THE UNKNOWN SCOUT
Last week our grandson joined with his Cub Scout pack in the time-honored Pinewood Derby. Cubs work to craft the small wooden racing cars propelled only by gravity. I spoke with my grandson after the event.
“I didn’t win, “he said, but I had so much fun1”
That, of course, is the whole idea. Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts, famously explained, “The purpose of Scouting is to develop moral character in the context of having fun.”
Scouting has been a part of my life for more than sixty years. I, too, was a Cub Scout back in the dim ages. As a Boy Scout I moved through the ranks with the leadership and encouragement of a great Scoutmaster. As an adult Scouter I have appreciated the opportunity to pass on to other young men the ideals of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. Among those young men have been our four sons, several nephews, and now my own grandsons. I owe a lasting debt of gratitude to the Boy Scouts of American.
The Boy Scouts of America is celebrating a birthday this week. The story of the founding has been told around campfires from the beginning. It is the remarkable story of a boy whose name is unknown.
William D. Boyce was born on a farm in Pennsylvania in 1858. While still in his teens, he worked in a coal mine. After attending Wooster Academy, a preparatory school in Ohio, for three years, he became a schoolteacher.
In 188l, Boyce went to Chicago and took a job selling advertising for a monthly magazine. Within a few months he became publisher of a weekly called The Commercial in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. A year later he worked as a newspaper reporter in Fargo, North Dakota. He soon started his own weekly, the Dakota Clipper.
In January 1885, Boyce sold the Clipper and moved back to Chicago where he established a syndicated service that provided stories for newspapers. A year later he sold that service. In 1887, at the age of 29, Boyce began publishing a weekly paper, the Saturday Blade. His new publication soon achieved a national circulation.
The Blade carried sensational accounts of expeditions to Africa, Alaska, and Mexico. Often these adventures were organized and led by. Boyce. In 1891, he bought the Chicago Ledger. Eventually the weekly circulation of the two papers was more than two million.
William D. Boyce had become wealthy through his publishing enterprises. One of his innovative ideas was using boys to sell his papers across the country. At the height of his success, he employed 30,000 youngsters as sales agents.
Boyce lived in a mansion in Ottawa, Illinois. He also had a penthouse apartment in his twelve-story Boyce Building in Chicago.
In August 1909, Boyce organized a photographic expedition to East Africa. He met with safari organizers and outfitters in London to make provision for his expedition. While he was in London preparing for the safari, Boyce became lost in thick fog. A boy in uniform approached and asked if he could help. The boy guided the American safely to his hotel. When Boyce offered a tip, the boy declined, explaining that he was a Scout doing his daily Good Turn.
Boyce, who employed many newsboys, was so impressed by the Scout that he decided to investigate further. He asked the Scout for directions to Scout Headquarters. There he obtained a handbook, Scouting for Boys. While on his safari, Boyce studied the Boy Scout manual. The publisher was so impressed with scouting that instead of making his return to America into an around-the-world trip via San Francisco, he returned to the Scout headquarters in London. He met with Lord Robert Baden-Powell and volunteered to organize Scouting in America. Boyce was given permission to use the British Scout handbook.
On February 8, 1910, W. D. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. This week the BSA celebrates its 105th anniversary.
What happened to the Unknown Scout who helped Boyce find his way in the fog? No one knows. He neither asked for money, nor did he give his name. He is simply called the Unknown Scout. That young man will never be forgotten. His Good Turn helped bring the scouting movement to our country. Every Tenderfoot learns the Boy Scout slogan: Do A Good Turn Daily. The legacy of the Unknown Scout is that all scouts are expected to follow his example and be helpful to others.
It was William Boyce who suggested inviting other scout programs, the Woodcraft Indians and the Sons of Daniel Boone, to merge with the BSA. Edgar M. Robinson, an officer of the Young Men’s Christian Association’s International Committee, assumed administrative oversight of the organization for the first year. James West was hired to be the administrative head of the BSA, agreeing to serve for six months. He retired in 1943 after serving more than thirty years.
Boyce continued to support the BSA financially. He gave $1,000 per month for operating expenses, provided that boys of all races and creeds be included.
The Silver Buffalo Award is the national distinguished service award of the Boy
Scouts of America. It is presented for noteworthy service to youth on a national level. During the first presentation in 1926, three awards were given. The first Silver Buffalo was conferred upon Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement and Chief Scout of the World.
The second was presented in absentia to the Unknown Scout who inspired William D. Boyce to form the BSA. In addition to the award, a statue of a buffalo was presented, with a plaque inscribed: To the Unknown Scout Whose Faithfulness in the Performance of the Daily Good Turn Brought the Scout Movement to the United States of America. The statue stands at the Boy Scout Gilwell Park Training Center near London.
William D. Boyce received the third Silver Buffalo.
The Boy Scouts of America has always cherished the memory of the founders. Significant contributions were made by Lord Robert Baden-Powell in England, and, in the United States, by Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, and James E. West. William Boyce was the man who brought the movement to the United States. His vision and financial support sustained Scouting in the early years. But it was a young boy who offered a helping hand in a London fog who was the catalyst for it all.
In these 105 years, more than 100 million boys have been members of the Boy Scouts of America. One of those is our grandson. That is the legacy of the Unknown Scout.