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November 16th 2011
Published: February 8th 2013
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Eagle scoutEagle scoutEagle scout

Display on Eagle Scout, the top and toughest rank in Boy Scouts

National Scouting Museum

Today began at the National Scouting Museum.

It’s located in a featureless office park in an outer suburb of Dallas, where the Boy Scouts of America moved their headquarters in the late 1970s.

In recent decades, the Boy Scouts have very loudly injected themselves in this country’s culture wars.

I choose to separate the organization as it exists now from how it was back when I was part of it, and visited to honor the fun times I had as a youth.

The Scout movement was started by Robert Baden-Powell, a British Army Officer.

He served in South Africa during the Boer War, which pitted the British against descendents of Dutch colonists.

In 1899, the Boers laid siege to Mafeking, a town that Baden Powel was defending.

His only hope of survival lay in enlisting the townspeople to aid his defense.

He wrote a book called Aids to Scouting, which described basic survival and battlefield scouting skills in terms laypeople could understand.

The siege lasted seven months before it collapsed, making Baden-Powell really famous.

Soon after the war ended, Baden-Powell discovered that youth leaders were
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The founder of world scouting
using his book to teach young boys about living outdoors.

At the time, many social reformers considered nature an antidote to the ills of a rapidly industrializing society.

At the urging of several, he decided to rewrite his book specifically for youth, which became the first version of Scouting for Boys.

It established Scouting’s modus operandi, using outdoor experiences to foster character development and morals.

In 1907, Baden Powel held a summer camp based on his book at Brownsea Island, launching the Scouting Movement.

It quickly spread to many countries in the British Commonwealth.

Scouting needed three years to become established in the United States.

The same social reform philosophies active in Brittan also found fertile territory in this country.

Two leading naturalists started their own outdoor youth organizations, Daniel Carter Beard (read his handbook here) and Earnest Thomson Seton.

Neither grew very large.

In 1909, New York newspaper publisher William Boyce went to London on business and got lost.

A scout offered to guide him to his destination, and then refused an offered gratuity.

Boyce was so impressed he asked to learn more about scouting.

The scout took him to
Baden-Powell personal itemsBaden-Powell personal itemsBaden-Powell personal items

Items from the world scounting founder
Baden Powel’s headquarters.

When he got back, he set up a conference in New York to organize a United States scouting organization.

Beard and Seton both attended, along with a lawyer named James West.

West was highly interested in youth issues, thanks to his own experience with childhood disability.

The final outcome was several organizations merged to form the Boy Scouts of America as an official part of world scouting, with James West as the first chief executive.

West stated he would serve for only two years, and finally retired after thirty two.

The exhibit does NOT mention that James West quickly set a pattern of paid staff having far more influence than volunteers, which has big implications for how the group evolved.

Scouting arguably came of age during the two World Wars.

Scouts formed a key component of the home front (see The Glory of an Industrial Age).

Scouts sold war bonds, collected scrap metal, tended victory gardens, volunteered at hospitals, and otherwise did what was needed to support the forces overseas.

Starting in the 1970s, the organization emphasized things like taking care of the environment.

More recently,
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Personal items from the Boy Scounts of America co-founder
people have focused on disaster preparedness.

This being a museum run by the BSA, it has no mention of the culture wars.

The displays have lots of memorabilia, both scouting issued and from popular culture.

Scouts are notorious for loving patches, and many appeared in the cases.

One has a gallery of books published about scouts.

Pop culture artifacts included scouting board games and the Peanuts Snoopy and Woodstock scouting cartoons.

The next section covered huge scout gatherings called Jamborees.

I can personally attest that attending a Jamboree is one of the highlights of the scouting experience.

In 1920 Baden Powel planned a multiple day event for scouts to showcase their skills to the British public.

He called it a ‘Jamboree’.

Scouts from other countries found out and asked if they could join.

Baden Powel said yes.

So many showed up that they utterly overwhelmed the planned facilities; many ended up sleeping on old army cots.

The Jamboree was still a huge success, and a tradition was launched.

World Jamborees are still held every four years.

The Boy
Daniel Carter Beard itemsDaniel Carter Beard itemsDaniel Carter Beard items

Items from the Boy Scouts of America co-founder
Scouts of America planned to hold its own version of a Jamboree in the 1930s.

They announced a gathering of scouts from across the country in Washington DC in 1935.

A polio outbreak forced them to postpone by two years.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened the proceedings, and another tradition began.

The museum has a diary from a scout who attended that first National Jamboree.

They are also held every four years, exactly two years after each World Jamboree.

Current jamborees are one part scouting skills showcase, one part the most amazing summer camp on earth, one part meet and greet, and one part party.

Attendees try out all sorts of activities, including things hard to find at home like huge obstacle courses through the mud.

People meet fellow scouts from around the country and world.

Evenings feature incredible shows on scouting themes, often featuring popular entertainers.

For many Americans, a World Jamboree will be their first time outside the US, which is an adventure by itself.

Jamborees also feature tons of memorabilia.

