June 23, 2016

The Surprising Adventures of Arizona's First Boy Scouts

The first Boy Scout troop in Arizona was organized in Prescott. Prescott adored her Boy Scouts, providing logistical support from all fronts. In return, scouts provided many services to the local community including primitive archeology and fighting on the frontline of wildfires!

Prescott had always taken a pride in being "the first" in Arizona. Not only was it the first territorial capitol, but many churches and other organizations first located in Prescott. Prescott is home to Lodge No. 1 for the Masons, the Elks, and the Knights of Columbus. So when Boy Scout troops started forming back east, Prescott was keen to have Arizona's first.

So on September 27th, 1910, a meeting was held at the Prescott High School which "was attended by 60 or 70 boys of various ages, as well as by a score of older persons." (*1)

The main speaker told "of the great need of some influence to check the growing tendency to lawlessness among the youth of our land."(*1)

The message was received enthusiastically. "In a month or so," the newspaper wrote,  "there will be no 'almost' about it, for according to present indications, there will soon be several patrols organized in the city." (*1)

"Patrols of seven or more boys each will be formed, each with its own special leader. Boys clubs, already existing, or Sunday School classes, may be admitted as patrols, if they wish." (*1)

1911 Boy Scout Handbook
At first, growth was moderate. In the first six years, three troops were formed. Only one church sponsored the Boy Scouts and because of demand, not every boy could even join. Then in 1916, a meeting was held to address the situation. The desire was for scouting to become "a citizen's movement whose proper officials will be elected without taking into account their church affiliations." (*2)

As enthusiasm built from further meetings, the city decided to go "all in." It was resolved to employ a paid, full-time executive, sent from the national headquarters, to take control. 

"Prescott is in the national spotlight as far as the national headquarters is concerned," it was written, "by reason of the fact that this is the smallest city in the United States and probably the smallest city in the world where a trained man is employed to devout his entire time to scout work." (*3) At the time, only three other cities in the western region had done the same thing: Oakland, Seattle, and Los Angeles. (*3)

When Scout Executive Thomas arrived, scouting exploded in Prescott. Within two months, membership increased 50%. (*3)

Quickly, all sorts of sports tournaments were organized. Each troop was split into two groups: the "heavy weights" and the "light weights." (*4) In the wintertime, there were indoor sports like basketball, volleyball, boxing and wrestling. (*4) Summer months included baseball and tennis. (*5)

Iconic Thumb Butte, Prescott, AZ
Perhaps the most coveted sports prize was the "Thumb Butte Trophy." Billed as "a lung developer of the first magnitude," ten scouts from each troop would run a relay that started from the Courthouse Plaza to the trailhead--a distance of 3.5 miles--then up the mile-long, 800 foot elevational increase to the base of the iconic outcropping where the winner would plant his troop's flag. At the outset, this was a monthly event, when weather permitted. (*3)

The service that the Boy Scouts offered back to the community was varied and immense. Their "active work (made) them essential factors in Prescott." (*6)

Some of these good deeds included:
   Visiting and entertaining school kids and the "pioneers."
   Helped Fish & Game distribute literature on conservation.
   Ushered at all the fairs held in and around Prescott.
   Reported leaks in the Groom Creek pipeline several times. (*6)
   They shared their first-aid knowledge at the Elk's Theater (*7)

One of the more shocking acts of service was the extinguishing of a wildfire by themselves! On the morning of July 26th, 1920, Scouts at the summer camp noticed a brush fire at the base of Mount Union. This coincidently happened while they were practicing a fire drill. Being fully prepared, they quickly put the fire out. (*8)

The Scouts were later praised in a letter from the Forest Supervisor. It was said that had they not acted quickly, it would have "caused a great timber loss." (*9)

"Prescott Scouts in Camp; Thanksgiving Vacation" (1920)
This very first summer camp was called Camp Richards and was located in the vicinity of Mt. Union. Scout Executive Thomas "said on his return that Camp Richards was the most successful camp he had ever conducted; that the boys were exceptionally well-behaved and disciplined." (*10) However, he did regret that the camp was so far from the highway and the extremely poor condition of the road to the camp deterred many visitors from making the trip. (*10) Later, a new and better "Camp Navajo" was built. (*11)

Another service the Scouts provided involved primitive archeology. (*12)  In the early 20th century, there was little thought of "archeological context." Rather, it was feared that tourists and others would steal these artifacts. So, the scouts "visited and did considerable excavating in the ruins of eight fortifications and villages in the vicinity of Prescott." (*12)

The Boy Scouts of Prescott became so popular and integral, that they developed into a sort of pseudo-population. There was a Boy Scout Orchestra which entertained the city and marched in parades. (*6)

For boys who were interested in farming, the Hassayampa Alfalfa Company of Indiana, which was the builder of Watson Lake, donated 100 acres for the Scouts to farm. (*13) The produce grown was used to feed the hungry.

RELATED: Birth of Watson Lake Brought Great Celebration
The birth of Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona brought a region-wide celebration. It was originally intended to irrigate grain crops!

Another program instituted by Scout Executive Thomas was a "Boy Scout Employment Office." Parents and businesses were encouraged to let this agency know "whenever they have need of the services of  a boy or a young man, as already he has a rapidly growing list of boys who are anxious to put in their spare time in earning money" to buy their uniforms, handbooks and equipment for themselves and for their troops. (*3)

The Boy Scouts have long strived to focus adolescent teens toward doing good. When looking back at the first ten years of Scouting in Prescott, one writer noted: "There was a time when the boy was considered a sort of national liability. But now we are being taught to see him as a real asset instead." (*14)

Tourist Tips:

The Thumb Butte Recreation Area is both breath-taking and popular. There is picnicking, hiking, and near-by camping!

(The last leg of the "Thumb Butte Trophy" Relay)

Story of gun control in the 1930's in Prescott, Arizona. Children were misusing them!


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(*1) (Prescott) Weekly Journal-Miner 9/28/1910 pg. 2 col. 3
(*2) Prescott Journal-Miner 4/30/1916 pg. 5 col. 3
(*3) Yavapai Magazine; November, 1916. Pg. 13, col. 2
(*4) Yavapai Magazine; January, 1918. Pg. 13, col. 1
(*5) Yavapai Magazine; March, 1921. Pg. 6, col. 3
(*6) Yavapai Magazine; December, 1920. Pg. 6, col. 3
(*7) Prescott Journal-Miner 2/20/1917 pg 3 col 3
(*8) Prescott Journal-Miner 7/29/1920 pg 2 col 3
(*9) Yavapai Magazine; November, 1920. Pg. 14, col. 2
(*10) Prescott Journal-Miner 8/5/1920 pg 2 col 4
(*11) Yavapai Magazine; March, 1921. Pg. 6 col. 3
(*12) Yavapai Magazine; March, 1917. Pg 6
(*13) Yavapai Magazine; June, 1917. Pg. 8
(*14) Yavapai Magazine; November, 1920. Pg. 14, col. 1


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