Just Over Next Hill
Philip T. Pegues was a member of Troop103 of Eastland. This is his first person story about going to Camp Billy Gibbons in 1938. He later became a professional Scouter for the Boy Scouts of America. He wrote this in the summer of 1998 in a series of e-mails sent to Frank T. Hilton.
Going to Boy Scout Camp for the first time, waiting to get a first glimpse of this wondrous apparition you have heard so much about ---that must be universal "high" for young people everywhere.
In 1938, Camp Billy Gibbons was a very long way from our home town, Eastland, Texas. Members of Troop 103, chartered to the First Methodist Church, gathered one early summer morning, loaded our footlockers and troop equipment on a large open truck, then climbed over the equipment to the front of the bed of the truck.
After a long windy ride we passed through Brady, Texas. Beyond Brady were mostly dirt roads that climbed over hills and down into valleys. After topping several hills, the "old timer" scouts began to tell the younger scouts the camp was "just over the next hill." Of course, we all vied for position looking over the cab of the truck to be the first to see the camp. As we topped the "next" hill, all we could see was more trees and more hills. This was repeated until the euphoria of spotting the camp became less attractive -- and, we caught on that the older scouts were just kidding us.
Then -- suddenly and miraculously -- there was a creek to be forded, a dam where we were told we could swim, and then a dining hall. The "next hill" had been passed and we had arrived at the "glorious" Camp Billy Gibbons.
After checking in, the troop drove down to our campsite. Giant cypress trees lined Clear Creek where we established our camp on a level site well above the water line. We set up our tents, cots and mosquito netting. We dug a urinal, put the required chemicals in it and covered it with a screen. Four hole open "out houses" had been place on the hill above us earlier by the staff. We were ready!!
The Dinning Hall of Old Camp Billy Gibbons was really "a mess." The building was old and in need of repairs. It was screened and fairly fly free. The camp kitchen stoves were wood burners. I do not believe there was any electricity in the camp.
There were formal retreat ceremonies every evening. In retrospect, it is amazing how many of us were able to have uniforms, even though we were still coming out of the depression era.
Troops lined up before meals and inspections of varying types took place. Almost always, hands and fingernails were inspected for cleanliness.
Each Troop had their own tables. KP duties rotated among the members so that one scout went to the mess hall early to make sure everything was clean and ready. These scouts would bring out all the food and place it on the tables family style. During the meal, the same scout would take bowls back to the kitchen for "refills." After the meal, they stayed to return dishes to the kitchen and clean their tables.
After most meals there were songs, announcements and the "Spat King" ruled. We sang some of the same songs today's scouts sing. I remember we had great fun with "Found a Peanut." The announcements concerned camp activities and especially the evenings' campfire. The "Spat King" (Pouncey) had a large paddle which he applied to the rear end of persons who needed "spats." Most were given by Pouncey for one reason or another regarding camp discipline. An example of this was when "Bones" Jones and I went to Honeycomb Cave by ourselves --- got turned around inside long enough to miss the evening meal -- and when we finally came out, there was Pouncey waiting for us. We got it good that night. (I wrote this story up as part of my High School Senior English Autobiography. I can send it as it was written but it boils down to being lost in the cave and how we found our way out just as our flashlights gave out). At the end of the "Spat" session, the Spat King would call on any scout who felt he deserved "spats" for anything he had done or not done that day, to come forward. The "offender" would pronounce his own sentence (number of "spats") and Pouncey would deliver them.
During the meal, a Senior Staff Member observed table manners and cleanliness during the meal. The last item on the mess hall program was the selection of a Pig Table by a Senior Staff Member. The staff Member walked up and down the isles with a large ceramic pig. We scouts all sat quite still until he had placed the Pig on some other table than ours. The entire Pig table then did extra duty cutting wood and other chores as might be assigned by the kitchen and Senior Staff.
In front of the old Camp Billy Gibbons mess hall was an old wooden table turned to it's side. We were allowed to throw knives and axes at this table under the direction of a man called "Chief" (as I recall) who was, at least, part Indian. He taught things like wood carving and possibly more. However, he was more an ornament or spirit in the camp than an actually senior staff member.
