The Origins Of Scouting In America
Before founding the Scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) was best known for his military exploits. In 1899, Colonel Baden-Powell and about 1,500 British soldiers and 40 young cadets came up against 7,500 Boers at the town of Mafeking, South Africa. They held fast under siege for 217 days until reinforcements arrived. All of England proclaimed him "The Hero of Mafeking" and he soon became world renowned. This fame would later help propel the fledgling Scouting movement.
The cadets of Mafeking proved invaluable during the tense siege where they served as look-outs, delivered messages between the troops, and aided hospital orderlies. They demonstrated that boys, with proper training and when given opportunities to demonstrate themselves, could make great contributions both individually and in small groups. This left a strong impression on Baden-Powell and from this experience the Patrol System in Scouting would grow.
The proofs of Baden-Powell's military handbook, Aids To Scouting For NCOs And Men, was smuggled out of Mafeking and published in England in 1899. When Major-General Baden-Powell returned to England at the end of the war, he was surprised to find that his handbook was being used in clubs and schools to train boys. Influenced by the ideas of Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard, Baden-Powell dropped the military aspects and rewrote his book.
To test out his ideas on scouting, Baden-Powell held a two-week camp for boys on Brownsea Island, England, in the summer of 1907. Twenty-two boys learned skills in camping, nature, lifesaving, and first aid through games and contests.
Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was an author, wildlife artist and naturalist. Born in South Shields, England, Seton grew up on a prairie farm in Canada. Through his boyhood exploration of the woods, young Seton became familiar with nature and wildlife, intensely studying and sketching the plants and creatures that he saw.
Seton was also fascinated with the ways of Native Americans. He would go on to write and illustrate many books on these subjects including Wild Animals I Have Known (1898), Lobo (1900), The Biography of a Grizzly (1900), How To Play Indian (1903), The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore (1912), and Sign Talk of the Indians (1918).
While living in Connecticut, Seton's home Wyndygoul was vandalized by a group of local boys who painted obscenities on his gate. Instead of turning them in to the authorities, Seton invited the boys to camp at his estate.
He shared his knowledge of nature and entertained the boys with stories of Native American life. From this successful camp out, Seton formed the Woodcraft Indians in 1902. Their handbook, The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, was published in 1906.
Lord Robert Baden-Powell read the Woodcraft Indians' handbook with great interest. Seton and Baden-Powell would meet later that same year to discuss their ideas about scouting. Seton played a vital role in the foundation of the Boy Scouts of America, serving as the first Chief Scout from 1910-1915.
Daniel Carter Beard (1850-1941) spent his childhood days playing in the woods along the Ohio River in Kentucky, hearing tales about great frontiersmen and trail blazers like Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed and Daniel Boone. He grew up to become a surveyor and engineer.
Later, Beard was a successful illustrator for the New York Herald, Harper's Weekly, St. Nicholas, and Godey's Magazine. In 1883, he joined the Student Art League and befriended fellow artist Ernest Thompson Seton.
Mark Twain was so impressed with Beard's artistic abilities that he hired him to illustrate two of his most beloved works - The Prince and the Pauper (1881) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889).
The early 20th century was a time when at least 1.7 million American children between the ages of 10 and 15 were employed full time in farms, factories and mines. Beard, like many other Progressives, became increasingly concerned about America's youth. He campaigned for creating parks and playgrounds so that children could have outdoor recreational areas.
In 1905, Beard founded the Sons of Daniel Boone - a boy's club based on the traditions of the American frontier. This group would later be known as the Boy Pioneers of America.
In Beard's organization, groups of eight boys each formed a stockade; with four stockades making up a fort. The boys operated independently without adult leaders. There were no badges to be earned and boys were encouraged to make their own uniforms based on traditional frontier attire.
After his organization merged with the Boy Scouts of America in 1910, Beard served as the first BSA National Scout Commissioner for thirty years, a position he held until his death.
