The yellowed card was found in one of the scrapbooks so carefully maintained for more than a quarter century by my Mother and passed to me when she died…another quarter century ago. It is a reminder of an era long since passed that speaks out with pride in accomplishment….of good times and hard times, of having little that meant much, of camaraderie…and honor.
Dawson, Texas had been without a Boy Scout Troop for a decade after a failed attempt by someone to form a troop in the 1920s. Ralph Glenn Akers, the Davis twins, Sparton Duke, and other older boys in Dawson still had remnants of some old uniforms and some Boy Scout Manuals could be found on dusty home shelves.
Twelve years old boys in Dawson had little to occupy their time other than school and home chores and church, but someone had an idea to begin a Boy Scout Troop. It may have been that the Circle Ten Council of Boy Scouts of America began an effort to increase the concept of scouting and had approached someone in our little town. Regardless of how it came about….Conrad "Sonny Boy" Newton Jr. and Rev. R. Glenn Commander, pastor of The Dawson Baptist Church, became Scout Leaders and the initial meetings were in the Fall of 1938.
The Dawson Herald, published by Mr. F H Butler each Thursday, probably carried an announcement that a troop would be formed and that local boys who had reached the age of twelve could join. More announcements were, probably, made at school and at the local churches. The meeting place was to be the large vacant room over the bank. It is remembered that the troop met on Monday evenings and was usually very well attended.
Scouts included Gene Allen Holt, Reuben Travis Connor, Sambo Akers, Hugh Lewis Womack, Douglas Bankston, Jimmy Cornelius, A M & Walter Hulen, and others whose names have been forgotten. Brother Commander and Sonny Boy Newton made scouting a serious business for those who came each Monday evening. Meetings were begun with recitation of the Scout Oath and Motto..and with a Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America. The Scout oath was filled with fine moral ambitions and each young scout wanted to follow the path that the oath blazed.
Each boy was required to memorize the Scout Oath, the Scout Motto, to know how to give the Scout Salute, etc. in order to become a "Tenderfoot." After the rank of Tenderfoot came work toward becoming a Scout Second Class which demanded more memory work in addition to learning several basic skills….trailing, signals, cooking, etc.
One Scout Second Class requirement was to learn various ways to tie a rope knot……the "Square" knot, the "Sheepshank," the "Hangsman's" noose, etc. Training in rope tying was accomplished at the Monday evening meetings and once a scout exhibited proficiency in tying the required knots before a Scout Leader, the Leader initialed completion of that requirement on the Scout's card that listed all of the requirements.
Some requirements, such as "Tracking and Reading Signs," demanded that Scouts and their Leaders be out of doors. It was in the early Fall of 1938 that the Dawson Boy Scouts and their leaders scheduled an overnite hike to a wooded area near Spring Hill on some land owned by Will Matthews. The overnite hike had been the chief topic of conversation at the Scout meetings for several weeks and it was a time of excitement.
Each Scout was responsible for his own needs. Our Scout uniforms were what ever we wore to school. We had no tents or sleeping bags, but slept under the stars on old quilts that our Mothers permitted us to use. Food was whatever the family could spare. My Mother had prepared an ample amount of corn bread, some sausage and ham, some biscuits, etc…..all "homemade" items…nothing came from the store. Jimmy Cornelius and A M Hulen had some "store boughten" items that had real class…canned French Fries and canned fruit. I had never eaten canned French Fries and canned fruit was available at our house only on rare occasions. I was thrilled when the boys shared with me.
The hike from the Scout Meeting Place over the bank to the Spring Hill area was exciting. We did not look like "Real Boy Scouts" for we had no Scout uniforms, no felt "Boy Scout" hats. One or two of the boys had secured Scout neckerchiefs, complete with regulation holder that bore the Scout emblem. However, we…WERE…Scouts, and we attempted to present ourselves as Scouts as we walked in an orderly manner through town.
When we reached our destination the first order was to prepare our beds for the night. Each Scout unrolled his quilt and placed it neatly and orderly on the ground. When accommodations for sleeping were completed, it was time to prepare the evening meal. Everyone was ready for that and the event became a time of laughing and joking...of sharing...of camaraderie.
Scouts were to be…Clean…and our leaders saw that we left no unsightly trash to violate nature's beauty. When the sun began to fade and darkness moved into the woods a campfire was lighted. We had gathered large stones and made a ring for the campfire. Additional wood was gathered and placed nearby to keep the fire going during the night hours.
We circled around the glow of the campfire for some instruction from Brother Commander and Sonny Boy. They reminded us of our obligations as Boy Scouts to our country, to our community, to our parents, and to ourselves. It was a learning experience that was good for young minds. Afterwards, Brother Commander taught us some songs that were appropriate to sing around a campfire.
long, long nail…a winding
There's a long,
long road before me
The campfire session ended with recitation of the Scout Oath…all boys standing tall and straight, exhibiting the three finger Scout sign…and we went to bed.
We did not need an alarm clock to remind us when to arise. As daybreak neared, the temperature began to drop, and most boys began to shiver. Fresh logs were added to the campfire and the boys lost no time gathering around…with quilts wrapped around their shaking bodies.
Daylight and warmth were welcomed. Someone in the community had donated ham and eggs and soon Brother Commander was preparing a hearty breakfast for hungry Scouts.
One requirement to become a Scout Second Class was to complete a test for following a trail prepared by another Scout. We had been instructed at the Scout meetings on how to leave signs on a trail that would be readily visible to someone coming behind. The Scout leaders prepared the trail with signs that would be not be noticed by the average person….only by a trained Scout. One by one the Scouts began and followed the trail to its end. Scout Leaders would place the date and his initials on the Scout's Tenderfoot card. Most Scouts had completed the requirement for Scout Second Class in a few months.
One of the activities during the winter months was boxing. A boxing area was marked on the floor of the Scout meeting room and each week several matches were permitted. One week I was paired with Reuben Travis Connor. Brother Commander reminded me before the starting bell that Reuben Travis was a bit heavier and taller than I, but that I was faster. When the bell sounded I tore into Reuben Travis with all my "faster" sixty-five pounds, but he beat the living daylights out of me all three rounds.
Later, Reuben Travis and I did our "Fourteen Mile" hike for our Scout First Class requirement together. Early one Saturday morning we "hiked" from Dawson to Hubbard and back. We were traveling on the railroad track which was adjacent to the "old Hiway 31" when we saw Sonny Boy Newton in his car. When he saw us he stopped….backed up to give us a ride…then realized that we were on our required hike. He waved and went on his way. The next week, at the Scout meeting, he initialed Item 5…Fourteen Mile Hike….on the card mentioned above and wrote the date….April 15, 1939.
Sonny Boy initialed Item 11 Nature and Item 12 Oath & Law on March 11.
My family moved from Dawson the following summer and within a few years most of the members of Troop 253 had become part of the armed forces serving in World War II. Sonny Boy was in the China-Burma area and returned to be president of the Dawson Bank. Brother Commander left Dawson to pastor others churches in Texas and New Mexico. He died last year. And what became of all the members of Troop 253? That would, probably, require writing a large book.