Anything that can be produced with a logo on it will be available somewhere, and scouts collect them
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Items from the first Chief Executive of the Boy Scouts of America
in large numbers.

The display has large selection, including one official patch from every National Jamboree.

Cub scouting is the program for boys in grade school, and many kids entry into scouting.

The BSA started it in 1930 after many grade school kids asked about joining their older brothers.

Cub scouts features lots of fun activities to attract people.

The museum has samples of two of them, a shooting gallery and a pinewood derby track.

For a quarter, people can shoot an LED rifle (the same type used in shooting arcade games) at a series of objects; which drop, spin, make noise, or light up when hit.

Pinewood derby is an annual contest that is one of Cub Scout’s major events.

Every scout gets a wooden block, four nails, and four plastic wheels to turn into a race car.

It must have the same width as the original block and a certain weight.

The finished cars are put on a slanted track and released; first to the bottom wins.

Each pack has its own contest, with the fastest usually being invited to a council contest.

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Displays on world jamborees and scounting worldwide
dirty secret of pinewood is that all winning cars are actually designed by the cubs’ parents, and many are built by them (or even bought premade).

The less dirty secret (but hard to grasp by preteens) is that the winning car will always have the best aerodynamics.

The museum has a track and a box of prebuilt cars for people to try out a race.

The next section describes the outdoor program, one of the major pillars of the scout program.

Hiking and camping outdoors uses fun activities to teach life skills and moral behavior.

The museum has a model camp set up, with signs showing skills scouts learn there.

Cleaning it regularly teaches discipline.

Cooking and building teaches teamwork and outdoor survival.

Backpacking teaches how to separate modern comforts from truly essential equipment (something I applied to this trip!)

The list goes on and on.

Most troops camp regularly, and all councils hold regular area-wide campouts with all sorts of fun activities.

That leads to a section on high adventure bases.

In 1938, Waite Phillips, who had made a fortune in oil (and the brother of
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Diary from an attendee of the first national jamboree
the Phillips who started the Phillips 66 company) donated his New Mexico ranch to the Boy Scouts.

It became Philmont, the most famous adventure base.

Scouts spend a week or more backpacking from campsite to campsite around the base, each of which has a different activity.

At Philmont, they are all western themed and include things like fishing, burro racing, rock climbing, and horseback riding.

I remember my Philmont trip to this day.

The base was so successful the scouts set up two more, one in Minnesota and the other in Florida.

They are currently building a fourth in West Virginia.

The final section covers the heart of scouting, the advancement program.

Boy Scouts earn ranks, badges, and other awards for fulfilling various requirements, all of which promote desirable skills and character traits.

The BSA has seven ranks, whose names and badge designs barely changed since they were established in 1910!

Early ranks require learning skills, while later ones require merit badges in various subjects.

The list of badges and their requirements slowly changes over time.

The top, and toughest, rank is Eagle Scout.
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Display on the cub scouts' signature event

In an often quoted statistic one out of every five boys who joins the scouts ultimately earns the second rank, Life Scout, but only one out of ten Life Scouts becomes an Eagle Scout.

The toughest Eagle Scout requirement is to plan and lead a community service project, which was added in 1965.

Any Eagle Scout can describe their project long after earning the rank.

Prospective Eagle Scouts must then pass a Board of Review composed of scout officials and local community leaders.

Arthur Eldred became the first Eagle Scout in 1912.

He joined a troop less than a week after the Boy Scouts formally came into existence.

The original Eagle Scout requirements involved earning twenty one merit badges in a variety of subject areas, and he finished them all in two years.

Conscious of the significance, James West organized and chaired the first Eagle Board of Review himself.

Eldred passed.

The museum now has his award, an eagle figurine hanging from a red, white, and, blue banner.

Except for some fading, it looks exactly like the current version.

The section closes with a tableau of Eagle Scouts who have gone on to do notable things.
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Recreation of a scout camp, a pillar of scouting

Several became astronauts, including Neil Armstrong.

One became President of the United States, Gerald Ford.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and several current Congressmen are also Eagle Scouts.

The two most unexpected names: Hark Aaron, one time recordholder for most home runs in Major League Baseball, and Winton Marsalis, leader of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

A single panel at the end, surprising for its brevity, covers some very important supporters of the Boy Scout program, partner organizations.

Every troop is associated with a partner community organization, which provides support and recruits volunteers.

The panel lists those most involved.

Over half are churches, with Mormons particularly active.

The rest are community service groups like Rotary Clubs.

Scouting would not exist without them.

Norman Rockwell gallery

The museum has a gallery of original art by Norman Rockwell.

Rockwell’s witty yet wholesome art style and the Scouts were a perfect match.

Rockwell’s first professional job was painting illustrations for BSA magazines in 1912, and he maintained a relationship for the rest of his life.

His works show scouts undertaking all sorts of fun activities, at summer camp and elsewhere.

One painting
Philmont Philmont Philmont

Memorbelia from Philmont
shows a youngster trying on his new Boy Scout uniform for the first time, his old Cub Scout one discarded at his feet.

