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The Scouting Party (Volume One)

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  • The Scouting Party (Volume One)

    If not for the artificial trout stream running through its lobby, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Fifth Avenue might have seemed an improbable setting in which to launch an institution dedicated to improving boys in the great outdoors...One contemporary scribe noted that "if you stopped long enough there everybody in the world that is worth knowing would eventually happen along...the real men of affairs who hold court...and issue to minions orders that have much bearing upon the world."

    So opens The Scouting Party: Pioneering and Preservation, Progressivism and Preparedness in the Making of the Boy Scouts of America.

    Whatever you do, do not skip that dramatic opening scene, perhaps the most cinematographic "Introduction" I have ever read. It crackles with electricity as on September 23, 1910, the camera pans along the trout stream in the lobby, then into Astor Gallery ballroom itself drawn by "the clink of porcelain, the clash of silverware, and the murmur of conversation, heads craned for a look at Baden-Powell," the British Lt. General "renowned as the Hero of Mafeking for his courage and ingenuity leading an out-manned and outgunned garrison in the Boer War siege of the British colonial outpost."

    To foreshadow the upcoming dramatic events, the lens pauses to focus the reader's attention for a while on each of the characters who will play critical parts later in the movie, including the story's villain William Randolph Hearst.

    Like Peter Jackson's "The Fellowship of the Ring," in which the narrative then shifts from the dramatic but information-packed "Prologue" to a closeup of Bilbo Baggins writing his book, the second scene of The Scouting Party moves from the dramatic overview of the world-forces that shape its narrative, and settles into the personal worlds of the characters themselves. First up is "Black Wolf."

    The Scouting Party goes further than Tim Jeal in examining Ernest Thompson Seton's contribution to Baden-Powell's creation of Boy Scouts. Jeal researches a considerable number of elements lifted by Baden-Powell from the copy of The Birch-bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians Seton had mailed to him. Jeal's ultimate verdict, however, is that Seton should man up and walk it off:

    In his heart Seton must have known that with Scouting for Boys Baden-Powell created a world entirely different from that of the Woodcraft Indians...The world of the Red Indian was a restricted place in comparison with the vast region over which the Boy Scout's imagination was invited to wander. Seton's most serious accusations should not be taken seriously... (Tim Jeal, The Boy-Man, page 379).

    The Scouting Party takes a different tack. It examines more closely the repercussions that "Seton's most serious accusations" would have on American Scouting, examining in detail all these reverberations from 1910 until the book closes with Seton's death in 1946.

    Jump to the next scene in the story: "Sons of Daniel Boone." This is where the book sets off on a different course than previous research: A delightful study of the interaction between Beard, Seton, Baden-Powell, and West.

    Tim Jeal devotes only a half-sentence to Daniel Beard:

    Daniel Carter Beard's 'Sons of Daniel Boon' had no real impact outside the field of gadgets and games, (Jeal, page 583).

    Certainly Jeal's dismissal of Beard's influence on Scouting outside of the United States has merit. Beard's handbook for the Sons of Daniel Boone is embarrassing in its attempts to link these "gadgets and games" to the "pioneers" which serve as the role models for his organizations. Take Kit Carson, for example:

    Now for the pushmobile; and since we are living in the age of flying-machines, telephones, electric railroads, subways, and all sorts of wonderful things, even pioneers must use these modern contrivances once in a while and I myself have seen an automobile full of painted and feather-decked Natives, so why not a Kit Carson Pushmobile?

    If David Scott still reads the Scouting History threads at Scouter.Com, I would ask him if he or Brendan Murphy have ever found a model of principles for Beard's youth organizations.

    For instance, most Americans are familiar with the Leadership Development version of William Hillcourt's "Aims and Methods of Scouting." But these were preceded by many other outlines including Seton's "Nine Important Principles of Woodcraft," Baden-Powell's "National Inefficiencies --> Scout Training as a Remedy" model (which introduces the two mega-methods Character and Heath), and the BSA's own first effort: "Six Principles of Boy-Work." See:

    So why did I title my review "Volume One"?

