OK’s Advance Scouts
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful … first?
Photos by M.J. Alexander
Located just south of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska is the seat of Osage County. The town made national headlines in the 1920s for its oil boom riches, and in 1932 as the place where a stolen car triggered the nationwide pursuit of Bonnie and Clyde. Today, it is widely known as the home of Food Network star Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman Mercantile.
But the city’s first claim to fame was pioneering Boy Scouts. Pawhuska Troop 1, founded in May 1909 by Rev. John Forbes Mitchell, was among the early forerunners of the scouting movement, and predates the official founding of the Boy Scouts of America on Feb. 8, 1910. They were definitely trailblazers, but …
THE CLAIM: America’s first Boy Scout Troop was founded in Pawhuska.
THE SOURCE: Osage County Historical Society Museum
FACT CHECK: False
The idea of a civic-minded youth group emphasizing self-reliance and good deeds sprang from a field guide written by British cavalry officer Robert Baden-Powell. The first edition of his book — which has seen an estimated 150 million copies produced in the past 110 years — was published May 1, 1908, under the title Scouting for Boys.
Scouting’s popularity boomed beyond expectations. More than 60,000 Scouts had joined in Great Britain alone by the end of 1908, and record-keeping was not a top priority.
In the United States, the earliest reported Scout troops inspired by Baden-Powell’s writing appeared in 1908: one called Eagle Troop in Burnside, Kentucky, and two in the Pennsylvania towns of Pottsville and Bala Cynwyd. In fact, a troop in Merrickville, Canada, was the continent’s first of all.
Although demonstrably not the first American troop, the Pawhuska Scouts appear to be the best documented and most stylish of the early U.S. Scouts.
Its founder, Mitchell, knew Baden-Powell personally, as they served together in South Africa. His Pawhuska Scouts wore official British Boy Scout uniforms ordered from England, opened each meeting by singing the British national anthem, “God Save the King,” and were led in parades by two drummers and two buglers.
More than a century later, the troop is still in existence and a point of pride for Pawhuska’s population of 3,600. The Osage County Historical Society Museum devotes one of its five main exhibit sections to its Boy Scouts. Among its extensive exhibit, in the final paragraph of a three-panel display, the society acknowledges that the oldest-in-America claim has been “hotly debated.” In tacit acknowledgment of earlier troops, caveats are added: The Pawhuska troop, it is clarified, was the first Scout troop in the United States to 1) receive a British charter and 2) wear British uniforms.
In the end, the Boy Scout spirit of trustworthiness wins the day.
Editor’s note: Oklahoma is rich with history, lore and fun facts, but some of them aren’t quite factual. In this series, M.J. Alexander hunts for the accuracy – or lack thereof – behind some of our state’s stories.
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