The Chief Seattle Council is one of seven Boy Scouts of America (BSA) councils in Washington. It serves the Puget Sound region, including Seattle, and the Olympic Peninsula. The Seattle council traces its origins to 1911, just one year after the BSA was organized as a new youth organization in the U.S. The national BSA formally chartered the Chief Seattle Council on December 8, 1916. From its original focus on offering a program for Boy Scouts between ages 12 and 16, the council has expanded its operations and opportunities both for younger boys and their parents (Lion Cubs, Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts) and for young adults (Varsity Scouts, Venturers). The council is composed of 12 districts, with each district currently made up of Cub Scout packs, BSA troops, and co-educational Venturing crews. In addition, the council operates a Sea Scout program in which young people aged 14 to 21 engage in marine activities. Over the years, the council has mentored generations of Scouts with a focus on civil service, physical activity, enjoyment of the outdoors, and a code of conduct outlined in the Scout Oath.
Early Scouting in King County
The Boy Scouts of America was founded on February 8, 1910, by William D. Boyce (1858-1929), with the first troop organized on the East Coast. Boyce had seen the success of a scouting program begun in England by a British army officer, Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), and sought to emulate it as a way for American boys to learn woodcraft and survival skills in the great outdoors. The basic structure of the Boy Scouts was a "troop," each of them comprising 10 to 12 "dens," while Cub Scout or "Cubbing" packs were added in 1930 for younger boys between eight and 11. At the national level, the U.S. President was given the title of honorary president of the BSA, a practice that has continued into the current era.
Only a year after the BSA's founding, a group of Seattle civic leaders began work to establish the first Boy Scouts council in King County. Led by Major Edward S. Ingraham (1852-1926), State Senator Josiah Collins (1864-1949), and local philanthropist and Seattle Chamber of Commerce president Reginald H. Parsons (1873-1955), they adopted articles of incorporation for the local Scouting branch on April 18, 1911. While the Seattle group did not yet have a charter from the national BSA, its leaders wasted no time in recruiting boys age 14 and up to form local patrols, or troops, as the groups came to be officially designated. Adult men were also asked to participate as scoutmasters for these new troops, with meetings scheduled one evening each week. Many of these volunteers were also active in Seattle religious communities, underscoring the Scouts' mission and oath with their references to "ethical and moral choices" and "duty to God and ... country" ("Mission").
A Sea Scouts program was also gaining popularity, although at first available only on the East Coast. The Seattle Times reported that summer that, "in addition to the Boy Scouts on land, plans are under way in the East for patrols for the sea, and A. A. Carey, of Waltham, Mass., will take a number of members to sea in his ship, Pioneer, this summer for a cruise and hopes to get other vessels to join along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts" ("Busy Summer ...").
The landscape of the Pacific Northwest was well suited to Scouting activities such as camping, hiking, mountain climbing, swimming, and pathfinding. Boy Scouts could earn merit badges in these and other skills and activities and by doing so advance in rank, with the ultimate goal of earning the highest rank of Eagle Scout if all were completed.
The local council of the Boy Scouts eventually received its charter and formal recognition from the national organization on December 8, 1916. It was a timely recognition, because Ingraham, who was named first president of the newly chartered Seattle council, was actively working with Parsons and other prominent Seattle citizens to establish a new summer camp for Scouts and to formally incorporate the group as a nonprofit corporation. Success on these fronts led to the creation of Camp Parsons on Hood Canal in Jefferson County, which was approved by the council on April 15, 1919, and the signing of articles of incorporation on October 28, 1919, establishing the Seattle Council Boy Scouts of America as a legally recognized entity.
On July 27, 1923, the Seattle council along with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) hosted a BSA national jamboree at Woodland Park in Seattle. More than 30,000 Boy Scouts and other youths at the jamboree attended a speech by President Warren Harding (1865-1923), one of the last the president would ever give. In his address, the honorary Scout president extolled the boys with patriotic zeal:
"I want the boyhood of the State of Washington and the boyhood of the United States to grow up believing that the American home is the finest institution in it, not excepting the flag itself, because if we do not have ideal and happy homes the Nation is not very much worth while. I want our Republic, this wonderful America of ours, this free America, beckoning with equal opportunity to all its children, to be a land of homes, where every man is a sovereign at the fireside of happiness and hope" (Harding, 338).
Harding spoke later that afternoon at the University of Washington and then addressed the Seattle Press Club. He departed Seattle by train that evening, soon showed signs of serious illness, and died a few days later in California. Two years later, a monument to the late president by Seattle sculptor Alice Robertson Carr (1899-1996) which commemorated the event was erected Woodland Park on the site of the speech to the Boy Scout jamboree. (The monument was demolished in the 1970s, although two of Carr's statues of Scouts were preserved.)
