Camp Tonkawa


The waterfront was a small native rock swimming and canoeing pond that was fed by a huge “cold” water spring.  The water was a consistent 60° - 65°  F temperature.  Even in the heat of July and August it was so cold that many boys would shiver and around their mouth would turn blue from the effects of the cold water.

Dan C. Thompson said, “I went to Camp Tonkawa one summer camp and took the swimmer test several times but did not pass. I went to swim class every day. The water was cold as were the showers there. Still, my best memories are of the swimming.”

Robert Cargill, Jr. said: "The first, and most important, event of the week at Tonkawa was the swim test in which each Scout was required to jump into the breath-taking cold water and swim four laps of 25 yards using the side, elementary back, breast, and another stroke for each lap. Successful candidates were classified as ‘swimmers,’ less successful ones were ‘beginners’ or ‘non swimmers.’ Only ‘swimmers’ were permitted to participate in the four waterfront merit badge classes.

Photo on right is the Beginner's Swimming Area.

Cargill continued: "During my days, we learned the power of the scissors kick and applied it to all strokes in the Boy Scout program. Through my experiences at Tonkawa, I developed into a strong swimmer and I learned the skills to help our Troop dominate the final swim meet of the week. My strong kick gave us a boost in the side and backstroke events where the minimum numbers of strokes always won, and in the various life-saving events."

To the left is photo of the sidekick swim contest and below is the shirt tail rescue life saving contest - 1948.

Frank Hilton remembers that "The spring at Camp Tonkawa fed the swimming hole. The stream was dammed up for the deep end and docks were built along one side. This is where we took our swimming tests. 
"Beginners and non-swimmer areas were located further up the stream toward the spring. The closer one got to the head of the spring, the colder the water got. I can remember coming out of the water and all of us having blue lips from the cold water. We were also shaking from the cold water even though it was 90 degrees or so outside. There was very little sun at the swimming hole as there were plenty of pine trees along the banks."

In the photo to your left the Scouts are practicing the backstroke under the watchful eye of their instructor.

Here you see the non-swimmers area.  It was not more than three feet deep.

The daily camp schedule for the waterfront when I was there was as follows:
9-10 a. m. Aquatic Merit Badges work (Canoe, Rowing, Life Saving, Swimming)
10-11 Instruction swim for the three classifications, non-swimmer, beginner, swimmer for six campsites (always trying to make scouts better swimmers).
11-12 repeat for the other six campsites
2-3 p.m. Aquatic Merit Badge work
3-4 Free swim for six campsites
4-5 Free swim for six campsites

There were two diving boards as shown in this picture on your left.  Note the ladder and lifeguard stand with "reach" poles stacked up against it.
If you look real close you can see the Scout in mid-air as he dives off the diving board.
The showers and dressing room was located below the dam.  One of the fun things to do was to play in the water that flowed below the dam.
Canoeing Merit Badge was also taught at the camp.  Here you see two Scouts properly lowering a canoe into the water.
After a little instruction in the correct way to use a paddle, you could practice by canoeing up and down the river.
The Rowing Merit Badge was taught at camp.  One of the hardest things to do was swamp the rowboat and then get back into it.   After having rowed around for awhile and then then having to swamp the boat in that cold water was something else!  You wanted to get it right the first time.
Picture of the swimming area as it looks today.  Note that very little has changed from when the Boy Scouts used the property over 40 years ago.  The water is still clear and just as cold as it was back then.

Picture from Camp Tonkawa Springs RV Park and Campground website at:

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Information for this page, in part, taken from A History of Troop 1 (201) Longview, Texas 1917-2002, by Paul A. Yater, 2002.  Color photos provided by Robert Hightower of Palestine, TX.  They were from a former promotional slide show produced by the East Texas Area Council.  Date of photos is unknown.