Friday, February 27, 2009

Hiking Staff, Stave or Broomstick?

In the early days of Scouting, it was called a staff or stave. To those on the outside of Scouting, it was only a broomstick. To Baden-Powell's many followers, it was an essential piece of Scouting gear. Early pictures of Scouts showed that every boy had to have one; even if he did not have a uniform, he had his stave.

Overzealous Scoutmasters of the time used them to field drill their young charges. This led to some of Scouting's detractors to view them as make-believe rifles. They looked upon the 'broomsticks' as militaristic tools of the Mafeking war hero whom they believed was preparing their boys for war. Baden-Powell himself actually recommended that drill not be a part of Scouting, but in America, the increasing loom of European warfare made the stave-and-marching drill practice more acceptable. The 1914 edition of the Handbook for Scoutmasters*, with a photo of a Scout holding a stave on the cover, even included 4 pages of military drill, plus a page-and-a-half of "order of the staff"--exactly corresponding to the Army's drill with rifles. It wasn't until 1947 that the section titled "Scout Drill" was replaced by a smaller section on formations and silent hand signals to arrange them.)

Baden-Powell was insistent though that the staff was a part of the Scout's uniform and not just a broomstick. His first drawings of Scouts showed the trusty tool in the hands of the Scout. According to John Hargrave in the September 1917 issue of The Scout, "I was talking to the Chief only the other day and he is very keen that the picturesque part of Scouting should not be neglected. He added, "Put your sign on it--brand your Mark on it, and make it a record of your Scout life, and if you lose it, if you break it, if you don't carry it, you're a-you're a-a- MUMBLEBUMP!"

Troop 1 in Camp, c. 1912, note the hiking staves!
For those early eager Scouts, the staff was a vital wilderness tool. It was an aid for everything from making tents to cooking soup--it made an ideal trammel to hang the soup pot over the fire. And when things slowed down in camp, there were several games that could be played with them.

Today, this wooden shaft is more descriptively known as a hiking stave or staff. For the aerobically inclined, it can also be called a walking stick. Stave, staff, or stick are all inter-changeable and correct. No matter what you call it, this shaft of wood brings back some of the youthful adventure from the birth of Scouting to the Scouts of the next century.

When Sir Robert Baden Powell designed his bronze "Scout with Staff" he gave the staff the loftiest and most prominent place in the statue. Rev. Yale Lyon gave similar prominence to the staff and carried his Lion Patrol flag on the end of his hiking stave. Today, as a tribute to their first Scoutmaster, the Troop 1 BSA Centennial Celebration Team carry Lyon Patrol flags on their sturdy serviceable staffs whenever they are in camp or making a public appearance!

With our staffs or staves, we salute the next hundred years of Scouting, continuing the adventure and celebrating the rich heritage of the past!

* The first edition of The Scoutmasters Handbook (1914-1920) was published under the supervision of an Editorial Board which included William D. Murry, another early "forgotten" YMCA official-turned-Scout Executive. William Murry later wrote the BSA's first history, in 1937.

Monday, February 9, 2009

WW1 Boy Scout Watch Fob Discovered!

Unadilla Scouter James Beers discovered an unique item while gardening behind his home on Watson Street, Unadilla, NY--a Boy Scout watch fob, the little "adornment or medallion" that hangs from a watch chain (or strap) and provides a ready tab to remove the watch from your watch pocket to check the time. The fob Jim discovered is similar in design to those illustrated in a 1918 Scouting catalog in our Unadilla Boy Scout Museum. It is amusing to speculate that this particular fob might have been lost by a Unadilla Scout while tilling his garden of vegetables during WW1 to heed the call, "Every Scout to Feed a Soldier".

Originally sold for $1-2 each, Boy Scout watch fobs are valued at upwards of $125 today. Wrist watches are the watch of today but this was not the case when Yale Lyon founded his Unadilla Troop 1 in 1910. The standard then was the pocket watch. It only seemed fitting that the new Boy Scouts of America help identify its members with distinctive watch fobs. The fob is a medallion that hangs from a leather strap to which your watch was attached. The fob could hang out of your pocket and make a 'statement' about the organization you belonged to while making it easier when the time came to reach for your watch!

All watch fobs that are Scout related are quite scarce. The ones made by the BSA were considered fine jewelry, typically gold filled or plated, of sterling silver or enameled. Although regularly listed in Scout equipment catalogs up to WW II, adding to their scarcity today, they were only sold to registered Scouts and Leaders; orders for them had to be properly signed.

