At the turn of the twentieth century educators and civic-minded Americans actively sought ways of developing the minds and bodies of the nation's youth. As a result, several youth organizations based on outdoor camping and activities as well as civic responsibility sprouted in the early 1900s. Some of these groups included the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls, which expanded to include boys in 1975 and became Camp Fire USA in 2001.
Boy Scouts originated in 1907 in Great Britain when Robert Baden-Powell, a former military officer, offered a program for young boys that included outdoor activities and promotion of good conduct and doing a "good turn" (good deed) daily. Girls clamored to be included, and Baden-Powell's sister soon headed the Girl Guides. Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was organized in 1910 after William D. Boyce, a Chicago publisher, returned from a business trip to London, England, where he had encountered a Boy Scout who told him about the organization. Boyce met Baden-Powell and brought back scouting manuals. That same year Dr. Luther and Charlotte Gulick founded Camp Fire Girls. Two years later socialite Juliette Gordon Low visited Baden-Powell and established Girl Guides (later Girl Scouts of the United States of America) in Savannah, Georgia.
As a popular movement during the Progressive Era, scouting provided character building and citizenship training that American society considered useful to its future adult citizens. Scouting spread rapidly across the United States, and troops formed in Oklahoma. Before BSA was incorporated in February 1910, in 1909 Rev. John F. Mitchell, who had been involved with scouting in England, organized a nineteen-member troop under the British charter in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Wearing English-style uniforms, the scouts marched through the small town, singing "God Save the King." As a tribute to the first Oklahoma troop the Pawhuska Kiwanis Club raised funding for the Scout Memorial, a statue of a uniformed Boy Scout, erected in front of the Osage County Historical Museum and dedicated on July 5, 1976. Local artist and sculptor Bill Sowell designed the work, and Turkey Track Bronze Works cast it.
One of the first Oklahoma Boy Scout troops formed under the U.S. charter was established in Muskogee on September 20, 1910. In 1912 future president Woodrow Wilson awarded Fred Woodson the Eagle Badge, making him the first from Muskogee and the seventeenth in the United States to achieve the highest Boy Scout badge. In 1911 four troops organized in Lawton. Between 1915 and 1919 troops organized in Ardmore, Bartlesville, Blackwell, Oklahoma City, Okmulgee, and Tulsa. In February 1918 a troop of American Indian boys organized at Bacone College in Muskogee. In Bristow a Baptist minister announced in November 1921 that Boy Scout work would soon be initiated there to combat the "undesirable influences" that had emerged during the oil boom. The first Oklahoma Cub Scout troop organized in Ponca City in 1930. A 1931 survey indicated that Oklahoma had approximately six hundred Boy Scout troops, including twenty-three African American troops and one Hispanic troop. The latter, sponsored by the Enid City Bar Association, had twelve members. By 1945 Tulsa had 115 troops of which eight were African American.
In fall 1911 the American naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of Woodcraft League of America and a good friend of the Gulicks, visited Tulsa, Oklahoma, where plans were being made to start Camp Fire Girls. The plans did not materialize in Tulsa, and apparently the first group was organized in Muskogee in August 1912. For their first outing the ten girls who formed the group took a nature walk before breakfast. Small groups of girls in Oklahoma City loosely organized as Camp Fire Girls in 1913, and by 1929 the Oklahoma City Council of Camp Fire Girls incorporated under state law.
Girl Scout organizations probably formed in Oklahoma soon after the national organization officially organized in 1913. Girl Scouts had formed in Muskogee before 1917. Troops began in Fort Sill (1924) and Lawton (1932), and American Indian Girl Scouts formed in Pawnee (1930) and Muskogee (1934). At an award ceremony on May 23, 1937, horsemanship awards were presented to members of the Fort Sill Girl Scout troop, one of the few mounted organizations in the United States. In May 1938 seventeen-year-old Mayme Thompson, a student at Sequoyah Indian Training School in Tahlequah, was selected as one of five girls from the United States to attend the international camp in Switzerland. Thompson, a full-blood Cherokee, prepared a program involving dance, song, Indian legends, and art to demonstrate at the jamboree. By 1954 Oklahoma Girl Scouts numbered 18,971, with 5,028 adult leaders and advisers comprising twelve councils and twenty-one lone-troop communities that operated without council aid.
At the turn of the twenty-first century Oklahoma had six Girl Scout councils. The Magic Empire Council, headquartered in Tulsa, held summer camps at Camp Tallchief, located fifteen miles north of Sand Springs. The Bluestem Council, Bartlesville, serving sixteen counties in Oklahoma and Kansas, maintained two camp properties, Camp Tablemound and Camp Wah-Shah-She. With jurisdiction over twenty-four counties, the Sooner Council, headquartered at Chickasha, also had two camps, Camp E-Ko-Wah east of Marlow and Camp Kate near Granite. Other Girl Scout councils included Yucca Council at Guymon, Tiak of McAlester, and Red Lands Council, which served Oklahoma City, Woodward, Enid, Kingfisher, and Guthrie.