    Because it is at this point in the story, "The Hero of Mafeking," where (when the book is made into a movie), viewers will begin to examine the plot carefully with their TIVOs to gather clues of what might be revealed in Volume Two: The Prequel

    Perhaps the most curious passage in The Scouting Party appears on page 98:

    When Boyce appeared on Capitol Hill the following Tuesday, he had with him not only Robinson of the YMCA, but Ernest Seton and two representatives of the English Scouting movement...Charles Heald, the organization's national secretary, and E.B. Wakefield, an English YMCA official involved in the Scouts...Their presence resolved a major problem for Robinson. Up to that point, all of his information about Scouting had come from printed material. The two Britons could respond to a deluge of questions.

    In other words, the only thing that Boyce and Robinson knew about Scouting was that they wanted Congress to grant them a monopoly on it

    If I read the passage correctly, it introduces E.B. Wakefield as a "representative of the English Scouting movement." The authors do not specify Baden-Powell's Boy Scout Association, however, but refer only to the English YMCA.

    Again in the account of the Silver Bay encampment, Seton's program is contrasted with that of E.B. Wakefield a "Baden-Powell emissary:"

    At Silver Bay, groups of six boys, each led by an adult, raised shelters, cooked meals, and met each evening around campfires hosted by Seton. There on behalf of the English Scouting organization was E.B. Wakefield, one of the two Baden-Powell emissaries who had arrived that May. But in fact he was there to "curb the heresies of 'the red Tory'," as Seton's British colleagues had by then labeled him.

    Camper William Edel of Baltimore recalled the not-so-subtle competition between the Seton and Baden-Powell systems. Campers continually discussed the merits of the two approaches...

    But the BSA organizers had made up their minds. On September 5, days after the Silver Bay experiment concluded, the BSA Executive Committee gathered to assess the camp and decide the direction the organization would take. It was resoled to comprehensively adopt the Baden-Powell approach (pages 111-112).

    But what exactly is this "Baden-Powell approach"?

    Missing from "Volume One" is any description of Baden-Powell's program: The Patrol System.

    In the Patrol System the Patrol Leaders are in charge. There are no BSA inventions such as Scoutmaster Conferences, Boards of Review, Position of Responsibility requirements, or "Scout Spirit" requirements (the wild card by which an adult can deny a Scout his badge simply because he does not like the Scout's attitude).

    Contrast those anti-boy-run elements with Baden-Powell's actual Patrol System, in which the adults must attend the Patrol Leaders' Court of Honor (PLC) to find out from the Patrol Leaders which Scouts now hold which badges. See:

    Also missing from "Volume One" is any description of what the book calls the BSA's "comprehensive adoption of the Baden-Powell approach," AKA "The Six Principles of Boy-Work."

    This term "Boy-Work" smacks of YMCA leadership theory:

    The Patrol Leader and the Scout Master

    Care should be taken by the Scout Master that the patrol leaders do not have too great authority in the supervision of their patrols. The success of the troop affairs and supervision of patrol progress is, in the last analysis, the responsibility of the Scout Master and not that of the patrol leader. There is also a danger, in magnifying the patrol leader in this way, of inordinately swelling the ordinary boy's head. The activities of the patrol should not be left to the judgment of any patrol leader, and if the Scout Master wants to delegate the work of the patrol and troop, the whole group should reach a decision in regard to the plan [emphasis added].

    What I most look forward to in "Volume Two" is the missing half of James West's story. In Volume One, West is cast in a primarily reactive role: Mostly balancing the sensitive egos of Beard and Seton against the practical concerns of building a national organization. Because "Volume One" does not even mention the absolute centrality of the Patrol System to what it refers to as the "Baden-Powell approach," the book entirely overlooks perhaps the most significant development in the early history of the BSA: James West's introduction on September 21st, 1923 of the "Patrol Method," to which he referred as a "radical change in the management of troops."

    I have always admired this side of James West, who not only introduced the Patrol Method but also hired William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt to implement it, and backed him with the full force of the new office of "Chief Scout Executive."

    Contrast that with all of the subsequent Chief Scout Executives who abuse the power of that office to destroy Hillcourt's Wood Badge and Patrol Method, and replace it with modern office CEO-wannabe theory.

    I came away from The Scouting Party with a much deeper understanding of the dynamics of these early years. I had always sided with Beard and Seton as the pro-Scoutcraft forces in opposition to the YMCA definition of Scouting as building "character" (which our current Chief Scout Executive now insists can be done just as effectively with soccer).

