BY JEFF OLSON –
In Part I of this series in last week’s edition, we took a stroll down memory lane with some personal observations, anecdotes and experiences from Camp Pioneer’s impact on the lives of those who were a part of the Camp’s century of influence. In Part II, we will highlight some early history of Camp Pioneer and touch on how that history has unfolded into an institution which is still revered and relevant, and is looking to the future in continuing to meet the needs of new generations of boys and young men.
As with much other early development and growth in Polk County, the railroad was the driving force. Prior to the railroad’s arrival here in our area, the Texas & Pacific and the Cairo & Fulton Railroads spurred the establishment of Texarkana, Arkansas and Texas in 1873. As a railroad hub,Texarkana served the north and northeast through Arkansas and the southwest through parts of Texas.
The railroads came to realize that they needed to provide their men wholesome activities in which to spend their leisure time as well as places to stay and eat during the layovers at the end of their runs. Here they turned to an organization which had already been around for a while, the YMCA. The first traces of YMCA work on the railroad can be traced back to 1868 and the first Railroad YMCA was organized in 1872. The railroad Ys provided practical things such as clean beds, good meals, and hot showers, but also addressed the educational, spiritual, and recreational needs of the workers with Bible study, instructional courses on a variety of subjects, organized sports, and other activities. The railroads partnered with each other to construct “Railroad Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) buildings at the hub cities around the country. The Railroad YMCA building in Texarkana was constructed on Front Street near Union Station in 1899.
The Railroad YMCA in Texarkana owned a camping area in Polk County near the small village of Potter, approximately one hundred miles north. Located at the confluence of the Mountain Fork River and Two Mile Creek, the site was ideal for summer camping, hiking, swimming, boating, and nature study.
Subsequent to Chicago businessman and publisher W.D. Boyce bringing Boy Scouting to America from England in 1910, Scout troops began springing up all over the country.
One of those, Troop 1 in Texarkana, was chartered in 1914. In the summer of 1916, Scoutmaster William H. Riley and 20 boys from Troop 1 boarded a Kansas City Southern (KCS) train in Texarkana for a 10-day adventure at the Railroad YMCA camping area near Potter. Upon arrival, they loaded their equipment onto a wagon for a 5 mile trip to the camp site. They named this first encampment, “Camp Patterson” after one of their own Scouts.
In the summers of 1917 and 1918, Scoutmaster Riley and Troop 1 returned to the camp area, which they named “Camp Woodrow Wilson” and “Camp General Pershing, respectively for each year. Other troops from Texarkana began to use the area for their summer encampments. By 1919, the Railroad YMCA campground here in Polk County was widely known, well-used and a popular destination for Scouts in the Texarkana area.
In the fall of 1919, The Texarkana Council, BSA was chartered, and George W. Powell was hired as their first Scout executive. Mr. Powell was very active in Scout outdoor events and oversaw the expansion, growth and improvements of the council.
By the spring of 1920, the Railroad YMCA had granted a 99-year lease of their camping property in Polk County to the Boy Scout council. Mr. Powell named the property “Camp Pioneer” and the first council encampment was held there June 1-14, 1920. About 85 Scouts from local troops attended. Special coaches were provided by the KCS Railroad for the 4 hour trip from Texarkana to Hatfield. Taking the train to camp from Texarkana was the standard and best mode of transportation until the 1940s, but even into the 1950s the KCS Railroad continued to be very supportive, providing special cars and also cooks.
By 1928 the BSA council had expanded to include several neighboring counties. By 1936, more counties were added and more troops formed and the council re-chartered with a new (their current) name: Caddo Area Council – recognizing the American Indians who had originally occupied the area and more inclusive of all the communities imparts of northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas. Since then, troops in the Mena area formed, including Troops 60, 92 and 98 all of which spent time and made many great memories at Camp Pioneer. This is not to mention all the Cub Scouts who were introduced to Scout camping through “Mom and Me” campouts and other outings there preparing them for their advancement into Boy Scouts.
In subsequent years, many permanent structures were built at Camp Pioneer and many improvements and maintenance work has been accomplished. Much of the latter two have been done by volunteers within the council and local scout troops. Leading the way in this work has been the Old Timers of Camp Pioneer. This nationally recognized volunteer organization has been dedicated to the betterment of Camp Pioneer and Scouting since its founding in 1977. Its membership consist mainly of former and current campers, Scouters, and Staff Members of Camp Pioneer.
Camp Pioneer’s success story doesn’t end here. It is entering a new era reflective of the technical and scientific advances of the 21st century. The traditional activities and programs will continue for the most part, but new ones will gradually be incorporated into summer camps to challenge our boys in ways consistent with modern-day advances in a changing world. However, some things will no change – Scouting’s core values which have been it’s foundation and the heart of its success for 106 years.
If you haven’t been to Camp Pioneer recently, you might want to take a drive out there some Sunday afternoon or other convenient time. When you do, enjoy the beauty it has to offer and in our own back yard at that! This I think we too often take for granted. If you park your car and roll the windows down or step out for a stroll and listen, among the whispering pines you might hear or maybe just imagine the faint sounds of a living, thriving camp full of boys who are having the time of their lives which most hope will never end. Or, perhaps what you sense is the gathering invasion of new generations of Boy Scouts on the horizons of tomorrow who will come to experience the treasure that is Camp Pioneer – a treasure that will truly never end in the memories of thousands of men who are still boys at heart.