The most famous is probably ‘The Scoutmaster’ from 1956, a man next to a campfire staring into the viewers eyes.

The gallery has one of Rockwell’s mobile studios.

He always painted from models and photographs, and for the Scouts he loved working on location.

Getting young boys to pose properly and hold still was a real challenge.

Rockwell usually bribed them with periodic nickels.

For one famous painting from 1969, scout executives asked Rockwell to paint one of himself working.

Rockwell disliked self-portraits, and agreed to this one very reluctantly.

He retaliated by leaving out one of the legs of the scouts watching him work!

The painting is composed well enough I had to look carefully to see it, even with the caption pointing it out.

Fort Worth Stockyards

After the museum, I left Dallas for the other major city in this sprawling Metroplex, Fort Worth.

Thirty miles apart, the two could not be more different.
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Memorbelia from the first eagle scout, Arthur Eldred

Dallas was founded by businessmen and merchants hoping to make a fortune from oil.

Fort Worth was founded as an army outpost and became a major trading center for cattle and other livestock.

Like other close cities, naturally residents of these two despise each other (see Gold Fever).

Dallas natives call Fort Worth a gritty overgrown cow town obsessed with its past.

Forth Worth residents respond that Dallas has nothing but shallow trendy money-grubbers who care only about their looks, possessions, and bank accounts.

It’s a good thing their high schools don’t play each other in football very often, or blood may flow in the streets.

In the glory days of the livestock drives, Fort Worth centered on an area next to a train depot called the Stockyards.

It has now mutated into what amounts to a Western theme park, but much of the history is still visible.

These days it consists of two streets lined with Victorian frontier buildings, with several larger ones in the background.

The visitor’s center has a huge mural showing the paths of famous western cattle drives.

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The famous gate to the Fort Worth Stockyards

A big building with Spanish stucco architecture sits in the middle of the area.

This was originally part of the main auction house.

It was used for one of the first indoor rodeos in 1907, which became the oldest indoor rodeo series in the country.

A vast maze of pens stretches away behind the building.

Originally, they held the animals for auction; now they hold rodeo stock.

The western end of the main street has a beautiful old Victorian hotel, the Stockyards Hotel.

It was opened in 1907 for visiting ranchers and animal dealers.

It’s still in business, although its clientele is now mostly tourists.

Most of the rest of the Stockyards now holds western theme shops.

Research really pays off here.

Some of those shops sell the best western gear in Texas (and possibly the country) while the rest sell some of the worst.

I wandered through endless arrays of Stetson hats, leather boots, spurs, lariats, and other cowboy stuff.

Signed pictures of rodeo champions appeared in some.

A place with as deep a legacy of beef as this
Stock ExchangeStock ExchangeStock Exchange

Part of the former auction house at the heart of the stockyards
one better have good steakhouses.

The Stockyards have three, all of which were founded to serve visiting ranchers and dealers.

The very best, Cattlemen’s Steak House, has the reputation as the best in Texas with prices to match.

I ate at Riscky’s Steakhouse instead, which serves food nearly as good for a fraction of the cost.

Inside looks like a saloon set from a Hollywood western.

A sign mentions the number one question the staff get from tourists, where are the swinging doors?

They disappeared right around the time Willis Carrier invented something called air conditioning.

The walls also have auction records, and cowboy jokes.

My steak was quite good.

I also had my first Lone Star beer tonight (see Hispanic Art).

Texans will likely accuse me of heresy for this, but it tasted watery and terrible.

Billy Bob's Texas

For many people, the most famous part of the Stockyards is Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky tonk, and arguably the world’s biggest bar.

They proudly display their six thousand person plus occupancy permit outside the door.

The building was built as another auction house in 1936.
Billy Bob's TexasBilly Bob's TexasBilly Bob's Texas

A true Texas sized honky tonk

A honky tonk, as noted back in Nashville, is a dive bar with really good live country music (see The Art of Gardens).

The main section held a huge stage facing an absolutely enormous open floor, surrounded by at least two dozen bars.

The biggest acts in country play here on weekends.

Next to it was a much smaller stage next to a regular sized dance floor, where local acts play during the week.

An ‘only in Fort Worth’ item hangs above it, a horse saddle disco ball!

The bars themselves were a riot of neon, mirrors, and beer signs.

The local act was pretty good, but nowhere near what I heard in Nashville.

A completely separate area within the complex sells food.

Naturally, it’s all barbeque and bar snacks.

I didn’t try any since I had my fill of steak earlier in the night.

Many Texas bars offer rides on a mechanical bull.

Billy Bob’s Texas takes that much further with REAL bull riding.

A corridor off the main room leads to a rodeo ring surrounded by bleacher seats.

For obvious
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People dance to the local band. Note the glitter on the upper right, the saddle disco ball!
reasons, only professionals get to participate.

Other visitors have to content themselves with the model bucking bull next door.



The vibe:

Bull riding!


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