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.

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