Posts Tagged ‘history’

Nothing More American Than Scouting?

July 4, 2013
Three early 20th century leaders of the Scouti...

Three early 20th century leaders of the Scouting movement (l-to-r): Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden-Powell, and Dan Beard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elsewhere on social media, an innocent Independence Day missive provoked a flurry of comments:

“There’s nothing more all-American than Scouting! So it’s a great day to thank you for supporting BSA… Happy 4th of July!”

To which the most relevant responder pointed out that Scouting was in fact founded by an Englishman, and that Independence Day celebrates our (US) separation from the Brits.  Others (sarcastically or not) accused the Boy Scouts of America organization of either continued prejudice or abandonment of first principles, etc and so on.  You can guess where I stand on principles, but I’ve often wondered about America’s love-hate relationship with our Colonial overlords back in the United Kingdom.  America was first settled by people of British origin (setting aside the Native Americans who had migrated to the continent a millennium or more before).  To rebel against Britain was in many ways to rebel against our own family.  Yet there it was, in the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…

I will let historians debate our shared Special Relationship.  Here I am interested in Scouting, as a movement not a bureaucracy.

Robert Baden-Powell, the Englishman did, of course, found the game of Scouting based on his military experience in Africa and India.  He also had a lot of help.

We all know the story of the Unknown Scout who helped Chicago publisher William D. Boyce through the London fog, and to a lesser extent James West who took the helm of the new Boy Scouts of America a century ago.  But sometimes we forget Boyce & West didn’t just import a British idea—they brought a Scouting idea home that had many fathers.

Ernest Thompson Seton was the first Chief Scout in the BSA, and is fairly well known as a founder of Scouting in America.  He is in the new Handbook, page 60 in fact.  An Englishman of Scottish descent, he emigrated to Canada with his family when he was a small boy.  Later settling in the New York area, Seton founded Woodcraft Indians in 1902 to give local hoodlums something to do.  It is well known that B-P was influenced by The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, which Seton published in 1906, and the Woodcraft Indians merged into the BSA when that organization was founded in 1910.

“Uncle Dan” Beard is also on page 60, fairly well known as an American founder of Scouting, at least as far as Scouting Heritage is followed these days.  Daniel Carter Beard was an engineer and surveyor, and a friend of Ernest Thompson Seton.  In 1882, he published the American Boy’s Handy Book, filled with illustrations and practical stuff for American Boys to do.  In 1905, he founded the Sons of Daniel Boon, (aka Boy Pioneers) in celebration of American Frontiersmen such as their illustrious namesake, Kit Carson, Davey Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, James Audubon, and George Catlin.  Beard became National Commissioner in the new BSA, and helped found Campfire Girls as an outdoor-oriented sister organization to the BSA.

Less well known in the US are others who contributed to B-P’s Scouting Movement.  Minnesotan Frederick Russell Burnham, for example, grew up among the Sioux Indians and was an Old West scout in the Apache Wars.  He went on to serve in the British Army in Africa, where he taught woodcraft to Baden-Powell.  You can blame Burnham for B-P adapting the American cowboy’s bandana as the Scout Neckerchief.

Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, a Dakota Sioux, was also from Minnesota and graduated from Dartmouth College and Boston University.  He wrote about growing up in an Indian tribe on the changing frontier, including Indian Scout Craft and Lore.  He worked with Seton to implement programs through the YMCA and other groups, then in establishing the BSA.  It was one thing for East Coast anglo-americans to tout Indian skills, but Eastman lived them and was proud of his Native American heritage.

These are just a few of the Americans who influenced Baden-Powell in establishing the Scouting movement, and who later implemented B-P’s ideas in the USA.  There may, in fact, be nothing more American than Scouting.  In many ways, in reaching out in partnership between the old family in England and the the new family here in the United States to bring to life the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, Scouting as a movement is more American than America herself.



Remarks for Memorial Day

July 4, 2012

Remarks for Slayton, Minnesota, Memorial Day Service

-John C. Shepard

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

President Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in the Autumn of 1863, on the battlefield of Gettysburg. You can go there now, like my family did last year, to the new Visitor’s Center between Cemetery Ridge and the Baltimore Pike. It is a great improvement on the old cramped quarters my father took me to when I was young. Yet even with all the latest and greatest presentation technology, for me it is still impossible to fully conceptualize the idea of 165,000 men fighting at this one place and time.

