So Cal Historyland
Scouting and the Order of the Arrow
I've been involved with Scouting since I was eight years old, and like most everything else in my life, I'm interested in its history as well.
A Brief History of Scouting in Orange County
Orange County has always been fertile ground for Scouting. Our first troop was founded in Anaheim in 1910, the same year the Boy Scouts of America was founded. Within a few years, troops were springing up around the county.
The first attempt to provide some sort of county-wide organization and support for local troops was in 1912, when the Santa Ana Council was formed with help from the YMCA. It lasted less than a year, and Scouting faded until World War I was over.
In 1920, a group of civic leaders formed the Orange County Council. Organizing new troops and providing a summer camp were two of its first priorities. Within a year, almost every community in the county had at least one troop, and the first summer camp was held along the Santiago Creek. In 1922, a permanent campsite was leased at Bartn Flats, in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was dubbed Camp RoKiLi, after the three service clubs that did the most to support its founding -- the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions Club. Camp RoKiLi would serve local Scouts until 1967. The Council also had several weekend camps over the years, and in 1937 opened a Sea Scout Base on Newport Harbor.
During the Depression, the Council staff shrank to just two people -- a Scout Executive and a secretary for the office in Santa Ana. Some Scouters in the northern part of the county began to feel they were not getting as much support from the Council. A new Field Executive was hired for the northern troops in 1938, but after he left two years later, the issue flared up again. In 1943 the two nothern districts decided to pull out and form their own Northern Orange County Council. The dividing line was set at roughly Katella Avenue, and the Orange County Council was renamed the Orange Empire Area Council.
Both councils struggled to keep up with the explosive growth of Orange County in the 1950s and ‘60s. Both also opened new summer camps. The Northern Orange County Council opened Camp Ahwahnee in the San Bernardino Mountains in 1955, and the Orange Empire Area Council opened Lost Valley Scout Reservation in 1964, replacing old Camp RoKiLi.
In 1953, Scouting had its biggest moment ever in Orange County when the Irvine Ranch hosted the third National Jamboree. Some 50,000 Scouts and Scouters from all over the United States were joined by guests from around the world. The Jamboree was held above Corona del Mar, in an area that now includes Fashion Island, Newport Center, and the communities of Big Canyon and East Bluff. Jamboree Road commemorates the only Jamboree ever held on the West Coast.
One of the most prominent local Scouters in the 1950s was Bill Spurgeon, the grandson of the founder of Santa Ana. He became interested in programs for older Scouts, and in 1957 launched the first vocational Exploring Post at Beckman's Helipot Division in Newport Beach. By 1959, Spurgeon's idea was adopted as a national program. Today it is best known for its law enforcement posts. The Orange County Sheriff's Department sponsored the first in the nation in 1960.
In the 1960s, the North Orange Council (as it was then known) began to experience financial difficulties. After a long debate, the decision was made to rejoin the southern council, and on August 1, 1972 the Orange County Council was reborn. After a decline in membership in the mid-70s, Orange County Scouting began growing again, adding new programs, and new facilities.
In 1991, the Orange County Council was thrust into the national spotlight, when Anaheim Hills attorney J. Grafton Randall filed a discrimination suit against the council because his ‘free thinking' twins were expected to say the word "God" in the Scout Oath. After an initial victory in the Superior Court the case went all the way to the California State Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Council in 1998.
Recent developments include a new weekend camp at Oso Lake, a rebuilt Sea Base, a new council office in Santa Ana, and the Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center just north of Irvine Park.
Orange County Scout Camps
Orange County Council, 1920-43
Camp Jotham Bixby (1921). The Orange County Council's first summer camp was located along the Santiago Creek, near what is today the Santiago Oaks Regional Park. About 150 Scouts attended camp there during its first and only summer.
Camp RoKiLi (1922-67). Located in Barton Flats, in the San Bernardino Mountains, Camp RoKiLi was named for the three service clubs that did the most to aid in its constructions -- the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs. It was used for summer camp for 42 seasons, from 1922-63, and also hosted winter camp many times. Officially closed in 1967, the lease was terminated three years later.
Sea Scout Base (1937-present). Located on Newport Harbor, not far from the Balboa Bay Club, the Sea Base is one of the leading Scout aquatics facilities in the nation. The first permanent improvements went up in the 1940s, and the facility has been rebuilt several times since then, most recently in 2003-04. It is now officially known as the Newport Sea Base.
Limestone Canyon Camp (1933-35). James Irvine donated the site for this 35-acre camp south of Irvine Lake. Though open only two years, it was used for weekend camping, camporals, and other council events.
Camp Irvine (1935-42, 1950-57). In 1935, James Irvine invited the Scouts to take over the old Country Health Camp in what is now the western end of Irvine Regional Park. Camp Irvine was surrendered to the military during World War II, but revived in 1950 by the Northern Orange County Council, who even held summer camp there a few summers.
