Boy Scouting in Utah turns 93 or 90 this year depending on whether you count the first troop in the state or the first widespread Scouting effort. Either way, the Beehive State has one of the nation's longest-running Scouting legacies since the start of the Boy Scouts of America 93 years ago.
Troop No. 1 in Logan got its start in 1910, the same year as the Scouts first appeared in the Eastern United States.
"We're the oldest troop west of the Mississippi," Paul Davis, former Scoutmaster of Troop 1 and a current member of the troop's committee, said.
An Episcopal minister in Logan, John Paul Jones, originally from England, started the Cache Valley Scout troop, Davis said. The Boy Scouts originated in England under the guidance of Lord Robert Baden-Powell in 1909.
On May 21, 1913, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 15-month-old "MIA Scout" program was officially invited to join the Boy Scouts of America. This gave Utah its first widespread Scouting movement.
The LDS Church started its MIA Scouts on Nov. 29, 1911, to provide worthwhile leisure time and activities for its young men. The MIA Scouts held meetings for up to 30 minutes before or after the regular Mutual Improvement Association meetings on Tuesday nights. The first big conference of Salt Lake area Scouts was held on June 7, 1913, at Wandamere, a large park that is now Nibley Park Golf Course.
In 1919, two Utah Scout councils Great Salt Lake and Lake Bonneville (now the Trapper Trails Council) were formed. The Utah County Council, a forerunner to today's National Parks Council, started in 1921.
"We were among the earliest," Paul M. Tikalsky Jr., director of finance and marketing for the Great Salt Lake Council, said. He estimates there may be about 50 councils nationwide as old or older than Salt Lake City's. The East Coast probably has the oldest.
"But there's no official Troop No. 1 nationally," he said. Even in Salt Lake County, claims about who started the first troop are debatable.
By one account, Irwin Clawson of Salt Lake City is believed to have started the first Salt Lake Boy Scout troop in 1911. At age 18, he was considered too young to be a Scoutmaster, though, and had to settle for being an assistant until he reached age 21. He was honored at an "Expo" event at Lagoon in 1975 for his accomplishments. Clawson said at that time that the first Scouting activity he administered was an overnight camping trip up City Creek Canyon. He also felt Scouting ideals were unchanged from 1911 to 1975, though uniforms have changed.
By yet another account, T. George Woods started Salt Lake's first Scout troop in 1911 the Waterloo Ward, Granite Stake, LDS troop (another Troop No. 1). Woods, who died in 1964 at age 76, served as Scoutmaster for 15 years.
The Liberty Park LDS Ward also has one of Utah's oldest Scout troops.
Although the LDS Church was the first sponsoring organization for Scouts in Salt Lake City, Tikalsky said the Catholic Church started local Scouting units very soon after, and so did some other faiths. "The Catholic Church always had a Scouting presence in Utah too."
In addition to churches, some nonprofit groups have also sponsored local Scouting units from the early days. For example, Logan's Troop No. 1 was originally sponsored by the Episcopal Church. Today, it meets at the Episcopal Church but is sponsored by the Logan Lions Club, and at times in its history it was sponsored by the Elks Lodge and even the Fire Department. Today, Troop 1 in Logan involves almost 50 boys, about 30 percent of whom are LDS and come from wards where Scout programs have struggled.
"Historically, we're a non-affiliated troop," Davis said.
John L. Cross Sr., 84, historian for the National Parks Council, has been involved with Scouting for 73 years. Cross' father, Joseph Cross, was an English emigrant to Utah in 1913 and had served under Baden-Powell in England's military. He later became a Scout assistant for the Waterloo Ward's Troop No. 1.
"Stand up straight," Cross said, was a strong principle his father believed in from Powell's era. In fact, Cross said the principles of Scouting haven't changed at all since his youth.
"There have been many changes," he said. "But the principles are the same. . . . God comes first to a Boy Scout."
Early Scout uniforms in the 1920s resembled World War I military uniforms. They have changed a lot over the years. George W. Fowers of Pleasant Grove has an extensive collection of old Scout uniforms, manuals and memorabilia.
By 1928, LDS Church leaders had designated Scouting as the official activity program for deacons and teachers. In 1934, the church had 24,000 Boy Scouts, ages 12-16. By 1948, Cub Scouting was adopted by the church.
"The BSA and the (LDS) Church have forged a close working relationship," according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. "In partnership with the church, the BSA provides its programs, facilities, support and training. The church, in turn, provides youth, youth leaders, financial support and promotion of its implicit values.
"This relationship has flourished because Scouting continues to support wholesome leisure-time activities, to provide a spiritual view of life that is compatible with the church's teachings and to encourage boys and leaders to be loyal to the church."
Scouting has faced some challenges in recent years.
Kay Godfrey, foundation director for the Great Salt Lake Council, said the gay issue has quieted down a lot recently. He said atheists and girls wanting to join the BSA have caused a stir nationally but not in Utah. Also, some United Way organizations nationally have withheld funding because of the gay issue, but not in Utah.
He said persistent rumors the LDS Church may leave Scouting are unfounded. "Their commitment to Scouting is unwavering," Godfrey said.
Those who prey on youths and use Scouting as a vehicle to do so have been a problem everywhere, he said. The new adult leader screening process the BSA implemented this spring should help reduce that problem.
"The BSA is on the cutting edge of youth safety," Godfrey said.
He said the only real controversy Scouts in Utah currently have involves the Great Salt Lake Council the aftermath of last year's East Fork of the Bear River Fire, allegedly started by Boy Scouts.
"That's still being litigated," Godfrey said. "Most of what happens there now happens behind closed doors."
Utah Boy Scouts also sponsor some large events each year. The first Sunday in February is usually "Scout Sunday" at local churches. Each spring, they conduct a statewide food drive for the Utah Food Bank, and a Scout-A-Rama/Expo is held each May.
Christ United Methodist Church's Scout organization sponsors a popular "Buffalo Barbecue" in Salt Lake City each spring.
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