Memorial Day originated as Decoration Day, when the graves of fallen soldiers were decorated and memorialized. Over 46,000 men died over the course of three days on the battlefield of Gettysburg. I stood with my sons at the Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry, on Cemetery Ridge. On July 2nd, 1863, 83% of the 1st Minnesota became casualties, the largest loss by any surviving military unit in American history, during the single bloodiest battle in American history. We gazed out across the Emmitsburg Road and imagined the sight the next day, July 3rd, of Pickett’s Charge across the mile-wide valley. I wondered if I would have had the nerve of the decimated Minnesota volunteers who stood their ground when duty called.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

The following year, on the 3rd of October 1864, my fore-father Orrin Brown enlisted as a Private in Company E, 14th Michigan Infantry. At the age of 27, he left his family and farm to march with Sherman through Georgia. While he survived, his health and his family paid a price he spent the rest of his life repaying. While our nation survived, we continue to pay the price of liberty.

I claim no part of the honor of the Veteran. That is yours alone. My father’s Uncle Carl answered the call of duty in the 1930s, leaving his Michigan dairy farm for the U.S. Navy. When war came with Germany and Japan, he re-enlisted and spent the war in the Pacific. He settled in California, so growing up I didn’t see him very often, but I’ve always known him as a man for whom the impossible is probable. Uncle Carl is a man who built a concrete sailboat—if you can float concrete, you can do just about anything. His determination inspires me; when I feel things are difficult, I know it will never be as difficult as what he—a Veteran—has faced and overcome.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

I do stand here in the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. Scouting was founded by a veteran, Robert Baden-Powell. As a British military officer in India and Africa, Baden-Powell observed his troops and developed ideas he eventually recorded in a training manual, which became popular among English school-boys. Refined for youth, Scouting for Boys was published in 1908, not as a guide for war but as a call for honor.

I struggle to talk about honor with my Scouts. At best, honor is what you do when nobody is looking. Baden-Powell noted that men who are prepared to think and do for themselves are better able to help their unit achieve its goals. Each Scout strives to live up to the Scout Oath—On My Honor, I will Do My Best, To Do My Duty—dedicated to individual excellence in the unfinished work of God and Country. We find the best in ourselves when we give our best for a cause greater than ourselves, as the Veteran has done.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

No nation goes to war lightly, no less a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people.” In the last decade, many young men and women have joined the ranks of the Veterans among us and those whose graves we now decorate on Memorial Day. These are your brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. They include fathers of my Scouts; and my cousin Victor, who volunteered for the Army last year.

At times it feels beyond our resolve that these men shall not have fought in vain. Yet I refuse to lose faith. I remember the men who fought and died at Gettysburg. I look out today on the Greatest Generation who stood up for freedom in Germany and Japan. I take pride in those who stood up against Communism in Korea and Vietnam; and those who stand up for democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I find myself rededicated to their unfinished work at home.

The new birth of freedom Lincoln spoke of so long ago, happens every day.  It happens each morning when we wake up and decide to do what is right rather than what is simply easy.  It happened this morning when you decided to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers and memorialize the Veterans contributing to our community every day. It will happen tomorrow when our children go to school and we go about our work. It will happen every day we participate in this grand experiment of liberty and democracy called the United States of America.

# # #

Cross-posted from  Troop 25 participates in the local Memorial Day observance each year, presenting the memorial wreath.  I was asked to give the keynote address this year.  I debated making the speech in uniform—I don’t march with the Scouts, that’s a boy-led activity, but I usually wear my Class A in support.  I decided to wear the BSA uniform as usual and incorporate a Scouting theme for the event.  I believe it went well.


SM Minute—A Good Turn

September 25, 2011

Image via Wikipedia

Scoutmaster Minute—A Good Turn

As you know, the Boy Scouts of America was started in 1910.  Now for a tougher question: Who started the BSA?  Not Baden-Powell.  He started Scouting in England.  It was an American businessman, William D. Boyce.

In 1909, William Boyce was wandering around London and got lost in the dense fog.  He met a young boy who led him to his destination.  The boy refused to accept a tip from Boyce, saying that he was a Boy Scout.  That intrigued Boyce, and he asked the Unknown Scout to take him to meet Lord Baden Powell later.

Because of that meeting, Boy Scouts of America was officially organized in 1910, and there have been more than 93 million Americans involved in the BSA since then.

The Scout slogan is “Do a Good Turn Daily.”  That is what that Boy Scout in 1909 did for William Boyce, and that is what you should always try to do, every day–a Good Turn. You never know what it may give return.

You can read more about the Unknown Scout on page 27 of your Centennial Boy Scout Handbook.


(adapted from Troop Program Resources, p.18)


Scoutmaster Minute—A Scout is Helpful

March 7, 2010

A Scout is helpful. A Scout cares about other people. He helps others without expecting payment or reward. He fulfills his duties to his family by helping at home.

