled to represent Troop 1 BSA, America’s Centennial Troop, at many local and national Scouting events in 2009 and 2010, and we want them to be correctly attired for the task!

Trades, tax-deductible gifts, or outright purchase can be considered. Contact Donald Tuttle, Lyon Patrol Troop 1 Alumni Association, by email or phone for details.

Donald Tuttle, Lyon Patrol Leader Lyon Patrol Troop 1 BSA Alumni Association PO Box 548 Unadilla, NY 13849 607-369-7323 evenings

Troop 1 BSA Unadilla, NY Not The First Boy Scout Troop?

Claims by several communities to have had the first Boy Scout troop in the USA are shrouded in undocumented history, but it is known that after the publication of Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys handbook in 1907, dozens of troops were started in England and in a few places in America. A lady named Myra Greeno Bass used the book to start an "Eagle Troop" in Kentucky in 1908, and John Romanes, who had trained with Baden-Powell in Scotland, formed a troop that same year in Salinas, Kansas. In the next few months, the YMCA embraced Scouting as a part of their boys' work and camping program, and started troops in Chicago, Boston and Springfield, Mass., in Utica, New York and on Staten Island, Columbus, Ohio and St. Lewis, Mo.

Some of the early troops grew out of Sunday School classes or Protestant youth groups, or the Boys' Brigade, a paramilitary organization with liberal doses of religious training. For boys with an outdoor bent, there was Daniel Carter Beard's Sons of Daniel Boone (later called the Boy Pioneers) or Ernest Thompson Seton's Woodcraft Indians, two organizations that later merged with the new Boy Scouts of America. Most took their program and camping cues from Baden-Powell's book or Seton's manual The Birch Bark Roll or the writings of Beard in various boys' magazines.

In the first decade of the Scouting movement in America, there was no semblance of a national organization. That all changed in 1909 when Chicago newspaperman William D. Boyce, intrigued by his encounter with a young British Scout in a London pea-soup fog, came home determined to use Boy Scouting as a vehicle to train and educate his army of newsboys who delivered his papers. On February 8, 1910, Boyce filed incorporation papers in Washington, D.C. for the Boy Scouts of America.

While it seems impossible today to confirm the story of young seminarian Yale Lyon actually meeting Robert Baden-Powell at an Oxford garden party while he was in England studying for the ministry*, the Scouting program he saw developing throughout England must have sparked his interest in starting "a little community project for boys" as soon as he arrived in Unadilla as the new Rector of the St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. National records show Yale Lyon was warranted as Scoutmaster #166 in April 1910 but in the fevered rush to register over 4,000 men in the new Boy Scouts of America, officials at BSA's New York headquarters didn't get around to issuing a charter for the troop until September 7th.

Soon after BSA's incorporation, troops began to appear in every town and city and hamlet where the first troop of that community would be designated Troop One. If a second troop was formed, it would be given the number Two; the third, Troop Three, and so on. This early numbering system soon led to much confusion and makes it impossible today to pinpoint the first troop by its numerical designation. In the central New York area, several other Troop Ones were started in Oneonta, Cooperstown and Cobleskill as early as 1911, but they have long since been disbanded or merged with other troops. A Troop Two organized in 1911 in Middleburgh, New York with a Judge Don Beekman as Scoutmaster still meets.

By 1990, only two troops in America were able to celebrate 80 years of service to boys and their community. In 2000, while Troop One was celebrating its 90th Anniversary, it was learned the other veteran troop had disbanded, making Unadilla's surviving claim, not as the first boy scout troop in America, but as the Oldest Continually Chartered Boy Scout Troop in America completely valid.

*While in England to attend the 27th World Jamboree in 2007, the author and Troop 1's current Scoutmaster Brian Danforth met with the British Scouting Association's Baden-Powell Archivist to determine if Yale Lyon's personal timeline while studying in England in 1909 could have actually put him in hand-shake's distance with the founder of British Boy Scouting, Sir Robert Baden-Powell. We'll relate the story of giving credence to a fanciful tale in another article on this blog site soon.

Troop 1 BSA Unadilla, NY-- "America's Centennial Boy Scout Troop"