Boy Scout councils included the Indian Nations Council based in Tulsa, the Last Frontier Council that served central and northern Oklahoma, the Cherokee Area Council headquartered in Bartlesville, and the Cimarron Council, formed in 2000 from the consolidation of the Great Salt Plains and Will Rogers Councils. In 2001 Oklahoma Cub Scouts numbered 24,036; Boy Scouts, 11,408; and Venturers, 5,894.
Camp Fire members enjoyed Camp Da Ka Ni (an Indian word meaning "a day in the out-of-doors") in Oklahoma City and Camp Cimarron resident camp near Coyle along the Cimarron River. In 1991 the Heart of Oklahoma Council of Camp Fire moved their headquarters to Camp Da Ka Ni, and in 2001 a Children's Nature Center was constructed on the campgrounds. Summer camps were also located at Ardmore, Enid, Perry, Lawton, Tulsa, Shawnee, and Claremore.
Through the years scouts have been involved in community projects. During World Wars I and II Boy and Girl Scouts sold Liberty Bonds and war stamps. During the Great Depression Girl Scouts helped in the relief effort by collecting and sewing clothing, helping in community canning projects, and working in hospitals. More recent projects include city beautification efforts and food drives.
Scout troops and Camp Fire members receive support from the United Way, civic clubs, churches, schools, fraternal organizations, and private individuals. During the 1930s two Tulsa oilmen, Frank and Waite Phillips, made substantial donations to the Boy Scouts. Frank contributed financial support to the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma councils. His brother, Waite, donated land and funds to the Boy Scouts of America for a 137,000-acre camp in New Mexico known as the Philmont Scout Ranch. Another Oklahoma businessman, Edward C. Joullian III, served as national president of the BSA from 1982 to 1984 and as chairman of the World Scout Foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1990.
Popular among fund raisers are the annual Camp Fire candy and Girl Scout cookie sales. Before candy sales became prevalent, Oklahoma Camp Fire Girls sold doughnuts to raise funds for their camps. In 2001 Sidney Watson, a third-grader at Mustang Creek Elementary School, sold 1,889 boxes of Camp Fire candy, making him the national top candy seller. The Muskogee Mistletoe Troop (Girl Scouts) is credited with being the first group to bake and sell cookies; this occurred in 1917, nineteen years before the first national, franchised cookie sale. The idea germinated, and by the mid-1920s selling cookies had become an annual event. At their
second annual sale in April 1925 the Muskogee Girl Scouts, wearing white caps and aprons, demonstrated their cooking skills by working behind a large window. At various selling points throughout Muskogee the girls sold cookies packaged in bags labeled with the photograph of the hostess scout.
At the turn of the twenty-first century scouting continued with its traditional merit badges, summer camps, and jamborees. However, changes had been made to accommodate contemporary interests and issues. For example, merit badges reflected new topics such as space exploration, environmental science, American cultures and business, and computers. Recognizing the changes in social issues, the scouting program addressed drug and alcohol abuse, literacy, and problems associated with single parenting. Girl Scouts offered programs called Daisy for five- and six-year-olds, Brownie for six- to nine-year-olds, and Junior, Cadette, and Senior for older girls. Camp Fire USA had divisions known as Starflight for grades kindergarten through two, Adventure for grades three through five, Discovery for grades six through eight, and Horizon for grades nine through twelve. Boy Scout programs included Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Varsity Scouts. In 1998 Venturing, a new program offering high-adventure activities and sports to teach leadership skills, opened to young men and women aged fourteen to twenty.
"Boy Scouts" and "Girl Scouts," Vertical Files, Oklahoma Room, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City.
Merle Milford Boyer, "The Administration of Boy Scout Work as an Agency in Citizenship Training" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1932).
Helen Buckler, Wo-He-Lo: The Story of Camp Fire Girls, 1910–1960 (New York City, N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961).
"Camp Fire U.S.A.," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
Citizens in Action: The Girl Scout Record, 1912–1947 (New York City, N.Y.: Girl Scouts National Organization, 1947).
Lou Ann Feistel, "The Development of a Girl Scout Program in the High Plains Area of Oklahoma and Texas: January 1950–December 1952" (M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1954).
Russell Freedman, Scouting with Baden-Powell (New York City, N.Y.: Holiday House, 1967).
Ray R. Matoy, Thunderbird Tracks: Early History of the Will Rogers Council, Boy Scouts of America (Stillwater, Okla.: Prairie Imprints, 1987).
Will Oursler, The Boy Scout Story (New York City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955).
"Scouting," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.
Donald A. Wise, History of Scout Troop 104 (Broken Arrow, Okla.: D. A. Wise, 1991).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Scouting,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=SC011.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.