Before Chicago publisher William D. Boyce made his fortune in the Windy City, he knew what it was like to live in our part of the country. In Winnepeg, Canada, he co-founded a newspaper.. He worked as a reporter in Fargo, and in December 1882, in Lisbon, North Dakota, he started the Dakota Clipper, a weekly newspaper specializing in political and business intrigues.

In 1909, Boyce was on his way home from an African safari, and lost his way in a dense London fog. A boy came to his aid and, after guiding the man, refused a tip, explaining that as a Scout he would not take a tip for doing a Good Turn. This gesture by an unknown Scout inspired a meeting with Robert Baden-Powell, the British founder of the Boy Scouts. As a result, William Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. He also created the Lone Scouts, which merged with the Boy Scouts of America in 1924.

No one knows what happened to the boy who guided Mr. Boyce through the London fog, but he was one Helpful Scout who will never be forgotten.

You can read more about the Unknown Scout on page 27 of your Centennial Boy Scout Handbook.

(Adapted from BSA Speakers Bureau and the Points of Light Institute)


Do Your Best

January 18, 2010

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr could have been a Scout leader, since here he is telling us to ‘Do Your Best’. Saw this on Seth Godin’s Blog. Regular pithy observations, somewhere between Tweets & proper-length blogs.

A Stamp to Celebrate Scouting

November 11, 2009

Centennial Scouting Stamp

The US Postal Service is unveiling a ‘Celebrate Scouting‘ stamp recognizing 100 years of Scouting in America at an event Thursday 12 November, 10am EST, at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, DC.

The Heart of Virginia Council posted this about the event:

In 2010, the Boy Scouts of America will receive an incredible honor from the United States Postal Service (USPS), the “Celebrate Scouting” stamp. Offering a tribute to the impact of a century of Scouting on the American landscape, the stamp will become widely available during the summer of 2010.

If you’re going to be in Washington, DC metro area, please join us. Scouts, volunteers, BSA professional staff, and community supporters are invited to take part in this momentous occasion.

A “Vice President Sustainability” will represent the United States Postal Service, and an Assistant Chief Scout Executive will represent the Boy Scouts of America.  They will be joined by National Honorary Chairman of the Boy Scouts of America National Hall of Leadership.  The USPS media advisory posted at the Scouts on Stamps Society International website says:

With this stamp, the U.S. Postal Service celebrates the adventure and spirit of scouting. Since the creation of the international youth scouting movement some 100 years ago, hundreds of millions of children have benefited from opportunities for adventure, skill building, leadership, personal development, and community service provided by scouting organizations. To create this original stamp design, illustrator Craig Frazier of Mill Valley, Calif., depicted the images of two different scouts in clothing and accessories that are often part of the outdoor scouting experience – hats, packs, boots and binoculars.

BSA 50the anniversary stamp
I’m a stamp collector myself, if not very active the last few years. Nations around the world have honored Lord Baden-Powell’s grand idea.  In 1960, the USPS honored the 50th anniversary of the BSA with a Norman Rockwell-design 4¢ commemorative stamp. The new design itself, as you see at top, isn’t bad.  It isn’t exactly Norman Rockwell either.  As BSA has dribbled out Centennial products and initiatives this year, I’ve been as interested in what they say about what the brass in Dallas are thinking about the organization, as I have been about the actual items themselves.

I don’t know how much say the BSA had into the stamp design, but their launch page has a link to a fact sheet-like page (pdf) on the stamp that describes the “international youth scouting movement” founded 100 years ago.  It further notes:

Historically, scouts had to find their way by the stars or map, to notice tracks and interpret their meaning, and to fend for themselves.

Each generation struggles to keep Scouting relevant to the next.  We take what we are given, the heritage of outdoorsmanship and citizenship, and add leadership and technology and other skills for the future.  In a fixed sum system, each addition means a subtraction.  Have we given up more than we have gained?  Do we still remember how to find our way?

Then there’s this bit:

Boys and girls alike have been involved in the scouting movement from its earliest days; female scouts are often called guides. Today, coed scouting is the norm in many countries.

And this is relevant how?  Yeah, as politically correct posturing.  It’s not factually wrong, but damns with faint praise.  It’s just not relevant, thank you very much.

The last bit is enlightening as well:

To create this original design, illustrator Craig Frazier depicted the images of two different scouts in clothing and accessories that are often part of the outdoor scouting experience—hats, packs, boots, and binoculars. At first glance, one sees the large silhouette of a scout peering through binoculars. Within this figure is another scout perched atop a mountain taking in the vista. “I wanted a level of discovery to be portrayed in the stamp itself,” Frazier recalls. He continues, “The small figure and landscape indicate very hard, directional light coming from low on the horizon—either early morning or late afternoon. The sky has that pale blue to indigo transition that happens only at those two times of day.”