Orange Empire Area Council, 1943-72
Camp Myford (1952-88). Another gift from The Irvine Company, named for James Irvine's youngest son, Myford Irvine. It was used for all sorts of weekend events, including more than 20 years of Cub Day Camp. It was located in Peters Canyon. Today there is a gated community there known as Tustin Ranch Estates.
Lost Valley Scout Reservation (1959-present). Purchased in 1959, and opened in 1964, Lost Valley is one of the best-known summer camps in California. With nearly 1,400 acres surrounded by state parkl and national forest, Lost Valley offers a true wilderness experience. It features two complete camps -- Camp Grace (originally known as Camp Anza), and Camp Irvine (originally known as Camp Borrego). The entire camp was renamed Schoepe Scout Reservation at Lost Valley in 2004, in honor of longtime Orange County Scouting supporter, Adolf Schoepe.
Camp Voorhis (1968-69). Planned as a Sierra base camp for troops setting off into the surrounding Inyo National Forest, limited use forced its closure after only two years. It was located just a few miles from the famous ski resort at Mammoth.
Grace Valley (1969-83). Located near Onyx Summit in the San Bernardino Mountains, Grace Valley was donated by the Hoag Foundation and named for family matriarch Grace Hoag. The Hoag Foundation also funded much of the camp's development, but harsh weather and environmental concerns limited its use, and the property was eventually sold.
Northern Orange County (North Orange) Council, 1944-72
Tonner Canyon Camp (1944-45). The Northern Orange County Council's first camp was located on General Petroleum's former recreation park near the mouth of Tonner Canyon along Brea Canyon Road. It was used only briefly, but hosted at least one Council Camporee during that time.
Camp Ahwahnee (1954-1980). The first camp actually owned by a local council, Camp Ahwahnee was located near Green Valley Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. Summer camp was held there every year from 1955 to 1978. The camp was closed in 1980, and the property was sold in 1991.
Orange County Council, 1972-present
Rancho Las Flores (1973-2007). A busy weekend camp, Rancho Las Flores includes several historic sites, including the 1868 Marcos Forster Adobe. Located on Camp Pendleton, the camp was especially convenient for troops in South Orange County.
White's Landing (2003-2006). Located on Catalina Island, White's Landing was a high adventure facility, featuring trekking, biking, and aquatic activities.
Oso Lake (2004-present). Built around a man-made lake on Oso Creek, in Rancho Santa Margarita, Oso Lake is our newest weekend camp. Not surprisingly, it offers a strong fishing program, but is also available for all sorts of other activities.
Irvine Ranch Outdoor Education Center (2008-present). In 1999, the Irvine Company promised to provide one last camp for local Scouts -- this time, an outright gift of 190 acres. The site eventually selected is just north of Irvine Regional Park. The facility is designed for multiple use by various youth organizations and school classes.
The Birth of the Order of the Arrow
In the late 1970s, I was able to meet and interview the founders of the Order of the Arrow - Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Col. Carroll A. Edson. Click here to learn a little bit more about them and the honor camper society they founded in 1915.
The Tribe of Gorgonio
Long before the Order of the Arrow became our official national honor camper society, many Scout camps had their own honor societies, most of them also based on Indian themes. At Camp RoKiLi -- the Orange County Council's first permanent summer camp -- Scouts were elected to the Tribe of Gorgonio.
The exact origins of the Tribe of Gorgonio are somewhat hazy -- obscured by both the passage of time and the TG's quasi-secret nature. But it seems clear that the Tribe owes its origins in part to its mountain namesake. From the time RoKiLi was established in 1922, one of the special features of summer camp was a hike to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California's highest peak. Those treks would soon become part of the initiation rites for the Tribe of Gorgonio.
Just what year the Tribe started is still unclear. It seems to have been around 1927 or ‘28, though the earliest published reference does not appear until 1930. The Tribe had four ranks -- Brave, Warrior, Medicine Man, and Chief -- with Scouts able to advance just one rank a year. Chiefs are mentioned as early as 1931, suggesting the Tribe had already been around at least four summers by then.
But a tribe should only have one chief. So not long afterwards, Scout Executive H.E. "Pop" White was declared the sole Chief of the Tribe of Gorgonio. In a 1935 newspaper article he explained:
"The purpose of the tribe is to perpetuate throughout the year the camping spirit of service and fellowship gained at Camp RoKiLi, to provide a means by which friendships made at camp may be continued through social activities at home and to help raise the standard of Scouting in RoKiLi and in Orange County, Harrison White, Scout executive said today. Membership in the tribe is composed of leaders in the Scout camp and is an honor organization whose members have shown leadership ability."
