When Grandpa John Was a Kid - Boy Scout Lessons for Life

My boyhood church, Wesley Methodist of Oklahoma City, was almost as much a part of my life as my family. Soon after reaching my twelfth birthday, my brother Wallace and I joined Boy Scout Troop 23 which met every Monday night in the basement of Wesley church.

Boy Scout Camp Kickapoo was located along the South Canadian River twenty miles southwest of my house. For me this was wilderness camping where nature chose to fill the ravines thick with trees. Troop 23 had tents for dry sleeping. Cooking three meals a day from scratch consumed half the day. Our regular hikes let us explore every acre of the camp.

Mr. Hunter, my scoutmaster, was a seasoned camper. I remember as a new scout that he led us onto the sand of the dry South Canadian River not far from shore. A six inch deep pit was dug for a place to build our fire. A scout must learn to start a fire with only two matches. My first lesson was in gathering wood.

The driftwood along the river was chosen because it was well seasoned. Hanging low in the branches of the nearby trees was what my scoutmaster called "squaw wood". These were small branches that had died from lack of sun. While wood picked up off the ground might be damp, "squaw wood" was dry. A half dozen of these would be broken off and carried to the campfire site. A handful of the small twigs from the end of the branch was snapped off and laid across two larger ones. Sticks of increasing size were placed on top of the kindling and finally some driftwood was stacked above the small branches. The twigs were easily lit with a match. This fire spread to the small branches and finally the heat began to burn the logs.

Our menu was chosen so the scouts could pass the cooking requirements of the rank on which they were working. With a shortage of water, our dishes and pans were cleaned by rubbing them with the clean sand. At the end of the camp the pit was filled with sand so no one would know we had been there.

Everyone needs to be a winner once in a while. My chance was coming up on a weekend at Camp Kickapoo when a dozen troops would compete in a number of scouting events. My memory of the string burning contest is as vivid as on the day it happened.

Four foot stakes had been driven into the ground six feet apart. One string was tied eighteen inches above the ground, and another was thirty inches high. A dozen teams of two scouts each were assigned a place between stakes and were given two matches. At the signal the teams rushed into the trees to gather wood to build a fire. The pile of sticks for the fire could not reach higher than the lower string. No wood could be added after the first string burned in two. The first fire to burn through the upper string was the winner.

I was a young scout among more experienced ones, but I had listened carefully to the instructions of my scoutmaster about "squaw wood". Not only was I a winner, but all my friends knew because my picture beside my fire was in the Oklahoma City newspaper.

While my life has had its share of defeats, I have known since that day as a young scout that it is always possible for me to be a winner.

Copyright 1998 by John C. Westervelt

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