Smoke Signals




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by William Tomkins

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The author has been asked many times to include a code of smoke signals in this book, for the benefit of the Boy Scouts and others.  Smoke signals were not a standardized code as in the sign language.  Inasmuch as they aimed to transmit secret knowledge, most or many of the signs were devised privately and to suit a particular purpose or the caprice of the transmittor.

As the signals were visible to all, unless they had a secretly understood significance they would be conveying the information alike to friend and enemy.  There were, however, certain more or less recognized abstract smoke signals, of which the following are a few.  One puff meant ATTENTION.  Two puffs meant ALL'S WELL.  Three puffs of smoke, or three fires in a row, signifies DANGER, TROUBLE, OR A CALL FOR HELP.

An interesting diversion can be had by a party of Boy Scouts or others who will first pre-arrange their code of signals, then some members of the party go to an adjacent high hill or mountain, where they build a fire for the purpose on a visible point.  After bringing the small fire to a blaze, a smoke fire is created by adding some handfuls of grass or with some green branches which may have been carried up for the purpose.   Apart from the fire the most necessary adjunct is a blanket or tarp to control the smoke, which when the fire is smoking well is liberated in a series of puffs, which convey the message.

At this point we would like to emphasize the importance of three signals of any kind as indicating danger or a call for help.  If any boy is ever in serious trouble where he needs to call for help, three shouts, three whistles, three shots from a gun, three smoke signals, three fires in a row at night in a place where they might be visible, all should be interpreted to convey the message that a person is in danger or requires assistance.

It should be impressed upon all boys that the number three, whether in shots, fires, whistles or smokes, is the distress signal of Boy Scouts and of all woodsmen plainsmen, and outdoor people generally.  The importance of this signal cannot be overestimated.   It should always be borne in mind that under no circumstances should this signal ever be given except in case of actual necessity, and never in a joking or foolish manner.

Universal Indian Sign Language






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.