Baden Powell Ernest Thomson Seton Daniel Carter Beard James E. West
Baden Powell Ernest Thompson Seton Daniel Carter Beard James E West
Boy Scout Handbooks 
1914 Boy Scout Membership Card Early 1911 Scouting Booklet
A 1914 membership card  Early 1911 Minute scouting booklet 
W.D Boyce  E.M. Robinson  Colin Livingstone  Theodore Roosevelt 
W.D. Boyce
Newspaper Publisher 
E.M. Robinson
YMCA Executive 
Colin Livingstone
BSA President 1910-1925 
Theodore Roosevelt
President of the USA 

- Preface -
Years ago I visited the National BSA Museum in Murray, KY. At the entrance were robots representing Ernest Thompson Seton, Dan Beard and James E West, arguing over who was the founder of the BSA. When the museum moved, the robots were gone, but I’ve been thinking about it for years.

During the Covonavirus lockdown, spring, 2020, I began reading some of the books that I accumulated during a lifetime of scout collecting. Handbooks, Annual Reports to Congress, Scouting Magazines, etc. Books by and about Seton, Dan Beard and Baden Powell, etc. I found the 1911 Boy Scout Minute Tapioca booklet and settled into an easy chair to thumb through it. What I read, shocked me, the BSA wasn’t designed to be a stand alone organization, the BSA would operate within the framework of other organizations. I’m knowledgeable about scouting history but had never heard anything like this. I went to the 1910 and 1911 BSA handbooks. I became interested in Seton and Beard. I read Seton 2015 biography, Seton The Trail of an Artist Naturalist and Beard’s 1939 Hardly a Man is Now Alive, autobiography. I have Seton’s 1906, Birchbark Roll and Beards 1909 Boy Pioneers books. I've read Dr. Rowan’s, To Do My Best, James E West’s biography.

I came away from this research with a new opinion of the founders. Most people reading this love Scouting, and I’m not one who wants to disparage hero’s. But, these men were flesh and blood. They had idiosyncrasies, egos. and in some cases they were petty and vindictive. It’s never been explained why W D Boyce incorporated the BSA and requested a Federal Charter when it appears that he wasn’t prepared to establish an organization. Seton and Beard sniped at each other until Seton was gone from Scouting. Beard continued to claim he was the founder. James West was a powerful figure with a strong personality that pulled it all together, a lesser man might have seen the BSA pulled apart.

I began this project with a fondness for Ernest Thompson Seton. I have a collection of his animal books and have actively acquired first and autographed editions. Most people have probably never read Seton, but his animal books are wonderful. His stories, in the modern era when people have a different view of animals, are probably more pertinent than in the early 1900’s. I read them to my children and when my grandchildren learned to read, I’ve given them Seton books. Seton gives animals personalities and endows them with human traits. He’s a fascinating individual and made his way in the world against obstacles. In Seton’s biography, little is mentioned of the founding of the BSA. His biography reveals things about Seton that modern readers might find shocking. Having dogs euthanized so he could study their muscle structure. His reference to Mexican-Americans in New Mexico, etc. But elsewhere I write that it’s unfair to judge people in history by modern standards.

Dan Beard’s autobiography reads like a boys book, lots of adventure stories. Beard claims to have recall of early childhood events. It contain fascinating information on Beard active and interesting life. Beard’s book has information on the founding but doesn’t go into depth. In Murrays 1935 the History of the BSA there is a comprehensive information on the founding. It names individuals and documents and their contribution. I recommend it to anyone seriously interested in the history of the BSA, but the rift between Seton and how the support of the YMCA was lost, is not explained.

This type of research is so much fun. You start with the story framed in your mind and the more you learn the more you realize that much of what you thought, was wrong.

