Camp Tonkawa

The first camp of the Chisholm Trail Council, then known as the Abilene Council, was held in 1925 on the Baptist Encampment grounds at Christoval, Texas.  This same site had been used by two other councils for a summer camp, Concho Valley Council and Buffalo Trail Council.  The camp was ten-days long and had some seventy to eighty boys attend.  One of the highlights of this camp was a ceremony in which the first Eagle Scout badge was presented to an Abilene Council Scout.  He was Eugene Surface, the son of Dr. E. B. Surface, who was pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church in Abilene.  The Scouts rode a booster train from San Angelo back to Abilene.  They formed a parade at every town they stopped at on the way home.

The council was unable to put together a camp in 1926 because John Price took two buses of Boy Scouts to Philadelphia that summer.  It was felt that Christoval was too far away from Abilene to have another camp there, so in 1927, they went to the Baptist Encampment grounds at Lueders, and was the first camp sponsored by the new Chisholm Trail Council.  They almost didn't have camp back there in 1928, because of a water shortage.  But, Ralph Harper, an Eagle Scout, borrowed a water tank and wagon from a man at Lueders and hauled water from Abilene so they could have camp.  The 1927 and 1928 camps were under the leadership of the new Chisholm Trail Council.

In 1929, the camp was held at the Presbyterian Encampment Grounds at Buffalo Gap with eighty-five boys for a ten-day period, which was very common in the early days of Scouting.  A boy went to camp for the sum of $6, or he could stay for two weeks for only $11.   According to a thesis written by Claude Glen Willis in 1952, "No leaders were required to be with the boys during their stay in camp.  This was mass camping with the camp director looking after all the boys.  The camp program consisted of swimming, life saving, first aid, hiking, mountain climbing, Scout craft, and group singing.  There was a campfire program and Court of Honor on each Monday night.  One feature attraction for this camp was the all day hike in which every member of the camp participated.  There was no one in camp on this hike day and the noon meal was eaten out on the hike."

This became Camp Tonkawa, located in Buffalo Gap some sixteen miles south of Abilene, TX, and is now owned by the Texas Trails Council, BSA,  formerly Chisholm Trail Council, BSA.   This camp was established in 1929 and is now celebrating its 75th Anniversary.

                      Old Trading Post 
Former Trading PostCredit for the idea of founding Camp Tonkawa must go to Judge C. M. Caldwell.  He and Ed Shumway secured a lease from the City of Abilene to a small five acres plot near the State Park at Buffalo Gap, TX.  The land was leased in May, 1929 but soon proved too small, so in 1936 they added another fifty acres of land for a total of fifty-five acres for the camp.  By 1949 that was increased to ninety-six acres.   They found out, when they wanted a ninety-nine year lease on the land, that the city had actually leased the land to the State of Texas for a park.  The State of Texas could not give a ninety-nine year lease until after 1970, which was the date which the bonded indebtedness against Lake Abilene was completely paid.  They did, however, give them a twenty-five year lease on the land.

Once they had the land they had to build campsites on it and build permanent buildings on the land. Those improvements came very slowly as the Council did not have that kind of money in their budget.

 Summer Camp In 1929

The first summer camp held at the new Camp Tonkawa was held in July 1930 with Ed Shumway as the Camp Director.  A large building had been built to serve as a mess hall.  It was fifty feet wide and one hundred feet long with a dirt floor and open walls.  The cooking, as in many camps of that day, was done on a round top wood burning heater.  The Scouts furnished their own mess kits.

A dirt dam was built across Elm Creek and the area where the dirt was taken out became the swimming pool.  The banks of the swimming pool and the bottom of the pool were very muddy.  The drinking water was hauled in on a wagon.  A man from Buffalo Gap used two tanks for this purpose.  He kept one at camp and used the other one to haul the water and fill the tank at camp.  The water was from open stock tanks and was untreated.

Log Cabin

                       Old Dining Hall
Old Dining HallThe boys started the building of a log cabin and was located about 100 yards north of the mess hall.  The only time any work was done on the cabin was during summer camp.  It was never completed and only needed a roof to be usable.  It was removed in 1942 by unknown parties.
Totem Pole 
Totem pole in front of training centerThesummer camp in 1931 was the same as in 1930 with no improvements made to the camp facilities.  Red Cross life saving classes were taught in the dirt pool.  By 1932 they had decided to not use the pool at camp.  Instead, using buses, they took the Scouts to the swimming pool at the Presbyterian Encampment grounds.  A water well was dug about twenty steps east of the log cabin and was used for drinking.  The water had to be drawn out of the well with a bucket.

A commissary was built between the mess hall and the new well.  It was a ten foot square building open on three sides.  They sold ice cold drinks, candy and handicraft items out of this new facility. It was dismantled in 1930 and a new one was opened in the south-west corner of the mess hall.

By the summer of 1934 the Scouts went to the State Park swimming pool for a charge of ten cents per day per Scout.  The C.C. C. boys were stationed in barracks at the State Park.  They moved away early in 1935 and arrangements were made for that summer camp to be held in their buildings at the State Park.

The following year they moved back to Camp Tonkawa and dug a new water well which provided the camp with their water for the next couple of years.  Very few changes in the physical equipment was made at the camp over the next several years.  The well went dry and they were forced to dig yet another well which was considered very weak but is still producing water today.  In 1938 they put a concrete floor in the mess hall and screened it in.  They also added a few dishes to the kitchen. All during this time Ed Shumway was the camp director and his wife served as nurse.