The Swimming Hole
The swimming hole was down the creek from camp. It seemed wide and long. Earning the Life Saving and Swimming merit badges was somewhat complicated (or simplified, depending on how you look at it) by the fact that the water was not always clear enough to see the weight to be brought up from the bottom. Some had to earn that part of the badge diving for objects in their swimming pools back home. Long swims, including the old "Mile Swim" award, had places where your feet might hit bottom if you were floating to rest before completing the long swim.
One summer there was a woman nurse in resident at the camp. Pouncey would occasionally take her for a moon light canoe ride after taps. Some of us slipped out of camp to watch them paddle in the moonlight.
The Clear Creek Bath Tub
Just down the hill from Troop 103's usual campsite, was a place in the creek that had been dammed by stacking large rocks. This arrangement provided an area about 4 or 5 feet across deep enough to submerge one's body. The water moved from up stream at about 1 foot a second (judging by how fast the "floating" Ivory soap came back down to the tub after you had thrown it up stream). The water was clear and clean and it felt good.
The Cold Springs Trip
One of the favorite hikes was to Cold Springs. Our troop usually would go under the leadership of one of the older scouts. We would follow Clear Creek down to the San Saba and turn to the right. I believe that was in a southerly direction. Almost immediately we would come to Dead Man's Hole. This part of the river had scooped out a smooth area about 30 feet long and an irregular 2 to 3 feet wide. The water flowed down the "slide" effect to a deeper, but still shallow, depression. It was fun to slide down to Dead Man's Hole.
As we moved up river we passed some caves in the embankment, and on one occasion, were able to build a trap and capture a raccoon. We built a cage of sticks and cactus fiber and got him in the cage. Don't ask me how we did it! All I remember is that we did capture it and I have a picture to prove it. We took the cage and raccoon back to camp. However, it escaped the first night.
Cold Springs was quite a distance. It may have been far enough to qualify as the 14 mile hike. Once there, we could cool off in the very cold water. The water was so clear, that it acted as a lens. First timers who were not warned in advance, would step into what appeared to be knee deep water -- and would go in over their heads. The water was so cold you could not stay in it for long.
On the trip back to camp, various wild life were observed, including rattlesnakes and turkey. On one return late in the evening, we were all "scared silly" when a whole flock of turkeys took off from a tree above us.
The "Coke" Incident
The last day of the camping session, Coca-Cola was sold two for a nickel. One foolish camper kept buying and drinking "Coke" until he felt ill with stomach cramps. I obviously frightened out Camp Director (and council scout executive) Guy Quirl. He picked me up off the ground and carried me to the first aid tent. I do not remember what happened after that. However, that foolish camper is still here -- with a lesson learned the hard way.
There were nightly campfires. There were sometimes intertroop fires, camp wide challenge fires, stunt fires and ceremonial fires.
The Challenge Fires featured each troop choosing a champion to challenge anyone else to a contest. As I remember, the location of this fire was up stream and in a gully. Contests I remember were leg wrestling, loud yelling and singing a song backwards. The latter contest had no challengers. Later we discovered the challenger had practiced taking the first letter of each word and placing it at the beginning of other words in the "the Old Gray Mare." We recognized the tune, but had no idea how to sing it "backwards."
The only stunt I remember was the "Patience, Jackass" stunt.
Once a week there was a ceremonial fire. As we wound our way single file to the campfire area, we passed outcroppings of rock above our heads where chemically lighted tableaus of Indians and the sign of the Kunieh painted on a large rock overhang. The campfire program did not include the calling of names to be initiated. However, there were fire ceremonies and magical fire opening and stories.
The Rams Horn
Following the campfire, we returned to camp. Soon after, taps was blown and everyone knew that someone in the campsite would be "called out." We also knew that we were to be silent -- no matter what happened or what method was used in the "call out."
Usually, it was about half an hour after taps when the distant wail of the "rams horn" came floating across the camp. Once --Twice -- Three times. Then, out of the darkness came a costumed figure (or figures ) to walk silently among the campers -- finally stopping before one, motioning him to dress and follow. Thus began the all night vigil of those selected to the Tribe of Kunieh.