    However, the book documents (if only between the lines) that it was Beard and Seton's life-long mission to define American Scouting as anything but the Patrol System. My favorite passage appears on page 221:

    Beard's account gave to understand that Scouting arose directly from his efforts...He liberally reconstructed his conversations with Recreation publisher William Annis about starting a boys organization. "Annis, I think I have a great idea," Beard recalled telling him. "We will form a Society of Boy Scouts and identify it with the greatest of Scouts by calling the boys, 'The Sons of Daniel Boone'." Annis was immediately enthusiastic. "He cried, 'Mr. Beard, we'll sweep the country with it.' He little knew that we were going to sweep the world.

    I highly recommend The Scouting Party, and I eagerly look forward to the Prequel

    Yours at 300 feet,


  • #2
    I also enjoyed the book, but thought it suffered a bit because of its focus on Seton's personality. I realize this is because of the wealth of source material on Seton they had access to vs. the other players, but I felt at times as though I was reading a Seton bio.


    • #3

      I appreciate your kind comments and in depth analysis of my book, "The Scouting Party." To answer one of your first questions, I do still read the boards, but not as much as I used to. (I'm busy working on a large and expeanded re-write of my book "We Are Americans, We Are Scouts" that I plan to publish on July 4, one of Theodore Roosevelt's favorite days.)

      One of the questions that you had regarded a "model of principles" for Dan Beard's organizations, namely the Sons of Daniel Boone and the Boy Pioneers...the answer is "yes" and I can go one further, "The Buckskin Men of America."

      For both the SDB and the Boy Pioneers, such a model is found in their separate "Constitutions" that he had filed in his Papers. Specifically, Article IX of the SDB dated June 30, 1905 states the following:

      1) I will not take life needlessly.

      2) I will give all creatures a fair show for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

      3) I will not kill more game than can be rightfully used, and I will not countenance nor assist in the destruction of game out of season, or at any time in quantities greater than sportsmanlike.

      4) I making camp-fires I will not cut standing green timber, but use dead of imperfect trees, and will do my best to preserve the forests. I realize that, besides being of immense value to my country, they are the retreat of all forest-loving beasts and birds.

      5) I realize that a good woodsman is careful with fire, and I will never carelessly permit fire to run in the woods.

      6) I will never allow a fire-arm, even though it be unloaded, to point at any person, nor will I allow it to point at any animal I do not wish to kill.

      7) I undertake to abide by the game-laws wherever I may happen to be.

      8) In my conduct I will remember that I am a loyal SON OF DANIEL BOONE and will never willingly bring discredit upon the organization.


      (signed) Dan Beard, Founder

      This is identical to Article XV of the Boy Pioneers. And as for the Buckskin men, theirs is Article VII:

      1) A Buckskin Man will do his duty toward his God, his country, and his felow man. He will meet peril with courage. He will endure discomfort, privation, and hardship. He will be loyal to all worthy ideals and as helpful to his comrades as conditions will permit. When the occasion demands it, he will stand by his comrades even until death.

      2) A Buckskin Man will interpret and disseminate the history and traditions of the virtues and noble qualities of the American pioneers; - the sturdy Buckskin Man whose courage, toil and sacrifice made possible the exploitation and settlement of America.

      3) A Buckskin Man will, to the best of his ability, actively oppose and combat the wrongful exploitation of the natural resources of our country, and the excessive destruction of wild life, whether for sport or otherwise.

      4) A Buckskin Man will, at every possible opportunity, take active interest and participation in any ceremony, pageant or similar activity which commorates and honors the American Pioneers or their noteworthy exploits and achievements.

      5) A Buckskin Man will perpetuate and honor the memory of those notable Indian Chiefs and Scouts, - loyal friends of the white men, - whose daring exploits and sage counsel proved of estimable value to the early settlers.

      Clearly, you can see that the philosophy of Theodore Roosevelt played a large part in Beard's thoughts on conservation. And the Buckskin Men played a large role in each Roosevelt Pilgrimage during Beard's lifetime.

      Hope this helps,
      David C. Scott


      • #4
        Kudu and Miki,

        I always thought that it was GBB that pushed West into adopting the patrol method?

        Gotta get these books.


        • #5
          re: The Scouting Party;
          A good book, and an interesting read. Given the tumultuous early years of the BSA, it seems that we may have been doomed to keep repeating history (tongue in cheek). IMHO, of all of the principals, Seton seems to be the one most stuck on himself.

          Recommended reading to anyone with a passing interest in the BSA.