— Scouting’s history goes back to the turn of the 20th century to a British Army officer, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. While stationed in India, he discovered his men did not know basic first aid or the elementary means of survival in the outdoors. He wrote a small handbook, “Aids to Scouting,” that emphasized resourcefulness, adaptability and qualities of leadership frontier conditions demanded.
After returning from Boer War, where he became famous by protecting a small town, Mafeking for 217 days, he was amazed to find his handbook had caught the interest of English boys. They were using it to play the game of Scouting.
Baden-Powell had the vision to see new possibilities and decided to test his ideas on boys. In August 1907, he gathered about 20 boys and took them to Brownsea Island off England’s southern coast. They set up a makeshift camp that would be their home for the next 12 days. They divided into patrols and played games, went on hikes and learned stalking and pioneering. They learned to cook outdoors without utensils. Scouting began on that island and would sweep the globe in a few years.
The next year, Baden-Powell published his book, “Scouting for Boys,” and Scouting continued to grow. That same year, more than 10,000 Boy Scouts attended a rally at Crystal Palace; two years later, membership in Boy Scouts had tripled.
About this same time, seeds of Scouting were growing in the U.S. On a farm in Connecticut, naturalist and author Ernest Thompson Seton was organizing a group of boys called Woodcraft Indians, and Daniel Carter Beard, artist and writer, organized Sons of Daniel Boone. The two were similar but not connected. The boys who belonged had never heard of Baden-Powell, and yet were destined to be Boy Scouts one day soon.
But first, an American had to get lost in the fog in England. Chicago businessman and publisher William D. Boyce sought his way through the fog when a boy appeared and offered to take him to his destination. When there, Boyce tried to tip the boy, but he refused, saying he was a Scout and did not accept payment for a “good turn.”
Intrigued, he questioned the boy and learned more. He visited with Baden-Powell and became enamored by Scouting. When Boyce boarded the transatlantic steamer for home, he had a suitcase of information. And so, on Feb. 8, 1910, he incorporated Boy Scouts of America.
The unknown Scout who helped him in the fog never was heard from again, but he will never be forgotten. His good turn is what brought Scouting to America.