Paul E. Myers, Jr
Goshen, Indiana

- The Founders of the BSA -
Banden PowellAids to Scouting
Baden Powell is universally acclaimed as the founder of Boy Scouting. His 1899 booklet Aids to Scouting (for NCO’s and enlisted men) was written while he was serving in the British Army in Africa. It was intended to help young men in the military. When Powell returned home to England in 1903 he discovered that youth groups had adopted his manual and were “scouting”. In 1908 Powell published a serialized edition of booklets more tailored to boys. These were entitled Scouting for Boys. In most organizations there is a person who has an idea and a cast of individuals who contribute in different ways. That’s how it was with Baden Powell but again he is the Founder. Powell met with Ernest Seton in London in 1906 and it’s claimed that Powell was influenced by Setons 1906 book, The Birch Bark Rolls. Dan Beard claimed his, Boy Pioneers, Sons of Daniel Boone, published in 1909, influenced Powell, even though Scouting for Boys was already in circulation.
Scouting for boysSeton Powell & Beard

It seems that in 1910 scouting organizers in the USA thought it would be beneficial to have a “founder” of American scouting. W.D. Boyce a businessman and newspaper owner had incorporated an organization in 1910 and seemed a likely candidate. A legend about him being lost in the London fog and being directed by a Scout was developed. E.M. Robinson, a YMCA executive encouraged Boyce to fulfill the potential of the organization. Boyce promised financial support, but only made three payments. The YMCA organized hundreds of scout troops some as early as 1909. Businessmen and bankers like Washington DC’s, Livingstone were supporters. Ernest Thompson Seton and Dan Beard had existing youth groups. Dan Beard’s, Boy Pioneers, Son’s of Daniel Boone and Setons Woodcraft Indians. When Beard and Seton’s groups consolidated into Scouting, Beard and Seton were acknowledged as founders. The story is well known and has been repeated in BSA handbooks for a hundred years. The story is more interesting than commonly known and the YMCA’s role is largely forgotten.

In 1910 the BSA was a subsidiary of the YMCA. It was E. M. Robinson, a YMCA Executive from New York City who traveled to Chicago to pledge support for Boyce’s new group. The new headquarters was in the NYC, World Headquarters of the YMCA. The first Managing Director was a YMCA employee, John Alexander. Seton published a thrown together handbook in 1910 that proved so unsatisfactory that Alexander worked to develop a more informational booklet. This was published and distributed by the Minute Tapiocathe founding of the boy scouts Company. The YMCA imported insignia from England. It’s believed the YMCA paid Baden Powell’s expenses when he visited the USA in 1910. The original plan was that scouting would not be a separate organization, but rather a program offered within the framework of existing groups.

The difficulty regarding who was the USA founder of Scouting started at the 1910 Walldorf Astoria dinner honoring Baden Powell. Powell seemed to decline the honor of being the founder and suggested that he was but an uncle giving credit to Seton and Beard. It’s impossible to know if this was sincere or a kind gesture by a visiting Englishman to his hosts in New York City. In any case it caused difficulty for the new BSA. Seton had just compiled the first BSA handbook so his credentials seemed established. Beard worked for years trying to proclaim himself as the founder. Boyce had incorporated the organization, but wasn’t active in it’s operation. After 1914 Seton was out of Scouting, and in 1915 Boyce started a separate boy organization. Uncle Dan became a beloved figure in his buckskin outfit, throwing tomahawks, leading an annual pilgrimage to Theodore Roosevelts grave and writing articles in Boys Life. Beard claimed to be the founder for years despite the fact that his program, Boy Pioneers contained nothing resembling Scouting.

- The YMCA and the Founding of the BSA -

In 1910 the YMCA was a well organized, well funded and highly respected youth organization with hundreds of locations across the USA. They had a summer camping program as early as 1886. Each YMCA enjoyed local autonomy and independence, especially when it came to camping. YMCA’s used Woodcraft Indians, Boy Pioneers, Boys Brigade, English Scouting or locally developed programs for camping. The YMCA’s in Canada would develop two groups; Trail Rangers and Tuxis Boys.

J.A. Van Dis, the YMCA Boys Work Secretary for Michigan had been organizing Scout troops in YMCA’s as early as 1909. They used Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys as a guide. In 1910 Van Dis saw a newspaper article mentioning W.D. Boyce of Chicago organizing the Boy Scouts of America. Van Dis contacted E.M. Robinson the Senior Secretary of the YMCA. Robinson took a train from NYC and they visited Boyce in early 1910, pledging the YMCA’s cooperation. Robinson selected John Alexander from Philadelphia to serve as manager of the new BSA. Alexander moved to NYC to a office in the YMCA Headquarters on June 1, 1910.

