Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Message from the Chief Scout

TO THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA:

There was once a boy who lived in a region of rough farms. He was wild with the love of the green outdoors--the trees, the tree-top singers, the wood-herbs and the live things that left their nightly tracks in the mud by his spring well. He wished so much to know them and learn about them, he would have given almost any price in his gift to know the name of this or that wonderful bird, or brilliant flower; he used to tremble with excitement and intensity of interest when some new bird was seen, or when some strange song came from the trees to thrill him with its power or vex him with its mystery, and he had a sad sense of lost opportunity when it flew away leaving him dark as ever. But he was alone and helpless, he had neither book nor friend to guide him, and he grew up with a kind of knowledge hunger in his heart that gnawed without ceasing. But this also it did: It inspired him with the hope that some day he might be the means of saving others from this sort of torment--he would aim to furnish to them what had been denied to himself.

There were other things in the green and living world that had a binding charm for him. He wanted to learn to camp out, to live again the life of his hunter grandfather who knew all the tricks of winning comfort from the relentless wilderness the foster-mother so rude to those who fear her, so kind to the stout of heart.

And he had yet another hankering--he loved the touch of romance. When he first found Fenimore Cooper's books, he drank them in as one parched might drink at a spring. He reveled in the tales of courage and heroic deeds, he gloated over records of their trailing and scouting by red man and white; he gloried in their woodcraft, and lived it all in imagination, secretly blaming the writer, a little, for praising without describing it so it could be followed. "Some day," he said, "I shall put it all down for other boys to learn."

As years went by he found that there were books about most of the things he wished to know, the stars, the birds, the {xi} quadrupeds, the fish, the insects, the plants, telling their names; their hidden power or curious ways, about the camper's life the language of signs and even some of the secrets of the trail. But they were very expensive and a whole library would be needed to cover the ground. What he wanted--what every boy wants--is a handbook giving the broad facts as one sees them in the week-end hike, the open-air life. He did not want to know the trees as a botanist, but as a forester; nor the stars as an astronomer, but as a traveler. His interest in the animals was less that of anatomist than of a hunter and camper, and his craving for light on the insects was one to be met by a popular book on bugs, rather than by a learned treatise on entomology.

So knowing the want he made many attempts to gather the simple facts together exactly to meet the need of other boys of like ideas, and finding it a mighty task he gladly enlisted the help of men who had lived and felt as he did.

Young Scouts of America that boy is writing to you now. He thought himself peculiar in those days. He knows now he was simply a normal boy with the interests and desires of all normal boys, some of them a little deeper rooted and more lasting perhaps--and all the things that he loved and wished to learn have now part in the big broad work we call Scouting.

"Scout" used to mean the one on watch for the rest. We have widened the word a little. We have made it fit the town as well as the wilderness and suited it to peace time instead of war. We have made the scout an expert in Life-craft as well as Wood-craft, for he is trained in the things of the heart as well as head and hand. Scouting we have made to cover riding, swimming, tramping, trailing, photography, first aid, camping, handicraft, loyalty, obedience, courtesy, thrift, courage, and kindness.

Do these things appeal to you? Do you love the woods?

Do you wish to learn the trees as the forester knows them? And the stars not as an astronomer, but as a traveler?

Do you wish to have all-round, well-developed muscles, not those of a great athlete, but those of a sound body that will not fail you? Would you like to be an expert camper who can always make himself comfortable out of doors, and a swimmer that fears no waters? Do you desire the knowledge to help the wounded quickly, and to make yourself cool and self-reliant in an emergency?

Do you believe in loyalty, courage, and kindness? Would {xii} you like to form habits that will surely make your success in life?

Then, whether you be farm boy or shoe clerk, newsboy or millionaire's son, your place is in our ranks, for these are the thoughts in scouting; it will help you to do better work with your pigs, your shoes, your papers, or your dollars; it will give you new pleasures in life; it will teach you so much of the outdoor world that you wish to know; and this Handbook, the work of many men, each a leader in his field, is their best effort to show you the way. This is, indeed, the book that I so longed for, in those far-off days when I wandered, heart hungry in the woods.

ERNEST THOMPSON SETON,
Chief Scout.

Headquarters Boy Scouts of America,
200 Fifth Avenue, New York City.
June 1, 1911.

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