Unlike the Order of the Arrow, the members of the Tribe elected the new members, and voted them through the ranks. After Pop White became the sole chief, a new beginning rank was added -- Neophyte. Each rank had its own increasingly difficult initiation rites followed by a special ceremony.
Neophytes had to spend 24 hours in silence, and do work around camp. They also spent the night on the Tribe's ceremonial grounds on Tribe Hill, on a point above camp.
Braves spent 48 hours in silence, and besides their other work projects, had to lead younger campers on a hike to one of the closer destinations, such as Dollar Lake. They also began work on their own Indian regalia.
Warriors could not say a word for three days, except by the permission of a Medicine Man or Pop White. They had to make the trek to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio, camping out at Dollar Lake the night before, so they could be on the peak at sunrise.
To become a Medicine Man meant a full week of silence, even if they were on staff. These candidates led the treks up Mt. San Gorgonio. After their final initation ceremony, they would be taught the legends of the Tribe by Pop White.
The Tribe of Gorgonio survived until 1944, the year after Pop White's death. In 1945 -- much to the distress of some of the longtime members -- it was replaced by San Gorgonio Lodge of the Order of the Arrow. Even Medicine Men were required to go through the Ordeal before becoming members. In time, the Tribe of Gorgonio was all but forgotten.
San Gorgonio Lodge #298
1944 was a memorable year for Scouting in Orange County, California. The old Orange County Council (founded in 1920) split in two, with the Orange Empire Area Council serving the southern two-thirds of the county, and the Northern Orange County Council taking the rest. It was also the year that planning began for a local lodge of the Order of the Arrow.
Orange County already had an honor camper society -- the Tribe of Gorgonio, organized around 1927 at Camp RoKiLi in the San Bernardino Mountains, under the shadow of Mount San Gorgonio. Like most honor camper groups, the TG used an Indian motif. There were four ranks: Neophyte, Brave, Warrior, and Medicine Man, with longtime Scout Executive H.E. "Pop" White serving as Chief.
But "Pop" White died in 1943, just before the council split, and new leadership stepped in. Lloyd Paxton became Scout Executive of the new Northern Orange County Council. He had been with the Riverside County Council, where Tahquitz Lodge #127 had been active since 1938. Paxton ran Camp RoKiLi for Scouts from both councils in the summer of 1944. He seems to have been the first to propose replacing the Tribe of Gorgonio with the Order of the Arrow.
Plans to break up the Tribe were first announced in October, 1944. Many members were less than pleased. In the Tribe, the members had elected the new members; now every Scout would have a vote. That would turn it into a popularity contest, they said. "The honor tribe is for honor campers -- not for the most popular ones," one Medicine Man wrote. "It does not seem right to destroy something that hundreds of fellows have gone through and still remember," another wrote. "[The] TG can never be replaced by any other order."
Some Tribe members were cautiously supportive, including E.H. "Red" Knaus, who had been acting chief since "Pop" White's death. Others were strong advocates, including Santa Ana Scoutmaster Bob Boyle. Both would later serve as Lodge Advisors. While the debate continued, plans moved ahead.
San Gorgonio Lodge was inducted at the Council Camporee, held in Santiago Park in Santa Ana on May 26-27, 1945. Arrowmen from Siwinis Lodge #252 came down from Los Angeles to induct the first four Ordeal candidates. Three other Scouts who had been members of other lodges before moving to Orange County also joined. These seven Scouts were joined by seven adult leaders, and San Gorgonio Lodge #298 was born.
San Gorgonio was officially chartered on June 2, 1945. Until 1949, it was listed in national records as just "Gorgonio" lodge, but the San Gorgonio name had been in use locally since at least 1946. The name honors the old Tribe of Gorgonio, which was named for the mountain overlooking Camp RoKiLi, the tallest peak in Southern California. Climbing to the very top of Mt. San Gorgonio (11,502') had always been a part of the Tribe's membership requirements.
Elbert Clark, one of the first four candidates in May of 1945, was elected San Gorgonio's first chief, and the lodge soon established a regular schedule of spring and fall events, with summer camp still the highlight of the year. The lodge grew slowly until the mid-1950s, when Orange County's population began to soar. Still, it was not until the 1960s that separate chapter activities became important in the lodge.
During the planning stages, TG members had been told that they could simply transfer into the new organization, but that was not the case. Even "Red" Knaus had to go through his Ordeal like any other candidate that first summer of 1945. For several years after the council split, the Orange Empire Area and Northern Orange County councils shared Camp RoKiLi, and so San Gorgonio Lodge inducted members from both councils. It was not until 1950 that the Northern Orange County Council formed their own lodge, Ahwahnee #430.
Not surprisingly, the two lodges in one county became fierce rivals over the years. But in 1972, financial pressures forced the two local councils to merge, and re-form the Orange County Council. San Gorgonio and Ahwahnee lodges had no choice but to merge as well, forming Wiatava Lodge #13.