Many of the books that Beard authored and illustrated are still in print today including The American Boy's Handy Book (1882), The American Girl's Handy Book (1887), The Outdoor Handy Book (1896), Handicraft For Outdoor Boys (1906), and The American Boy's Book of Camp-Lore and Woodcraft (1920).
This successful endeavor was followed by the publication of Baden-Powell's best selling Scouting For Boys the following year. Troops quickly formed all over England and it wasn't too long before the idea spread to Canada and then to the United States.
William Dickson "W.D." Boyce (1858-1929) was an American newspaper man, magazine publisher, entrepreneur, and world explorer. During his childhood on a farm in rural Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, he developed a love for the outdoors.
After working as a school teacher and coal miner, Boyce pursued his entrepreneurial dreams. He moved to Chicago and in 1886 established the Mutual Newspaper Company which supplied articles and advertisements to over 200 newspapers. The following year, he began publishing an illustrated weekly, the Saturday Blade, which catered to rural readers.
By 1892, the Saturday Blade had become the most widely circulated newspaper in the United States with a circulation of 500,000 per week. Its success was, in part, due to a new innovation - Boyce's use of thousands of newsboys to distribute his publication.
The popularity of the Saturday Blade led to the creation of the W. D. Boyce Publishing Company which further expanded Boyce's growing empire of newspapers and magazines.
Boyce became a multi-millionaire who enjoyed world travel. It was while en route to an East African safari that he stopped in London and first learned of Baden-Powell's Scouting movement.
Legend holds that Boyce, lost and disoriented on a foggy London street, was approached by a Scout who guided him to his destination. He offered the boy a tip for his assistance, but the Scout respectfully declined explaining that he was only doing his "good turn" for the day. Boyce was greatly impressed by this experience and he quickly obtained a copy of Scouting For Boys.
Inspired by Baden-Powell's ideas, Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. He personally funded the new organization and recruited its early leadership.
Boyce became concerned for isolated rural boys who did not have the opportunity to join troops in towns, so he sought to start a separate program for them. Chief Scout Executive, James E. West, disagreed with him so Boyce left the BSA and started the Lone Scouts of America (LSA) in January, 1915. By November of that year, the LSA had over 30,000 members.
The program's emphasis on Native American themes made it quite popular. Boys received program instructions through the Lone Scout Magazine which Boyce, known as Chief Totem, published.
Boys contributed articles and ideas on woodcraft, animals, Native Americans, sports, science, and humor. As the Boy Scouts' membership grew, the number of Lone Scouts declined and in 1924, the LSA eventually merged with the BSA.
The baton of Scouting was passed from the movement's founding fathers to James E. West (1876-1948) whose organizational skills saw the Boy Scouts of America through a time of tremendous growth.
A lawyer and staunch champion for the rights of children, West's background was very different from the Scouting leaders who came before him. An orphan at age 6, he grew up in a Washington D.C. orphange. After contracting tuberculosis in his hip, he was left with a permanent limp.
West left the orphanage in 1896 and served as the assistant to the general secretary of the YMCA while attending law school. His past experience as an orphan motivated him to advocate for children. West helped to establish the first juvenile court system whereby minors would no longer be tried in adult courts.
He served as the secretary of the National Child Welfare League, which placed orphaned children into foster homes. Later as secretary of the White House Conference on Dependent Children, West was active in reforming the management of orphanages.
In 1910, the leadership of the newly created BSA was looking for a new chief executive. West was approached, but having just set up his D.C. law practice, he declined. After additional requests, West eventually agreed to serve for six months - he ended up serving as Chief Scout Executive for thirty-two years.
One of West's early contributions to the BSA was the first edition of The Official Handbook For Boys. He was influential in expanding the third part of the Scout Oath to include: "To help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight." He also pressed for adding brave, clean, and reverent to the Scout Law.
Building on the foundation laid by Baden-Powell, Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, and W. D. Boyce, West shaped the Boy Scouts of America into the American institution that it is today. One hundred years later, the BSA continues to prepare young men for a life of leadership and service.