Wednesday, July 26, 2017

1915: Chariton Boy Scouts prepare to 'Be Prepared'

Sam Greene, editor and manager of Chariton's Herald-Patriot, started thinking seriously about the boy scout movement during 1910, the year Boy Scouts of America was incorporated by Chicago publisher W.D. Boyce. Canadian Ernest Thompson Seton had begun to promote the organization aggressively in the United States and, in England, Robert Baden-Powell was hard at work.

"Whenever a popular movement actually begins to become popular, it becomes awfully popular," Sam wrote in The Herald-Patriot of Dec. 15, 1910. "The 'boy scout' movement is now in that interesting stage of its experience. For many long months Ernest Thompson Seton in this country, in conjunction with a noted leader or two in England, has tried to make the movement a popular one, but until the last few weeks, when the newspapers began to take it up, little has been known or heard of it. Now it promises or threatens to sweep the country and become one of the greatest factors for shaping the boyhood of the land for better things in life, that the country has ever seen."

Sam had decided that he liked the organization's philosophy, so came out strongly in favor of it in his concluding paragraph: "We hope the boy scout movement will spread, and that suitable men with their hearts in the work and with brains in their heart-work will take an interest in the movement in every town where it can be organized."


Rival publisher Henry Gittinger, of The Leader, meditated on the same considerations and came to a different conclusion.

Three years later, in his edition of July 3, 1913, Henry wrote: "We find some really good people inconsistently advocating the world's peace movement, while at the same time endorsing the boy scout propaganda. The boy scout training may incline to make boys determined and cultivate a disposition within them to 'take care of themselves,' but on the other hand it has for its incentive the spirit of militarism and so long as that spirit is to be cultivated world's peace cannot arise to the dignity of an iridescent dream. Better teach the American youth the avocations of peace. To be a plowman, an accountant, a carpenter or a day laborer is much to be preferred than a seeker after adventure, a builder of camps and a nomad. Our adult national intelligence will provide sufficient defenses without erecting barracks in the home or militarizing the cradle."


Despite Henry's reservations, Scouting got off to an official start in Chariton two years later, during 1915, under the sheltering wing of First Methodist Church; the organizer, a slightly odd duck named Oscar K. Wilson, who had washed up on Chariton's shores during 1911 when he was 62 and launching himself in a new career at what others might consider retirement age.

Born during 1849 in Ohio, his family had been broken up by the death of his mother when Oscar was 6 and he was farmed out to an older sister to raise.

"At the age of 13 he came to Iowa," according to his 1923 obituary. "A few years later found him in Wyoming where he acted as an army scout under orders of Col. William Cody, 'Buffalo Bill.' During this experience he received a flesh wound in the chin, the scar of which he carried through life. He drifted back into Minnesota afterwards and found work in the pineries, later running the rivers with lumber rafts and then firing the boilers of river steamers. He carried U.S. mail between Washington, Iowa, and Oskaloosa for a while and finally took up the trade of carpentry."

Early in the 20th century, however, suffering from some sort of chronic illness, he discovered the spiritual healing power of Jesus and the physical healing power of chiropractic. This inspired him to enroll at the Universal School of Chiropractic in Davenport, where he completed his studies during early 1911, when he was 62. Also at Davenport during that year, he married the worthy spinster, Miss Henrietta E. Fish.

During October, the couple moved to Chariton, Dr. Wilson hung out his shingle in the Dewey Block on the southeast corner of the square and the couple joined First Methodist, where he soon became a prominent member of the Gospel Team.

It appears that Dr. Wilson began recruiting boys for the new scouting program during early 1915 from among Methodist youth. By June of that year, having been declared in one way or another Chariton's first "Scout Master," he called a public meeting to promote the movement in the larger community. It was publicized this way in The Leader of June 24, buried in an obscure corner of the front page as if editor Gittinger still had reservations about the organization:

"Dr. O.K. Wilson, who is Master of the Boy Scouts of this city, announces a public meeting at the Methodist church on Friday evening. A number of addresses will be made defining the scout movement and telling of its results. A cordial invitation is extended to all."


It would appear that boy scouting as a larger movement in Lucas County grew out of this meeting and further efforts by Dr. Wilson and others.

Younger men, however, seem to have taken over the reins of the organization --- and by late summer of 1916, the first encampment had taken place not far from Oakley on a farm bordering Whitebreast Creek. Here's the report from The Herald-Patriot of Aug. 3, 1916, published under the headline, "Boy scouts take a vacation."

"The boy scouts have been having a vacation experience of their own, one which was enjoyed very much by the most of them. They returned Monday evening from a week spent near Oakley on the Reibel farm and during the week received considerable training in the matter of caring for themselves, cooking, keeping tents clean and orderly, building fires, etc.

"With the work and responsibility went plenty of the clean kind of fun that boys like so well, while appetites which even when normal are hard to appease, were fed to repletion. It is declared that some of the youngsters were hollow instead of hungry, but after considerable labor each was given sufficient to satisfy his craving.

"Clarence Blake, Sam Scull and Chas. Wennerstrum acted as chaperones at different times and they enjoyed the outing about as much as did the boys.

"Following is a list of the scouts: James Suedaker, (illegible) Smith, Charles Blake, James Beck, George Noble, Howard (illegible), Melvin Cooley, Alfred Goodwin, Arthur Jarl, Gerald Dotts, Max Ady, (illegible) Culbertson, Harry Smith, Todd Best, John Hall, Vincent Pyle, Robert Crozier and Donald Maloney."


Dr. and Mrs. Wilson remained involved in their community --- he even launched an unsuccessful run for mayor during 1920 --- and church until his health began to fail. Wilson died March 26, 1923, at his home, 815 North Main, age 74, after two years of failing health. 

Henrietta took his remains back to her hometown, Davenport, for burial in Oakdale Cemetery. And that was the end of Chariton's first scoutmaster. 

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