Sunday, February 7, 2010

On my honor... Boys salute a century of Scouting

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

A boy's not a Scout for the awards or weekly meetings.
'We're in it for the adventure,' said 18-year-old Bryan Walker of Belton Troop No. 153. 'There's camping, hiking, shooting - everything.'
The activities are numerous, agreed the older Dwight Jekel of Cameron, who was a Scout in the '50s and '60s.
'There's more than 120 merit badges a boy can earn by learning and doing,' Jekel said.
But that's not the real adventure.
'It's the growing up that happens in between,' Jekel said. 'You start as a boy and leave a man.'
He's seen it happen dozens of times, first to himself and then to the boys he led as troop guide.
'It never fails,' Jekel said. 'You watch a boy come in. He knows nothing and is scared of everything, but when, he leaves, he's competent, able and self-reliant.'
This magic is the crux of the Boy Scouts of America - and Monday, it will be 100 years old. Local lore
Generations of Bell County Scouts know about the Goat Man of Camp Tahuaya in Belton.
'He lives in a cave and comes out at night to terrorize young boys,' said Lloyd Walker of Belton, father of William and his two Scout brothers, Noah and Matthew. 'You can't go to a campout without hearing about him.'
Rumor has it that Goat Man is taller and stronger than any Scout and his dad put together. He's temperamental and stinky.
'And his face is just about as gruesome as you can imagine,' Jekel said.
The cave that Goat Man calls home is a common, routine sight to every Scout - in the daytime.
'Everybody passes it during the day. It's on the way from the campsite to the shooting range and archery field,' Jekel said. 'And nobody thinks twice about it.'
But when the sun goes down, it's a different matter. Boys will shy away from it, and stare at it the way babies stare at a jack-in-the-box.
'They're expecting something to happen,' Jekel said.
And they should.
'The story is that if you're really quiet, sneak up on the cave and turn your flashlight on really fast, then you can catch a glimpse of the Goat Man,' said Dave Chambers, a Harker Heights Scout leader and an Eagle Scout of '72.
The thought made Jekel laugh.
'One summer, a dad put on a rain coat and devil mask and went out to hide in the cave,' Jekel said. 'I was taking the boys back to camp. And as we passed by the cave, the boys were as quiet as they could be. Right when they thought they'd see nothing that night, the dad jumps out and shines a red flashlight on his face. Every one of those kids took out in a run toward the camp, scared out of their wits.'
But by the time the youngsters returned to the campfire, they were impressed with themselves.
'They had seen the monster,' Jekel said. 'And they were telling the other boys how brave they were in facing it.'
Such is the rite of initiation for the Boy Scouts who visit Camp Tahuaya.

More about Tahuaya

The Belton Boy Scout camp was built in 1932.
'Long before the highway was built,' Chambers said.
Interstate 35 didn't become the camp's border until the late 1950s.
'When it was first built, this place was out in the middle of nowhere,' Chambers said. 'Quiet and dark. You really felt like you were in nature.'
Today's Scouts still get that feeling, but it's different.
'You can hear the traffic,' Chambers said. 'The town's grown around the camp.'
Jekel nodded.
Over the years, the camp couldn't help but to grow too.
In the '30s, Tahuaya sat on 50 acres. Today it spans across 147 acres, almost triple its original size.
'The camp sites have changed too,' Jekel said. 'Camp used to be a three-wall shack.'
Chambers remembers those 'glory days' of the '50s and '60s.
'You'd have to come in clean the bugs and dirt out,' Chambers said. 'And then you'd make yourself a pallet and have a nice night.'
In the late '60s and early '70s, Tahuaya made the transition to tents.
'The boys started coming in and pitching tents,' Jekel said. 'Now you get a fresh start every year.'
It all just became another stake in Tahuaya's history.
'The place is full of it,' Jekel said. 'Always has been.'
State historical markers designate the popular spots, from the site of the Shanklin Mill to the Chisholm Trail.
Built in 1832, the grinding mill was one of the first businesses in early Bell County. By providing food and trade, it helped to create the township that became Belton.
And the Chisholm Trail is a remnant of frontier life. In the late 19th century, cowboys would drive cattle from South Texas to Abilene, Kan., where they could be picked up by train and shipped to the East.
'You can still see the old wagon ruts,' Jekel said.
They're visible on the shores of Tahuaya's Lake Boyd Callan.

Scouts for life

Walker can manage a stock account, navigate the ocean and build bridges.
'And it's all because of Boy Scouts,' he said. 'That's why I like it. You get to learn a lot.'
The 18-year-old has achieved every hurdle in the Scouting program, from the Pinewood Derby to the coveted Eagle.
'The derby is the pinnacle of Cub Scouting,' explained Walker's troop leader, Phil Everett of Temple. 'It's a miniature car race, with wooden cars the boys design themselves.'
And the Eagle award is the highest honor a Boy Scout can earn. Recipients must earn at least 21 merit badges and complete a community service project.
'You've got to design and coordinate the whole thing yourself,' Walker said.
The task gives Scouts the opportunity to lead.
'Just like in everything else, you need a team to get it done,' Walker said. 'So it's about working together to accomplish the goal.'
Walker got his Eagle a couple of years ago, but he's not done being a Scout. He's a Venture Scout, the 'high adventure' portion of Boy Scouting for young adults.
'That program is for people up to 21,' Everett explained. 'It can be co-ed, all boys or all girls.'
As a Venture Scout, Walker has captained a sailboat in Canada and camped on a snow-covered mountain in New Mexico.
The lad plans to keep it up until he's too old to be a Scout.
'After that, I'll be a leader,' Walker said. 'I don't see myself ever growing out of it or tired of it.'
Jekel shares Walker's enthusiasm. He still wears his uniform with pride.
One of his fondest Scouting memories was born the week of his wedding.
'A Boy Scout convention was going on. I couldn't not go,' Jekel said. 'So I went to the convention, left on Friday to get married and came back in time for closing ceremonies on Sunday.'
The long time Scout master grinned.
'I can't help it, it's fun.'

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