Ahwahnee Lodge #430
In the late 1940s, Scouts in the Northern Orange County Council shared a summer camp with the Orange Empire Area Council. Until 1943, in fact, the two councils had been one. The Order of the Arrow had come to Orange County in 1945, when the Orange Empire Area Council had organized San Gorgonio Lodge #298. And because they shared a summer camp, Scouts and Scouters from the northern council were also inducted into San Gorgonio Lodge.
As early as 1946, the Northern Orange County Council had looked into founding their own lodge, but decided the time was not yet right. "This situation continued till the spring of 1949," Scout Executive Lloyd Paxton later wrote. "During the preceding two years the membership in the Order of the Arrow increased enough to warrant the formation of a lodge in the Northern Orange County Council, [so] the nucleus of the present lodge transferred [from San Gorgonio] to the new lodge being formed and subsequently became the charter members of the new lodge called Ahwahnee."
Organizational work continued throughout the rest of 1949 under pre-charter chief Tom Murdoch, a member of Siwinis Lodge #252 in Los Angeles who had moved south to Orange County. Around the beginning of 1950, elections were held, and Don Piantoni was elected as the proposed lodge's first official chief. In early February, 1950, a formal application was sent to the National Office, and on February 21, 1950, Ahwahnee Lodge #430 was officially chartered. There were 21 charter members; 14 Scouts and seven Scouters. The first Advisor was E.H. "Red" Knaus, who had been the last chief of the local honor camper society, the Tribe of Gorgonio, which had been dissolved in 1945.
Ahwahnee was the name of the Miwok Indian village in the famed Yosemite Valley in California's Sierra Nevada. It is said to mean "deep grassy valley." Later, Ahwahnee also was chosen as the name of the Northern Orange County Council's camp, near Green Valley Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. Summer camp was held at Camp Ahwahnee from 1955 to 1978.
Ahwahnee Lodge grew rapidly in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, but it was not until 1967 that chapters became important in the operation of the lodge. In the early years, the lodge was especially known for its dance teams.
The Northern Orange County Council (renamed the North Orange Council in 1965) survived until 1972, when financial pressures forced them to merge into the neighboring Orange Empire Area Council, which again became known as the Orange County Council. With the council merger came the merger of Ahwahnee and San Gorgonio lodges to form Wiatava Lodge #13.
Wiatava Lodge #13
Orange County, California, has always been fertile ground for Scouting. The original Orange County Council was formed in 1920, and in 1944 split into the Orange Empire Area Council and the Northern Orange County Council. But in 1972, financial pressures forced the two councils to merge, and the Orange County Council was reborn.
The council merger forced the merger of their two lodges, San Gorgonio #298 and Ahwahnee #430. Both lodges operated side by side in the new council during the fall of 1972, while a joint committee developed the plans for a new lodge.
The lodge merger went "a great deal smoother than the council merger," recalls Ron Ellis, Ahwahnee's last chief. Not that there was not some friction. When it came time to vote on joint decisions, each chapter got one vote -- giving San Gorgonio (which had one more chapter that Ahwahnee) the edge. "They controlled more of the ‘we're going to do it our way or your way' decisions," Ellis concedes.
Wiatava Lodge #13 was officially formed on January 1, 1973. The new number was the lowest one available at the time (the original lodge #13 was Wakay in Chicago, which had folded in 1929). The new name had been proposed by members of San Gorgonio Lodge, who said it was the Indian name for the Santa Ana Valley, which makes up much of central Orange County, and was translated as "green river valley".
It was not until years later that the truth came out -- Wiatava is actually the Cupeño Indian name for Lost Valley, the council summer camp where San Gorgonio held most of its activities from 1964-72. It means "place of the oaks." Had this been known in 1972, the Ahwahnee members never would have accepted the name -- they had their own summer camp, named after their lodge. But the name has proven appropriate, since Lost Valley Scout Reservation still serves as the Orange County Council's summer camp, and the site of most Wiatava Lodge activities.
Lodge elections were held at the first Wiatava Lodge Banquet on January 13, 1973. The new council was a mixture of leaders from both former lodges, with Charlie Wisdom of San Gorgonio as chief.
It took a few years for the old rivalry to die down, but by 1980, almost all the hard feelings had been laid to rest. For the first six years, Wiatava alternated its Fall Pow Wows between Lost Valley and Camp Ahwahnee, until Ahwahnee was closed down. The first three chiefs had all been members of San Gorgonio Lodge; it was not until 1976 that a chief was elected from the old Ahwahnee territory. After that, the distinction didn't much matter -- most of the young Arrowmen had joined the lodge after the merger, and were simply members of Wiatava Lodge.
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." - Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
© Phil Brigandi