Alexander was on the YMCA’s payroll, he was an excellent choice for the job. Almost immediately he organized a meeting of thirty nine national youth organizations to gain support for scouting and see how Scouting could be incorporated into their organizations. As a result of this meeting Colin Livingstone of Washington, DC became the National President. Alexander arranged a experimental camp attended by select YMCA boys, it was held at Silver Bay, NY. Seton was Camp Chief, Beard attended and even James West visited from Washington DC, on the last day of camp. Alexander developed a 54 page booklet and got the Minute Tapioca Co. to print 500,000 copies. This 54 page booklet gives a better description of the new BSA than Seton’s handbook. It puts forth the idea of what American scouting is, how councils are formed and general information. It’s often overlooked by historians but it’s important.

 Setons BoyScout Handbook

In 1911 Alexander returned to a more normal YMCA life in Philadelphia. It’s a mystery how the BSA was able to pull together a totally American handbook in only about six months after Seton’s 1910 handbook. James West replaced Alexander in January, 1911 and the BSA moved into their own headquarters in NYC. January 1, 1911 is the real beginning of the BSA we know today.

Many of the organizers and men who would become Scouting professionals had a YMCA background. James West had been assistant to the General Secretary of the YMCA in Washington D.C. When the time came it was West who was responsible for the idea of Scouting professionals working in local councils. It’s similar to the way the YMCA is organized. West’s first title in the BSA, Managing Secretary is a YMCA term. A. Stamford White of Chicago became a BSA Vice President, White was the first President of the Chicago Council and had been President of the Chicago YMCA. White selected a YMCA professional, D. W. Pollard to be the first Scout Executive in Chicago. This pattern was repeated all over the country with many YMCA men joining the ranks of Scouting, often in positions like Scoutmaster and then accepting paid positions when councils formed. National BSA records indicate than in 1920, eight years after the YMCA withdrew support, there were still 78 Boy Scout troops sponsored by YMCA’s.

Robinson was a friend of Seton and Woodcraft Indians were used in some YMCA’s summer camp program. Until recently the Y had an Indian Guide program. Scouting recognized the opportunity to recruit boys of other religious backgrounds, but such a strong connection to the YMCA might be a handicap. The Catholic church was anti-scouting, but in 1913 both Catholic’s and Mormon’s (LDS) adopted Scouting. Jewish boys came to scouting about the same time. Scouting has had troubles with religion even to the modern day. To some the fact that Scouting asks a boy (now boys and girls) to have a reverence for God seems extreme. Others want Scouting to take a stronger profession of faith. The religiosity of the YMCA is eliminated. The Y, is not the Young Men's Christian Association, just the Y. They abandoned their Spirit, Mind & Body theme and the father and son/daughter, Indian Guides are gone.

The YMCA’s early interest in Scouting was to develop a nationwide program for use in local YMCA’s for outdoors and camping. When it became obvious that the BSA would be a stand alone group with it’s own organization, the desirability of Scouting being a part of the YMCA diminished.

1886 ymca campIn 1919 the YMCA developed a Handbook for Pioneers. The forward is written by Edgar M. Robinson, who was the driving force in organizing the BSA. This 411 page manual reads like a BSA Handbook. The contents page is shown below. The Pioneers were designed to replace any outside organizations, still operating in YMCA’s. The book was reprinted in 1924 but out of print in later years. By the late 1920’s it must have been obvious that Scouting was well on it’s way to being the premier outdoor youth organization in the USA. Today the YMCA still has an active summer camp program. In the past some BSA councils shared a camp with the YMCA.

To the left - Image of the earliest YMCA summer camp, 1886. Camp Dudley, Orange Lake, New York.
The YMCA was developing an extensive camping program.

There are several pages of a historic statement in the Pioneers Handbook. It’s written by E. M. Robinson and outlines how the YMCA had been searching for a standardized program for camping. It’s laid out in the Pioneers book. He details the history of the program, the first camps, individuals who were involved, but there is no mention of the BSA. The YMCA had once sponsored hundreds
of scout troops. Some YMCA’s used Seton’s Woodcraft Indians, but I believe it was unsatisfactory because of its lack of citizenship themes. The Boy Pioneers program has seventeen pages on citizenship and ten pages on religion.

In 1929 when the Silver Buffalo was developed, it’s curious that Robinson wasn’t honored. Boyce received the Silver Buffalo, but he had merged his LSA into the BSA in 1924. My research has lead me to believe that Robinson might have been the most critical person in organizing the BSA in 1910. Perhaps there was animosity between Scouting (James West) and Robinson over the loss of BSA units or the Pioneers.

Paul Myers Goshen, Indiana