History - Chapter 1
Founding of Firecrafter
By the close of World War I, the Scouting Movement in America (launched upon the good turn of
an unknown British Boy Scout in a London fog) had grown at beyond anyone's expectations. Almost every sizeable community had a Scouting headquarters, many organized by Rotary Clubs. The early headquarters offices were called Council Offices and usually headed by a local "Chief Scout" recruited from a recreational, church or civic organization to head up Scouting in the area.
Most of the men appointed to be "Chiefs" organized new Troops, built the first camping facilities, and developed the first local programs and campouts. If anything these men were "hands-on" Scouters and very close to the boy level of Scouting.
In Indianapolis Indiana, the Chief Scout was Francis O. Belzer, the professional Scouter for the Central Indiana Council. Between 1915 and 1918 he saw to the building of Camp Chank-Tun-Un-Gi (now known as Camp Belzer in his honor) just down the river from the Army's Fort Benjamin Harrison. When this camp opened, it was one of the first Boy Scout summer camps in the United States. And like camps of its day provided a central program for all campers. It wasn't until after World War II that Scout Camps would operate with Troop campsites and leadership.
Scouting in the Central Indiana Council was centered around this Camp Chank-Tun-Un-Gi and this phenomenal man, who served as Scout Executive from 1915 to 1940. Chief Belzer's dedication to Scouting was the force which led constantly to more and more opportunities for more and more boys to take part in the Scouting program. His willingness to try new and different ways to enrich the Scouting program was the force that led to the formation of Firecrafter.
This force was Chief Belzer's strong desire to make sure that his camp succeeded. He wanted to have a program that encouraged campers to develop and attract more to return each year. Chief Belzer decided that the best thing was see whether any other camp had a successful program. During this time he struck up a rich friendship with Daniel Beard, who was the director of the Culver Woodcraft Camp. Daniel Beard was a famous outdoorsman and early Scouter.
During their visits together Beard explained the Woodcraft Camp's program. Beard used recognition to reward achievement at camp. Beard rewarded his campers' achievements with a series of three ranks, Notcher (bronze), Midnotcher (silver), and Topnotcher (gold), symbolized in each by a patch of appropriate color having a beaver within a stylized C (for Culver). Belzer was impressed by Beard's methods and decided that a system of awards was needed at Camp Chank-Tun-Un-Gi, not only to inspire interest in the camping activities, but also to shift the emphasis from athletics to scouting skills. With the help of Assistant Executive Stanley L. Norton and Rex Pruitt, Scoutmaster of Troop 46, he formulated a camp rank system to offer this recognition.
With remarkable foresight, he structured the system to provide a continuing source of talent for the camp staff, to encourage scouts to continue in Scouting through and beyond the usual Scouting age, and to promote a source of service to improve the physical facilities of the camp.
The discussions of Belzer, Norton, and Pruitt began late in 1918 and led to the introduction of a two-level camp rank system at summer camp in 1919, consisting of Camper and Woodsman.
The program was a great success. In 1920 a third and highest rank was added, for which there was no other name in its first summer. (It would later be called Firecrafter.) Knowing the tastes and interests of Scouting-age boys, the founders made the new third rank both a challenge and a mystery.
The first Firecrafter ceremony took place at Camp Chank-Tun-Un-Gi during the summer of 1920. At the close of the first camping period, the customary awards campfire was held in the camp arena. Among those expecting to be recognized were four Woodsmen who had completed all of the requirements for the new third camp rank. They waited through the campfire without being called, and as its closing minutes came near, they began to think they had been forgotten.
Finally, just before the Scoutmaster's benediction, Assistant Executive Norton instructed the candidates to remain in the arena after the close of the campfire. And so the four bewildered Woodsmen waited anxiously while the other scouts, Scouters, and parents drifted away. When they were at last alone facing the dying embers of the campfire, they were put to the Unknown Test, and became the first to take the Firecrafter Oath that has challenged more than five thousand scouts and Scouters since that night. The ceremony was conducted by Belzer and Norton, assisted by Pruitt and P. D. Hoelscher, the camp physical director.
In looking back over that first brief ceremony, the four founding Scouters realized that the full possibilities of the third camp rank had not yet been worked out. But they lost no time in completing the job. Before the end of the second camping period in 1920, they had collaborated on a ritual which is even yet the basis of the Hill Ceremony, drawing heavily on the writings of Ernest Thompson Seton for the three fires and the Story of the Fire.
The camp rank emblems were also designed by Belzer, starting with the Culver "C" for the Camper rank. The original patches were cut from felt and hand sewn by "Aunt Stella" Doeppers, who worked at the council office, and who continued to make the patches until the task became too great for her. In the early days, when a Scout became a Camper, he received a khaki vest with the Camper "C" emblem sewn on it. When he became a Woodsman, a yellow teepee was added to his original patch. When he became a Firecrafter, he
received a whole new patch including the red fire. The khaki vests were worn over the scout uniform at campfires and other important camp occasions.
The Firecrafter 50th Anniversary Scroll shows that the first Firecrafters in 1920 were:
|F. O. Belzer
M S. L. Norton
Rex M. Pruitt
Luis F. Booth
Owen D. Burton
Robert A. Efroymson
M Alfred Franklin
M Stanley Gray
George N. Loucks
M Henry Marsh (My uncle)
M Paxton Unger
with most of the boys being from Troop 46, Central Indiana Council.
During the winter of 1920-1921 the name Firecrafter was coined, and in May 1921 it was published for the first time.
At about the same time Chief Belzer determined that a fourth camp rank was need to recognze outstanding contributions. Borrowing from the Miami Indian Language, he selected the name
Minisino, which is translated as Tried and Proven.
It is unclear exactly when this rank was established. The first Scout to be honored with the rank, Henry Marsh, recalled until his death that he had received the rank in 1920. Official Firecrafter records suggest that Minisino may not have been established until the Spring of 1921. It is difficult to tell because the requirements and manner of selection were not made public. However it is clear that from the beginning that this "rank" was in fact an honor to recognize one who had made outstanding contributions to Scouting and Firecrafter and who could be expected to continue his contributions.
Note: Every youth Firecrafter is eligible for candidacy after he has served Scouting for one winter season as a Firecrafter. If chosen, he will be "tapped out," and in order to be crowned he must successfully complete a two-week candidacy (originally four weeks) in a long-term summer camp having the Firecrafter program. Every adult Firecrafter is a candidate for
Minisino from the day of his induction, but his candidacy ordinarily requires a minimum of four years for completion. All Minisinos are crowned at special ceremonies at summer camp or (in the case of adults) at one of the rituals.