Today is Pioneer Day in Utah—168 years ago pioneers were entering the Salt Lake Valley. In commemoration, there are celebrations all over the state. In my town, Provo, it all centers around North Park activities that include wagon rides, mountain men, wood carving, caskets and coffins, wooden tops, tomahawk throwing, trading blanket, native American village, homestead washing bull lassoing, jail, farmer market, panning of gold, butter making, and so on. For most, that would capture the basics of pioneer life.
But I did a lot of that stuff in Scouting! In 1962 I went on my first summer camp at the new Great Salt Lake Council Camp: East Fork of the Bear Camp (now Camp Hinckley). I enjoyed my first dutch-oven meal and learned some serious fire building skills, right along with my first rifle shoot, archery shot, woodcarving and I made a basket. I hiked into an outpost that felt like I was the first explorer to ever visit. I was connected to the romance of outdoor life and I felt like an old time pioneer.
BSA defines Pioneering as “the knowledge of ropes, knots, and splices along with the ability to build rustic structures by lashing together poles and spars—is among the oldest of Scouting’s skills. Practicing rope use and completing projects with lashings also allow Scouts to connect with past generations, ancestors who used many of these skills as they sailed the open seas and lived in America’s forests and prairies.”
I’ll tell you, that worked for me. That week at camp, I was most in wonder over a tower and monkey bridge in the pioneering yard. I wanted to build those things too, but first I had a lot to learn and do. Knots, end whipping, lashings, splices, rope making, coiling, designing and finally making a tower. My goodness, I was a happy boy went that tower went up and I could climb to the top.
Little did I know in 1962, the Pioneering Merit Badge would be my first, most loved badge and that I would return to that camp 5 years latter to teach the same badge. In my experience Scouts love pioneering activities.
Adolph E. Peschke, BSA author, wrote: “Down through the ages, people have used ropes, spars, and simple hardware to build bridges, towers, and even their own shelters. In the early development of our country, pioneering methods were used in mining and transportation, to clear the wilderness, and to build roads and bridges. So it is understandable that the term ‘backwoods engineering’ was applied.
“Whatever the project, the same applied principles of physics, geometry, and math are used to build pioneering projects and structures. But, keep in mind that all the information [in the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet] is eventually used for a practical, hands-on application—that is, to build something.
“Pioneering is a good foundation for many Scouting activities. You must learn, and then use, such disciplines as planning ahead and teamwork. You can also put to use the basic skills learned in rank advancement, such as knot tying.
“But most of all, pioneering provides a practical way to experience the joy of accomplishment when you’ve built something that is needed for yourself or others; it can be something that makes living in camp easier and more comfortable. Pioneering can be both fun and challenging when you use your skill and knowledge to choose the right materials (ropes and spars) and build a usable structure.
Larry Green explains how pioneering provides “outdoor fun that’s involving and challenging. This kind of fun is timeless! To build a good pioneering project requires rope, wood, good sense, and skill, and when completed, there’s a happy feeling of accomplishment and success.” That was surely how I felt as a boy at that first camp.
Today Scouting is trying more and more to keep up with the times and though this makes sense, wood craft and pioneering skills still have real outdoor magic in them! From Scout—Pioneering: “…amidst the wide spectrum of fun available in Scouting, there’s always an attraction to and fascination with what’s termed, ‘old school.’ It’s the way things were done before all the modern technology so prevalent in today’s society. Pioneering is all about using basic and advanced Scout skills to get things done, to make life in the outdoors easier, and for having just plain ole fashioned good times.”
So where did this tradition come from? I believe it started fifty-five years prior to my first week of camp. Three men were shaping what would become Scouting in the USA. Each would draw on elements of our pioneer heritage to make the program more effective.
Ernest Thompson Seton established his first Woodcraft “Tribe” in 1902 and later that year wrote a series of articles that were published as the Birch Bark Roll. Seton met Scouting‘s founder, Lord Baden-Powell, in 1906. Baden-Powell had read Seton’s book, The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, and was interested in it’s program features. The pair shared ideas and, of course, Baden-Powell went on to found the Scouting movement worldwide.
In 1905, Daniel Carter Beard, founded the Boy Pioneers of America. based on the American frontiersman. Dan Beard joined the Boy Scouts of America(BSA) in 1910 as one of their national Scout commissioners.
The work of Seton and Beard are a part of the basis of the Traditional Scouting movement. Seton’s Woodcraft Indians combined with Daniel Carter Beard‘s Sons of Daniel Boone helped to form the BSA and locked into place many of the skills from our American heritage.
Author: Darryl Alder | Strategic Initiatives Director, Utah National Parks Council, BSA