Totem Pole

The totem pole, pictured on the right, is located in front of the Training Center.  The tall telephone pole, carved by the Scouts of Lueders, Texas, use to be located 1949-1953 near the tabernacle on the grounds of the Lueders Baptist Encampment near Lueders, Texas, north of Abilene.. The pole was moved to Camp Tonkawa sometime in the 50's. It was painted in some bright colors like red, white, blue and maybe some green when it was at the Baptist Encampment.  Little is known about how it made its way to Camp Tonkawa or exactly when it was moved.

No Camps From 1939 - 1942

                             Health Lodge
Health LodgeThere was no summer camps held at Camp Tonkawa from 1939 through 1942.  It was in 1938 that the Executive Board of the council had trouble in removing Ed Shumway from the position of Scout Executive and employing Laverne Haugness as his replacement.  Haugness was in opposition to the camp program and allowed the camp property to deteriorate and the grounds to become overgrown with shrubs and brush.  It was during this time that the log cabin was removed and kitchen equipment stolen.  The public had been cutting the cedar trees on the property for Christmas trees.

The board employed a camp caretaker in early 1943 by the name of W. W. Faulkenberry and he got the camp ready to open again that summer.  He lived in a room in the corner of the mess hall.  Camp Barkeley furnished the camp with serving dishes and the boys furnished their own mess kits. By the summer of 1943, a two room rock house was built for the caretaker at a cost of $700.

The cook for the 1943 summer camp was a man by the name of Howard.  He was a great cook and always insisted on working by himself.  He could cook for a few people or two hundred and serve every meal on time.  One Sunday afternoon in 1946 about two hundred people were registered for the evening meal.  Howard did not show up at camp to prepare the meal so several men went to Abilene to see about him.   There they found him too drunk to sober up.   A group of scout leaders, under the direction of Mrs. Paul Ireland, had to prepare the meal for that night, the next morning, and lunch that day.   They went out in search of a new cook but none could be found.  Therefore, Howard was kept on until the end of the season and that was all for him at Camp Tonkawa.

Swimming Pool 
Swimming PoolBy that same summer they had built a new swimming pool, a new hot water system, dish washing system, butane gas for cooking, a new handicraft and headquarters lodge, a newly painted mess hall, eight new troop campsites and a new obstacle training course.

By 1949 the camping program was converted from a mass camp to a troop camp. Instead of boys coming to camp and being look after by just the camp director, they now came to camp with their troop under a troop leader.  All troop leaders were advised in advance that, if a boy planned to attend camp, he must come in a troop and each troop must have a least one adult leader.  It took a couple of years for this new way of camping to catch on but has proven to be the best method of camp operation and is still used at the camp today.

By 1951 a rifle range and Archery range was added to the camp program.

              Mural Inside Dining Hall
Mural inside dining hallA new dining hall was built in 1957-58 and completely remodeled in 1996.  The old dining hall, later called the Recreation building and Quartermaster building, was built in the early thirties on the edge of Elm Creek.  It was still a good building but needed some major repair work done on it.  They jacked up the roof, removed the rotten sills and cut the studs off at about 3 feet from the floor, and then built a cement block wall about three feet high, installed new sills and lowered  the building back onto the cement block wall.  In 1962 the Kiwanis Club of Abilene donated $500 and a new galvanized steel roof was added to the old building.  It is still in use today.

The lake was developed in 1957.  Fred Swan of the Caterpillar Tractor Company took on the job of using one of his largest dozers and an employee to clear the area of trees in preparation of building the lake.  They discovered that there was too much sand below the topsoil and that the lake may not hold water.  With the help of several producing oil companies donating drilling mud to line the new lake they were able to seal the bottom so it would hold water.

Everything went well until they started bulldozing for the base of the dam.  All of a sudden the bulldozer started sinking in quick sand.  They had to make a quick call into Abilene to get the largest piece of equipment available to rescue the dozer.   Shortly after the dam was completed a good rain came and filled up the lake.  Since the lake has been built it has filled up with silt and is now very shallow.

Training Center 
Training Center and Nature CenterThe Camp Ranger's residence is a former barracks building at the Stamford, Texas Air Field during World War II.  It was used as a Scout meeting place in Avoca for several years having been donated by Mr. and Mrs. R. T. Taylor of that city.   Later, after the troop had been disbanded, the building was donated to the council and remodeled into a nice residence for the Camp Ranger and his family. The moving of the building and remodel work was done in about 1962.  Present Camp Ranger is Chris Wallace, who officially came on the job on March 1, 2006

In about 1994 a new COPE Course was built which had proved to be one of the highlights of the summer camp program. A COPE Course is a ropes course with both a low course and a high course designed to give boys a challenge to see how good they were in problem solving and using skills sometimes twenty feet off the ground.  A new training facility and camp office was completed in 1995    The camp continues to serve the needs of the Scouts in the Chisholm Trail Council.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, May 28, 2009, approved the transfer of 91.3 acres of Abilene State Park property to the Texas Trails Council, which had been leasing the land from the State for 60 years. The first lease was started on June 7, 1949 and was to last for 19 year.  It was renewed for 50 years and was due to expire in 2018. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department retained a conservaton easement on the land and also the state stipulaed that if the propery was ever used for anything other than a Boy Scout Camp, the land would revert to the Texas Parks and Wildlife ownership.

One week of summer camp is planned for Camp Tonkawa June 27 through July 3, 2010 during the 100th Anniversary of Scouting.

 | Click here for more photos of Camp Tonkawa | Henry McGinty Story About Camp Tonkawa

Information for this page was gathered from "History of the Chisholm Trail Council Boy Scouts of America", by Claude "Skipper" Willis, August 1952, and "Chisholm Trail Council Boy Scouts of America, 1954 - 1969",  by Henry H. McGinty, June 1, 1997.

Last updated:  February 1, 2010
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