Nine Important Principles of Woodcraft
[see also: The Indian's Creed]
This is a time when the whole nation is turning toward the Outdoor Life, seeking in it the physical regeneration so needful for continued national existence -- is waking to the fact long known to thoughtful men, that those live longest who live nearest to the ground -- that is, who live the simple life of primitive times, divested, however, of the evils that ignorance in those times begot.
Consumption, the white man's plague since he has become a house race, is vanquished by the sun and air, and many ills of the mind also are forgotten when the sufferer boldly takes to the life in tents.
Half our diseases are in our minds and half in our houses. We can safely leave the rest to the physicians for treatment.
Sport is the great incentive to Outdoor Life: Nature Study is the intellectual side of sport.
I should like to lead this whole nation into the way of living outdoors for at least a month each year, reviving and expanding a custom that as far back as Moses was deemed essential to the national well-being.
Not long ago a benevolent rich man, impressed with this idea, chartered a steamer and took some hundreds of slum boys up to the Catskills for a day in the woods. They were duly landed and told to "go in now and have a glorious time." It was like gathering up a net full of catfish and throwing them into the woods, saying, "Go and have a glorious time."
The boys sulked around and sullenly disappeared. An hour later, on being looked up, they were found in groups under the bushes, smoking cigarettes, shooting "craps," and playing cards -- the only things they knew.
Thus the well-meaning rich man learned that it is not enough to take men out of doors. We must also teach them to enjoy it.
The purpose of this book is to show how Outdoor Life may be followed to advantage.
Nine leading principles are kept in view:
(1) This movement is essentially for recreation.
(2) Camp-life. Camping is the simple life reduced to actual practice, as well as the culmination of the outdoor life.
Camping has no great popularity to-day, because men have the idea that it is possible only after an expensive journey to the wilderness; and women that it is inconvenient, dirty, and dangerous.
These are errors. they have arisen because camping as an art is not understood. When intelligently followed, camp-life must take its place as a cheap and delightful way of living, as well as a mental and physical savior of those strained or broken by the grind of the over-busy world.
The wilderness affords the ideal camping, but many of the benefits can be got by living in a tent on a town lot, a piazza, or even a housetop.
(3) Self-government with Adult Guidance. Control from without is a poor thing when you can get control from within. As far as possible, then, we make these camps self-governing. Each full member has a vote in affairs.
(4) The Magic of the Campfire. What is a camp without a campfire? -- no camp at all, but a chilly place in a landscape, where some people happen to have some things.
When first the brutal anthropoid stood up and walked erect -- was man, the great event was symbolized and marked by the lighting of the first campfire.
For millions of years our race has seen in this blessed fire. the means and emblem of light, warmth, protection, friendly gathering, council. All the hallow of the ancient thoughts, hearth, fireside, home is centered in its glow, and the home-tie itself is weakened with the waning of the home-fire. Not in the steam radiator can we find the spell; not in the water coil; not even in the gas log; they do not reach the heart. Only the ancient sacred fire of wood has the power to touch and thrill the chords of primitive remembrance. When men sit together at the campfire they seem to shed all modern form and poise, and hark back to the primitive -- to meet as man and man -- to show the naked soul. Your campfire partner wins your love, or hate, mostly your love; and having camped in peace together, is a lasting bond of union -- however wide your worlds may be apart.
The campfire, then, is the focal center of all primitive brotherhood. We shall not fail to use its magic powers.
(5) Woodcraft Pursuits. Realizing that manhood, not scholarship, is the first aim of education, we have sought out those pursuits which develop the finest character, the finest physique, and which may be followed out of doors, which in a word, make for manhood.
By nearly every process of logic we are led primarily to Woodcraft -- that is, Woodcraft in a large sense -- meaning every accomplishment of an all-round Woodman -- Riding, Hunting, Camper-craft, Scouting, Mountaineering, Indian-craft, First aid, Star-craft, Signaling, and Boating. To this we add all good outdoor Athletics and Sports, including Sailing and Motoring, and Nature Study, of which Wild Animal Photography is an important branch; but above all, Heroism.
Over three hundred deeds or exploits are recognized in these various departments, and the members are given decorations that show what they achieved. (See Woodcraft Manual.)
(6) Honors by Standards. The competitive principle is responsible for much that is evil. We see it rampant in our colleges to-day, where every effort is made to discover and develop a champion, while the great body of students is neglected, That is, the ones who are in need of physical development do not get it, and hose who do not need it are over-developed. The result is much unsoundness of many kinds. A great deal of this would be avoided if we strove to bring all the individuals up to a certain standard. In our non-competitive tests the enemies are not "the other fellows," but time and space, the forces of Nature. We try not to down the others, but to raise ourselves. Although application of this principle would end many of the evils now demoralizing college athletics. Therefore, all our honors are bestowed according to world-wide standards. (Prizes are not honors.) (See Woodcraft Manual.)
(7) Personal Decoration for Personal Achievements. The love of glory is the strongest motive in a savage. Civilized man is supposed to find in high principle his master impulse. But hose who believe that the men of our race, not to mention boys, are civilized in this highest sense, would be greatly surprised if confronted with figures. Nevertheless, a human weakness may be good material to work with, I face the facts as they are. All have a chance for glory through the standards, and we blazon it forth in personal decorations that all can see, have, and desire.
(8) A Heroic Ideal, The boy from ten to fifteen, like the savage, is purely physical in his ideals. I do not know that I ever met a boy that would not rather be John L. Sullivan than Darwin or Tolstoi. Therefore, I accept the fact and seek to keep in view an ideal that is physical, but also clean, manly, heroic, already familiar, and leading with certainty to higher things.
(9) Picturesqueness in Everything, Very great importance should be attached to this. The effect of the picturesque is magical, and all the more subtle and irresistible because it is not on the face of it reasonable. The charm of titles and gay costumes, of the beautiful in ceremony, phrase, dance, and song, are utilized in all ways.
When two or three young people campout, they can live as a sort of family, especially if a grown-up be with them; but when a dozen or more are of the party, it is necessary to organize.
What manner of organization will be practical, and also give full recognition to the
nine principles of scouting? What form of government lends itself best to --
In my opinion, the Tribal or Indian form of organization.
Fundamentally, this is a republic or limited monarchy, and many experiments have proved it best for our purpose. It makes its members self-governing; it offers appropriate things to do outdoors; it is so plastic that it can be adopted in whole or in part, at once or gradually; its picturesqueness takes immediate hold of all; and it lends itself so well to our object that, son or late, other forms of organization are forced into its essentials.
No large band of boys ever yet camped out for a month without finding it necessary to recognize a leader, a senior form (or ruling set whose position rests on merit), some wise grown person to guide them in difficulties, and a place to display the emblems of the camp; that is, they have adopted the system of the Chief, Council, Medicine Man and Totem-pole.
Moreover, the Ideal Indian stands for the highest type of primitive life. He was a master of woodcraft, and unsordid, clean, manly, heroic, self-controlled, reverent, truthful, and picturesque always.
America owes much to the Redman. Then the struggle for freedom came on, it was between men of the same blood and bone, equal in brains and in strength. The British had the better equipment perhaps. The great advantage of the American was that he was trained in Woodcraft, and this training which gave him victory, he got from the Redman.
But the Redman can do a greater service now and in the future. He can teach us the ways of outdoor life, the nobility of courage, the joy of beauty, the blessedness of enough, the glory of service, the power of kindness, the super-excellence of peace of mind and the scorn of death. For those were the things that the Redman stood for; these were the sum of his faith.
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.