May 12, 2019

Prescott Moms Support the "Prairie Dog Boys" (First Cub Scouts)

When scouting first came to Arizona, it started in Prescott and became hugely popular. Not only were boys of the proper age being turned away for lack of space, but the younger brothers of scouts became jealous of their activities and wanted a group of their own.

“These youngsters invaded the regular meetings of the various scout troops in such numbers that something just had to be done to keep them away from the regular Scout meetings,” the paper reported.

In fact, this was common across the entire country at that time and eventually the Boy Scouts formed the Cub Scouts. Local communities, however, did not want to wait and began organizations for these younger boys, aged 8-12. In Prescott they would be known as the Prairie Dog Boys and it couldn’t have existed without the quiet support of Prescott mothers.

By March, 1929, the name was decided upon and a few activities were loosely planned. The first of these to be reported in the newspaper was a magic show by the magician at Fort Whipple. He taught a few of the simpler tricks to the boys. "Practicing on some of the tricks should keep the boys out of mischief for some time,” the paper observed. 

A week later, the safety supervisor from the Santa Fe railroad gave the boys a talk on safety.

The group had 50 charter members. Soon, “meetings (were) held in Scout Headquarters and the local scout organization (was behind) the group."

“They drill, they exercise, they march, they yell,” the paper said. “The experiment has proved more than a howling success.” Several of the dads and moms stayed to observe the meetings and always left “with words of praise in the way the boys (were) being handled.”

The story of the founding and the surprising early history of Arizona's first Boy Scouts in Prescott.

The chairman of the Prairie Dog organization was Lester Ruffner. One of the first priorities was to come up with a uniform for the boys. Thus far, only membership cards had been distributed.

The first appearance of the Boys in uniform was during the Decoration (Memorial) Day parade March 30th, 1929. The boys must have looked both smart and adorable. They wore khaki-brown shirts and Levi pants. Their heads bore specially made sombreros. “An arm band bearing the letters “P.D.” in white on green cloth (was) worn on the left arm.”

“Ways and means to raise funds were discussed and a plan was decided upon. The funds (would) be used to defray camp expenses and other items," the paper reported. It was here that Prescott’s mothers quietly offered the support that was necessary for the group to succeed. Mothers of the boys would raise money in several ways including holding Bridge (the card game) parties.

Interested communities were invited to write Prescott about the Prairie Dogs and by June, Chino Valley had organized a troop of 20 of the younger boys. That same month the ranks of Prescott’s Prairie Dogs had swelled to 80 and a fund raising dance was held to finance a 3-day summer camp.

The camp was held in the Granite Dells and activities included games, swimming, and campfire programs featuring hot dog and marshmallow roasts.

“Several mothers of boys in the group and other women interested in the boys volunteered to do the cooking.” It was so successful that a second camp was planned for August at the regular Boy Scout location of “Camp Richards.” It was funded by a concession stand set on the Plaza during Frontier Days.

Four regular Boy Scouts from Troop 1 were named as patrol leaders for the four Prairie Dog patrols. Besides regular hikes and camping, the Prairie Dog Boys helped the older Scouts with several projects including rechecking the census for the community.

Several of the younger boys were interested in playing drums and bugles and a small corps of the pint-sized musicians was formed.

The typical life and times of a mid-19th century pioneer ranch woman in Yavapai county, AZ.

Things went so well that it was decided that a special meeting place was needed. This was achieved in October when the school board gave “one of the large bungalows that was used for the last several years for classrooms, to the Prairie Dogs and Scouts. It (was to) be moved and rebuilt (and) used for meetings of the younger boy organization and for joint meetings of troops.” The “Prairie Dog House” was placed “on two lots on N. Garden St.”

Jess Dowell, a local contractor, took the lead in rebuilding the structure with the volunteer labor of the local carpenters' union. “All scouts were asked to report yesterday and pull nails,” the paper reported. 

Sharlot Hall herself had a particular fondness for the Prairie Dog Boys. On September 30th, 1930, she invited them to come visit her at the Old Governor’s Mansion where she told them about Arizona’s pioneer days. She served them refreshments afterward. Miss Hall was so charmed by the boys that she invited them back, along with “a number of other small friends,” a month later for a Halloween party.

The organization would continue to grow and thrive, but after a few short years the sombrero-topped uniform and the name were gone. The Boy Scouts of America decided to bring conformity to the movement and the moniker “Cub Scouts” was adopted nationwide. It was then that the work of the mothers was recognized and embraced with the creation of "den mothers" to shepherd the boys.

In Case You Were Wondering...

How prairie dogs were made extinct throughout Yavapai County in the first third of the 20th century and the consequences.

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Arizona Republic, 3/3/1929; Pg. 30, Cols. 5-6.
Arizona Republic, 3/10/1929; Pg. 11, Col. 3.
Arizona Republic, 6/2/1929; Pg. 40, Cols. 3-4.
Arizona Republic, 6/9/1929; Pg. 5, Col. 1.
Arizona Republic, 6/29/1930; Pg. 11, Col. 5.
Arizona Republic, 7/7/1929; Pg. 8, Col. 3.
Arizona Republic, 5/12/1929; Pg. 12, Col. 4.
Arizona Republic, 5/11/1930; Pg. 6, Col. 2.
Arizona Republic, 10/26/1930, Pg. 23, Col. 3-4.
Arizona Republic, 9/28/1930; Pg. 19, Col. 3.
Arizona Republic, 10/5/1930; Pg. 29, Col. 1.

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