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.


  1. I just ran across the blog entry while conducting research about my grandfather, Willis K. Jones. He was a student at Hamilton College. I found a reference to his being listed as the "National Pioneer Commissioner" of the Pioneers of America on page 17 of the June 1917 issue of the Social Service Review. The article gives a great, detailed summary of the whole program. Thanks for posting this bit of history. I never would have understood the context.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I can't spell.... After further research, I discovered that my grandfather was a publicity secretary for the Pioneers in 1915. I carried on the tradition as a Boy Scout, Explorer and as a Scouter I was a Tiger leader, Cub Master and Scoutmaster. Willis' three great grandsons were all awarded the Eagle Badge.

  4. I have a letter written by Ernest Griffith dated July 1, 1915 to "My dear Chisholm" from Brantingham, N.Y. in which he states tey have no handbook but his plans for outline of the organization, listing name "Pioneers", Meetings, Leadership "Pioneer Masters", Motto, "Never turn back", Oath,"On my honor, as a Pioneer, I promise to do my best to talk clean, play clean, live clean, and to treat the other fellow on the square". Colors, " Dartmouth" green and pink, Pin Bastian Bros. Pioneers $1.50 a dozen, Grip, interlocking 5th fingers. Salute "same as scout, only two fingers (clean, square", age limits 9-12 and much more regarding the program, leaders etc. I am wondering if there is any value to this letter?

  5. I have a book copyrite 1913 The Tale of the Pictured Rocks BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, I HAVE A LETTER WRITTEN TO CHISHOLM by Ernest S. Griffith dated July 1 1915 where he is planning the pioneers. Included is their slogan, uniform, hand salute, oath and more. Any idea of the value Above written Dec 4 2014 is me also.