Camp Parsons on the Olympic Peninsula
Shortly after the the Seattle council received its BSA charter, Ingraham and Parsons turned their attention to securing a permanent camp where Scouts could meet on a regular basis during the summer months. In 1919, the council approved the purchase of 165 acres located at Jackson Cove on Hood Canal near Brinnon in Jefferson County. The new camp was named for Parsons in recognition of his leadership as first president of the Chief Seattle Council, as the council had become known. The purchase cost of $2,200 came from publicly raised funds and was made for the council by the Seattle Trust Company. The first building constructed for the camp, Booth Hall, served as both dining hall and administration office.
The first Boy Scouts arrived at Camp Parsons in June 1919, traveling by ferry to Brinnon, and hiking five miles from the debarking point to the camp. Boats from the Mosquito Fleet -- the dozens of steamboats, including the Virginia V, the Concordia, the Monticello, the Fortuna, the Ariel, and more, that provided the primary means of transportation around Western Washington until well into the twentieth century -- brought loads of Boy Scouts to Camp Parsons each summer that followed up until 1950.
That first summer of 1919 saw some 100 new Boy Scouts camping on the Camp Parsons waterfront. On August 5, 1919, one of them, Charlie Harris, mailed a postcard to his parents in Seattle, in the earliest known message sent home from the camp: "Dear Folks: I am coming home Tues[day] about 2: o'clock. I am having a fine time. I passed my Second Class examination. Your son, Chas" (Harris).
Given the camp's location not far from the Olympic Mountains, it is unsurprising that many of the Scouts' summer hikes in the early years and on into the late 1950s were on the Olympic Peninsula. Indeed, even before Camp Parsons opened, University of Washington history professor Edmond S. Meany (1862-1935) had led one of the first Scouting trips to the peninsula in 1914. An active outdoor enthusiast, Meany would go on to serve as both president (1925) and commissioner (1934) for the Chief Seattle Council. For a few years after Meany's death, the east side of Camp Parsons was operated from 1938 to 1941 as a Cub Scout camp named in his memory. In 2017, a portrait medallion of the professor still hung in the camp's dining hall above the fireplace.
Alan Hutchison, curator of the Camp Parsons Museum, described how the Olympic hikes evolved after the camp opened in 1919:
"The Olympic hikes held during the second week of camp ... started from the first year. There is a mention that the first director [Harry Cunningham] took a group of Scouts up the Dosewallips the very first year. After that most of the hikes were conducted by older teenagers who were on staff. This continued until 1951 when the council moved to one week sessions. Some troops, including mine would schedule a trip to the Olympics after spending one week at camp. The camp would provide the food if the troop desired or the troop would bring their own" (Hutchison email, September 21, 2017).
Camp life was meant to be an enjoyable experience for the boys, designed to promote Scouting ideals while encouraging participation and recruitment of new members to a troop or den. One of the camp's early publications, put together by the Scouts in 1925, reported on a couple items that evidently brought many a smile to the faces of Scouts attending the previous year: "Startling figure! Ted Lewis reports that fifty cases of chewing [gum] were sold in the canteen last summer and 54 boxes of Bonnie toffee. This season will probably break this record" (Squirrel Barks). Not to be outdone, the trading post at Camp Parsons in 2017 reported that the most popular item that summer was the Moonpie ice cream chocolate bar.
In 1927, the Boy Scout-produced newsletter Cedar Chips described how boys could have their pick of one of six troops at Camp Parsons:
"When you sign up for camp you're asked to check your choice of a camp troop. Usually most of the campers from one city troop stick together, and sometimes a troop takes over an entire camp unit, but in any case the choice should be made before you start, subject to change if the section you want is already full" ("Which of the Six ...").
Each camp troop had a name (Copper City Troop, Mount Constance Troop, Dosewallips Troop) and a scoutmaster in charge, along with a listed specialization (for instance, forestry and woodcraft for the Mount Angeles Troop).
By 1930, the council had expanded the size of the camp with additional land purchases to 280 total acres, a portion of which was designed for a new Cub Scout camping program that began that year. In the decades that followed, Camp Parsons continued to serve the Seattle council as the primary camp where Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts could spend up to two summer weeks working toward their merit badges, practicing forestry skills; doing carpentry projects (such as the Fort Duckabush building, constructed in 1926 as a trading post); cooking over campfires; taking target practice on the archery and rifle ranges; having "whale boat" races in the harbor; and hiking, climbing, and camping throughout the region's trails, forests, and mountains.
Scoutmasters served as staff and guides for the boys, with older Scouts also filling this role in later years starting in 1938. Special awards, such as the Order of the Silver Marmot, first created in 1927, were offered to encourage the Scouts and recognize outstanding campers. New buildings were added, including a boathouse and new administration building. As of 2017, Camp Parsons was the oldest Boy Scout camp on the West Coast and also had seen the longest period of continuous service as a camp anywhere in the United States since the BSA was founded in 1910.