Pictured is Jim's Boy Scout Watch Fob,with crossed flags, rifle and fire horn; c. 1910s. Neat!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Camping Outs": Encampments, Rallies and Circuses

Camping as a vehicle to deliver the tenets of Scouting had its beginnings when Lord S.S. Baden-Powell ran his experimental camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 for the 21 original Scouts. The "camping out" was a success and a movement was born that quickly spread to America and around the world. In America, Boy Scouting was quickly embraced by Sunday school and public school teachers, young ministers like the Rev. Yale Lyon in Unadilla, NY, and by leaders in the Young Men's Christian Association who began planning outings called "camping outs," or "encampments."

YMCA Camping.

Actually, YMCAs had been in the camping "game" since the late 1860s. YMCA records include an early reference to a Vermont Y's boys'-work missionary taking a group of boys to Lake Champlain for a "summer encampment." In 1881, the Brooklyn YMCA reported taking 30 boys on a "camping out" and by a year later, many other YMCAs began recording camping programs in their annual reports under "outings and excursions."

By 1908 and 1909, Y officials began hearing about the new Boy Scout movement gaining popularity in England. A few Ys actually set up Boy Scout troops within their own organizations, and some Y camps began using elements of the Scoutcraft skills Powell wrote about in his 1907 handbook, Scouting for Boys.

Scoutmaster Training at Y Camp at Silver Bay.

As organized a year earlier, the camp wasn't intended to be a Scouting experience. Now largely-forgotten veteran YMCA boys'-work executive Edgar M. Robinson, well aware he lacked the charisma to enthrall boys with the lore of nature and the exploits of Cooper's Deerslayer and Chingatchcook, had arranged for Ernest Thompson Seton to demonstrate Woodcraft Indians campcraft at a special late August session for YMCA boys.

As a result, the encampment became an experimental Scout camp, with an Indian flavor. Scouts lived in homemade tepees made from plans in Seton's Two Little Savages book, and Seton himself directed the program. William D. Murray, another YMCA official who later became a Scouting professional, was the overall camp director.

Subsequent encampments for the training of Scoutmasters of the Boy Scouts of America were held as part of the Silver Bay Summer Institute in 1911 and 1912. In the picture above, Daniel Carter Beard, National Commissioner, here wearing BSA's first army-style uniform, demonstrates the "throwing of the hatchet" in 1912. (Photo courtesy of the Silver Bay Association.)

A woodcraft camp organized by Ernest Thompson Seton was held at Silver Bay in 1910. Numerous boys' organizations were represented among the 125 attendees at the experimental encampment. Ideas formulated at the woodcraft camp led to the organization of the Boy Scouts of America later that year. Silver Bay is recognized as BSA's first training site. Seton, then known as Black Wolf, is the white-shirted figure standing to the right in this photo. (Photo courtesy of the Silver Bay Association.)

Boy Scout Encampment, Cooperstown, NY 1911.

In 1911, the following year after the Silver Bay experimental encampment, a similar encampment was planned at Cooperstown, NY during the week of July 12-18, with a planned attendance of 2,000 to 5,000 Scouts, all fully equipped to spend the week in the open on the shores of Otsego Lake, attending rallies on the Clark estate and going on hiking expeditions over the Leatherstocking territory made famous by J. Fenimore Cooper. It was hoped that Daniel Carter Beard would be the honored guest, and speakers under consideration at the time included ex-President Theodore Roosevelt and Governor Dix. (Teddy Roosevelt did manage to briefly visit the encampment on the Thursday of that week in the company of the YMCA official William D. Murray.) The committee organizing the event hoped they could also entice the Vitagraph Company to come and make a motion picture of the event to be shown in theaters around the country.

The event, though grandly conceived in the excitement of the new Boy Scout movement, went largely unattended--less than 200 Scouts made to Nathaniel Bumpo's literary birthplace that summer.

Boy Scout Rallies and Circuses.

Boy Scout rallies were held frequently during the 1910s and 1920s. At rallies, Boy Scouts would compete against one another for prizes in athletic contests like foot races, or in contests relating to Scout skills, such as signaling or fire making. Rallies that involved a large number of troops eventually came to be called Boy Scout circuses, and were often the troop's biggest event of the year.

While rallies were usually held outdoors, the Boy Scout Circus was an indoor exposition-with-added-midway attractions that featured community parades, presentation of ranks and awards, demonstrations of Scout skills, and often professional circus acts that attracted a more general audience.

One such event staged in the State Armory in Oneonta in 1937 featured a grand entry march of more than 1,000 Scouts and Scouters, a band concert, demonstrations of Scouting skills such as figure marching, flashlight drills using Semiphore and Morse signaling codes, wild animal acts, a rope lasso act by the 'larieteers' of Troop 41 of Roxbury, and a greased pig catching contest conducted by a mob of 'real' trained clowns! Now that was your Father's camporee!

Scout Circus 1938, Walton, NY