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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Scout movement still merits badge of honor

Jerry Bowen

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Despite some recent negative issues, it is a positive force

The Boy Scouts have been in a negative spotlight much too often lately. I think that much of what scouting has been and continues to be, is a positive force for young men and women all over the world.

Vacaville has the distinction of being the first small town in California to follow the lead of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland to form a local council, with two troops.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at how and why the Boy Scouts got their start.

The word “scout” comes from the French verb “ecouter,” which means, “to listen.” On the American frontier, a scout was someone always on the lookout for danger by using outdoor skills and knowledge of his surroundings to accomplish his mission.

During the early 1900s, several men envisioned outdoor activities that would develop skills in young boys and give them a sense of enjoyment, fellowship, and a code of conduct for everyday living.

These ideas came about from an unexpected source: the Boer War in South Africa. Robert Baden-Powell, then a colonel in the British Army, developed a military textbook called “Aids to Scouting” that was used to train Army recruits. He was a little surprised to find out later that boys had been using the manual to learn many of the skills it described.

He decided to take time from his military duties to create a non-military version of the manual and it became an instant hit with boys all over the world. Rather than focusing on military matters, the new manual focused on observing nature and tracking animals. It served as the beginnings of a fledgling Boy Scouts organization.

In the United States, during the turn of the century, it was felt that children needed other types of education that schools didn’t provide. An article in the Solano Republican on Nov. 22, 1901, reflected this concern when Suisun citizens were pushing for a Boys Club:

“It has been said that, ‘the problem of the children is a problem of the state.’ It is also the problem of the community, the problem of society and the home. It is the problem of the State because ... the boys of today will be the voters, the politicians, the authorities of tomorrow.”

Organizations began to spring up, including The Woodcraft Indians and the YMCA’s Sons of Daniel Boone. Each published their own version of a guidebook.

The Boy Scouts’ idea came to the United States by chance more than on purpose. The history of the Boy Scouts tells a story of an encounter by American businessman William Boyce in 1909 when he became lost in the fog of London: “A small boy approached him, and offered to take him to his hotel. Once there, the boy refused any offer of money for the service, saying that it was his good turn as a Boy Scout. Joyce was intrigued by this and tracked down Robert Baden-Powell before he left London to learn more about the Boy Scouts. When he got back to the U.S.A. he went about setting up the Boy Scouts of America. By 1918, its numbers had risen to 300,000, and had reached the million mark before the end of the twenties.”

Baden-Powell’s book, “Scouting for Boys,” published in 1908, rapidly became the manual of choice in the United States.

The Woodcraft Indians and Sons of Daniel Boone combined their efforts and created the Boy Scouts of America’s first handbook in 1910. In the same year, the BSA was incorporated, and on June 15, 1916, Congress granted a charter to the organization.

One of Vacaville’s early boosters of the Boy Scouts was Rev. A. F. Fruhling. An article in The Reporter describes an early outing of the Boy Scouts to Yosemite:

“The boys went from here to Coulterville in autos and traveled the balance of the distance into the valley-fifty miles-on foot, making it in two days.”

A March 9, 1917, article revealed that a local council of the Boy Scouts was planned as I stated in the opening paragraph of this story. It applied to the national headquarters for their commission as a local council of the Boy Scouts of America. Temporary officers were assigned. The president of the council, H. D. Chandler, and four vice presidents, Monte Gates, G. S. Bassford, George P. Akerly and C. M. Chubb, are all well-known names to anyone who knows a little of the history of Vacaville.

Twenty-one days later, The Reporter announced, “On Tuesday evening the executive committee of the local council of the Vacaville Boy Scouts of America was duly organized and consists of the following: H. D. Chandler (chairman), Professor E. W. Stoddard, Dr. M. P. Stansbury, George P. Akerly, W. O. Cole, E. C. Crystal and C. M. Hartley.

“A committee was appointed to draft a constitution for the local council. The application for a charter was ordered to be filled out and sent in to headquarters. Provision was made for the appointment of the court of honor, consisting of five members of the council. At an early date a meeting of the entire council will be called for the purpose of perfecting plans for the local scout work and for the summer camping trips for the boys.”

It didn’t take long for the public to learn some of the many and diverse subjects and deeds that the Boy Scouts would be engaged in. A long article on April 13, 1917, in The Reporter touched on what the Boy Scouts would be involved in, especially with the clouds of World War I hanging over the nation.

Skills in semaphore, building shelters, assisting hospitals, firemen, and police, and practical nature study were just a few of the subjects covered by the article. The scouts were also on hand when 130 Vacaville citizens signed up for the home guard seven days later.

In 1928, Vacaville’s scout troops joined the rest of the nation and placed Lincoln Highway markers from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast in a single day’s coordinated effort. It was just one of the spectacular shows of coordinated effort that the scouts have become noted for as well as local contributions to their communities.

Today, the Boy Scouts own Philmont Scout Ranch, located in northeastern New Mexico near Cimarron. Philmont covers about 137,493 acres of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with elevations ranging from 6,500 feet to the top of Baldy Mountain at 12,441 feet.

Over the years, the Boy Scouts have been joined by the Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Sea Scouts and more. From barn raisings to soup kitchens, ordinary Americans have made an extraordinary difference in the lives of their neighbors and in their communities through the efforts of the scouts.

Today, there are more than 28 million Scouts, youth and adults, boys and girls, in 216 countries and territories. It’s hard to believe that a fine group such as this has been the subject of certain lawyers, businesses, charities and other special interest groups that seek to cause harm to the moral integrity of the scouts.

In a letter written by Baden-Powell shortly before he died, he said in part, “Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

“But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. ‘Be Prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy - stick to your Scout Promise always - even after you have ceased to be a boy - and God help you to do it.”