Over the years, the Seattle council operated a number of other camps for Scouts in addition to Camp Parsons. Longtime Scoutmaster Del Loder (b. 1929) recalled in 2017 that the council operated two such camps during the summer months on Mercer Island in the years before the Lake Washington Floating Bridge connected the island directly to Seattle across the lake. As new development resulting from the highway connection increased the number of homes and cleared forests on the island, these camps were "discontinued in the 1950s" (Loder interview). Three other camps were subsequently established: Camp Edward (originally called Camp Brinkley) in 1967 in Snohomish, which as of 2017 was used exclusively by Cub Scouts in the summer; Camp Pigott on Lake Hughes in Snohomish (originally Camp Omache), which was closed between 1991 and 2002 but reopened in 2003; and Camp Sheppard (originally Camp Snoquera) near Mount Rainier National Park, used as a winter camping program location by both Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts since the T'Kope Kwiskwis Lodge was opened there in 1954.
Chief Seattle Council and BSA over Time
The Chief Seattle Council's program structure has endured the test of time and grown to support adult volunteers in traditional roles such as the scoutmaster and den mother, leading Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout dens respectively. As of 2017, a total of 12 district executive officers and four camp rangers supplemented the council's 35 members, led by a council executive (a paid BSA staff position), a council president (a voluntary, two-year position), and a council commissioner (an elder statesman watching over the council).
Council emphasis consistently focused on the well-being of the Scouts, devoting resources to management of the camps, fundraising, membership, and support of the 12 districts that make up the council with programs and leadership courses including Wood Badge and the National Youth Leadership Training. Additional programs for Scouts, such as Venturing Crews, Varsity Teams, and Explorer Posts, have also been added to Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops over the council's history.
While much of the original training and doctrine of the Boy Scouts as an organization has remained consistent, over the years there have been changes at the national level of the BSA that the Seattle council has adopted. Starting in 1950, the minimum age to join as a new Boy Scout and attend Camp Parsons went from 12 to 11. As of 2017, eligibility for the Cub Scouts began with kindergarten and went through 5th grade (ages 5 to 11), and the range for Boy Scouts was from 5th to 12th grade (ages 11 to 18). Of the 26 original merit badges once needed to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, some were discontinued (Handicraft in 1942; Pathfinding and Cement Work in 1951), while others were redefined and renamed (Civics was replaced by three Citizenship badges in 1951; Personal Health became Personal Fitness in 1952).
Major policy changes and attitudes toward greater diversity and tolerance have led the BSA into the twenty-first century as positive measures endorsed at the highest levels of Scouting leadership: "The Boy Scouts of America will prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law" ("Mission & Vision"). Other social developments have expanded the demographic makeup of the Scouting organization and its members. On February 9, 1998, the Venturing program was added by the BSA executive board as a new, co-educational opportunity for young men and women, ages 14 to 20, focusing on seven core areas: leadership, group activities, adult association, recognition, scouting ideals, high adventure and sports, and teaching others. Some new policies have been the subject of considerable controversy in some communities around the country, but have been widely accepted in the Seattle council, with homosexual men allowed as scoutmasters in 2015 and gender equality embraced by the BSA in 2017. (On October 11, 2017, just days after this essay was first posted, the BSA announced that in coming years girls would be allowed to join the organization, with younger girls able to become Cub Scouts and older ones eventually able attain the rank of Eagle Scout.)
The Chief Seattle Council's programming for the younger Cub Scouts has continued to rely heavily on parent participation. In Cub Scout packs, the boys focus on community projects, increase in ranks over time from Lion Cub to Webelos, and participate in outdoor activities from hikes to overnight camping. As the Cubs work with their "Scouters" (leaders) over these first several years in the BSA, they develop skills and experience, always supported by the Cub Scout motto "Do Your Best" ("Being a Cub Scout").
The Alpine District of the council in Issaquah exemplified the continued popularity of the Scouting program in the twenty-first century, with 33 Cub Scout packs, 24 Boy Scout troops, 12 Venturing crews, and one Sea Scout program in 2017. Pack and troop activities such as Pinewood Derby, Raingutter Regatta, Blue and Gold Banquet, Spring Carnival, and monthly meetings at the pack, troop, and den levels kept Scouts engaged in the organization on a regular basis, with many of these activities unchanged since the earliest days of Scouting in Seattle and across Washington.
As of 2017, the Chief Seattle Council as a whole had 15,875 members enrolled in all of its Scouting programs, as one of 360 councils and more than two million Boy Scouts nationwide.