Whether or not we see ourselves as pathfinders first, the people behind this stamp see us that way.

And I’m OK with that.

H/T to Scouting News.  If you are a Scout or Scouter with an interest in philately, check out Stamp Collecting Merit Badge and Scouts on Stamps Society International.


Scoutmaster Minute—Leadership Secrets of Crazy Horse

August 30, 2009

Let me talk for a minute about a young man who lived not too far from here. He wasn’t a big man, or particularly handsome, or have a lot of money. He wasn’t from a family of leaders. But he became a great leader.

How? Lakota author Joseph Marshall gives us some ideas.

  1. Know Yourself. Know your own strengths and challenges.  Know how far you can run.

  2. Know Your Friends. Know who you can count on. At the same time, never ask somebody to do more than they can do. Rely on the strengths of your friends, so they can rely also on you.

  3. Know the Enemy. Know your opponents. Understand the true nature of your challenges so that you can remain on the course to True North.

  4. Lead the Way. Leadership isn’t about telling people what to do. It’s more about understanding what needs to be done, and then doing it.

By now you probably know I’m talking about Crazy Horse. He did not command a great army. He saw the great needs of his people, like your patrol, and asked them simply: “Follow Me”.


Scoutmaster Minute—Words Behind the Words

August 2, 2009

Crazy Horse Monument

Lakota medicine man Black Elk told John G. Neihardt, as related in the book Black Elk Speaks:

Crazy Horse’s father was my father’s cousin, and there were no chiefs in our family before Crazy Horse; but there were holy men; and he became a chief because of the power he got in a vision when he was a boy. When I was a man, my father told me something about that vision. Of course he did not know all of it; but he said that Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world. He was on his horse in that world, and the horse and himself on it and the trees and the grass and the stones and everything were made of spirit, and nothing was hard, and everything seemed to float. His horse was standing still there, and yet it danced around like a horse made only of shadow. That is how he got his name, which does not mean that his horse was crazy or wild, but that in his vision it danced around in that weird way.*

When we are out in our world we see names on things and the words are familiar so we may think we know what they mean. You may have been at Scout Camp or traveling in the Black Hills and seen the name Crazy Horse. An image may have come to your mind, based on what you think you know. As a Scout, we should strive to do better. As a Scout, Do Your Best to understand not just the words but the true meanings behind the words.

*Black Elk Speaks, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press Twenty-First-Century Edition, 2000, p.65.

A Sioux Elder on the Petroglyphs

April 23, 2009

Minnesota Historical Society is planning to close Jeffers Petroglyphs except on the weekends, which I previously suggested as a Cub Scout destination to learn more about Native American history and culture.  Today I noticed this video, part of a series posted on Youtube and the Minnesota Stories websites.

Vernell Wabasha, a Sioux Elder, discusses what the Petroglyphs mean to her.  The Jeffers Petroglyphs historic site is arguably one the most significant historic and cultural sites of its kind in the world. Its continued use over 9,000 years attests to its importance in traditional indigenous culture. The Jeffers Petroglyphs podcasts presents a variety of perspectives personal, archaeological, traditional, biological, and geological — in the voices of those who know the site well.

I could say something snarky on the timing, but I don’t want to detract from the heartfelt emotion of this story.  The Historical Society is having to get creative about the budget and there’s no easy answers.

John Hope Franklin, Boy Scout

March 27, 2009

Lessons of days hopefully gone by:

“It was my first year as a Boy Scout, and I’m very, very excited about fulfilling all of the obligations of the Boy Scouts, and I’ve got so much enthusiasm and so much anxiety to be the best Boy Scout I can possibly be,” he told his son, John W. Franklin, last year.

“One of the admonitions that we had was that we had to do a good deed every day,” he said. So, while standing at a street corner in downtown Tulsa, Franklin was eyeing an opportunity to help while waiting for the light to turn, he recalled.

“And I saw this woman as she was stepping off the curb — and she had a cane — and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, she can’t see,’ ” Franklin said. “And so I walked up to her and I said ‘Could I help you cross?’ She said, ‘Oh, yes, I’m so glad.’ And she grabbed on my arm as though I was the last person on earth.”

“We got about halfway across the street — and she’s so happy and laughing and talking — she said, ‘Are you white or black?’ And I told her I was colored, and she said, ‘Get your filthy hands off of me,’ and I got my hands off of her,” Franklin said.

John Hope Franklin was a noted historian at the University of Chicago and Duke.  Read the rest of the story, or listen to the audio, on NPR.