- By Michael Barnes American-Statesman Staff
A photocopy of the three-page document, yellowed but still crisply legible, reads “Application for Commission as Scoutmaster.”
It is dated June 8, 1917.
Written in a steady hand by Methodist minister J.J. Mason, it records a preliminary meeting in the Fiskville School Building, north of Austin, with eight prospective Boy Scout troop members on May 4, 1917.
Once approved, Boy Scout Troop 9 was born. The group, which moved around the Austin area during its early years, recently saluted its 100th anniversary at the R.B. Latting Hut, a simple structure built in 1955 for the troop above Shoal Creek and behind Bryker Woods Elementary School, which opened in 1939.
“Mason had already been a scoutmaster elsewhere,” says Joe Jones, an Eagle Scout whose son earned his Eagle rank as part of Troop 9. Jones, the founder of Whole Earth Provision Co., served as a Troop 9 scoutmaster for seven years. “Mason was in Avery (Northeast Texas) from 1912 to 1914 and then in Weimar (Central Texas) in 1916. It was so rare in the early days to already have been scoutmaster twice before.”
After all, according to the “Boy Scout Handbook,” the Scouting movement arrived in America only in 1910. British army officer Robert Baden-Powell launched the worldwide movement in England in 1907.
So Austin was not far behind the times, even though the city could claim fewer than 35,000 residents in 1917.
Underlining the rural nature of the troop’s early years, its three proposed assistant scoutmasters — Peter Horton, W.P. Jackson and R.W. Kirshner — listed their professions as farmers on the founding application.
Over the coming years, Troop 9 was sponsored by the First Southern Presbyterian Church of Austin — now known as Central Presbyterian Church — the Austin State School and Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church before it was adopted by the Bryker Woods School Parent Teacher Association in 1941.
Thanks to an alert leader who saved the troop’s records from a dumpster, we know the size of its membership (seven in 1918; 42 today) and the names of more than 44 scoutmasters and dozens of Eagle Scouts. We also know about major events such as multiple campouts on the remote Devils River in West Texas, a weeklong canoe trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas, a caving expedition to Bustamante, Nuevo Leon, and, of course, long stays at the legendary Philmont Scout Ranch in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.
“Troop 9 has attended Lost Pines Summer Camp every year of its existence,” Jones writes in a brief history of the group. “And may be the only troop to do so … no other troop makes the claim.”
The group marched in an Armistice Day parade, took part in Flag Day exercises and acted as guides for the University Interscholastic League. Members of the troop attended the National Jamboree, a peak experience for Scouts, at least five times.
In 1954, troop leaders were huddling about the need for shelter for the troop at Bryker Woods.
“At the time, the troop was meeting outdoors,” says Anne Heinen, who identifies herself as a “Scout mom.” “It was too cold, too wet. Or they were meeting in a corridor of the school.”
In 1955, the American-Statesman ran a full-page story, “Dads on the Job,” about the volunteers who built the current Scout Hut, for which the building trade unions donated labor and material. The captions below the pictures tell their own mildly amusing story through understatement: “Scouts’ Fathers Help with Actual Construction,” “School Officials and Union Men Cooperate with Boy Scouts,” and “A Boy’s Retreat is Built from Plans on Paper.”
Saving the history
On a cool summer evening, this reporter met with a delegation of Troop 9 adults around a picnic table slightly downhill from the hut.
In addition to Jones and Anne Heinen, the huddle included her husband, Dirk Heinen, the current Troop 9 assistant scoutmaster and chairman of Armadillo District, a group of Scouting troops, packs and other assemblies, itself part of the 15-county Capitol Area Council. The CEO of Acumera, which manages network security services, Heinen earned his Eagle Scout honors as part of Austin’s Troop 410. His son is now a member of Troop 9.
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A former Girl Scout from upstate New York, Anne Heinen participates in a group that supports Troop 9 campouts, canoe excursions and such. Her older son was a member of Troop 399. One of her favorite annual events is the Arrow of Light ceremony, which involves Webelos, the transitional group between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.
“The Webelos cross Shoal Creek when crossing over to become Boy Scouts,” she says. “So it’s also a metaphorical journey. Older boys guide them and meet them on the other side of the creek.”
Another in the huddle, Tim Pellowski, is an Eagle Scout from Reedsburg, Wis., whose two older sons became Eagle Scouts. The architect with STG Design collected a lot of information on the history of Troop 9 and now volunteers as the Armadillo District commissioner. He is not surprised by the durability of the Scouting movement.
“The timelessness of Scouting and the basic ideas have stayed intact for over 100 years,” he says. “Scouting provides a great opportunity to think globally and act locally. This neighborhood troop of 42 Scouts is part of a 30-million-member global organization.”
The troop leaders, who wrote a statement of inclusivity well in advance of the policy change from the Boy Scouts of America that officially allowed in gay members and leaders, believe that this change, along with dynamic leadership at the Cub Scout level, has helped swell the ranks of Troop 9 recently.
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“The essence of Boy Scouts is the spirit,” Jones says. “It’s what makes boys want to become Scouts. It includes things like adventure and resourcefulness. That’s what’s kept it going. Yes, it’s a lot of work for the adults. So why do we do it? Because we get to go along on these adventures. We joke to new parents that we vow a solemn oath to bring back most of them.”
Dirk Heinen treasures his grandfather’s 1918 Scout diary from Comfort.
“The Scout Oath and Scout Law have remained exactly the same,” he says. “A lot of things have changed, but the Oath and Law as well as the Motto (‘Be prepared’) and the Slogan (‘Do a good turn daily’) remain. They formed the foundation of the culture of Scouting. We say it’s not about Boy Scouts; it’s about life.”
He says that another secret of good Scouting is that the boys are the real leaders.
“We are there to support the boys,” he says. “They learn leadership, service, skills. And it’s still relevant into the second 100 years. And let’s face it, it’s a chance for parents to do stuff with their kids, outdoors, and have an adventure, too. Some parents ask: sports or scouts? In Scouts, parents get to be on the playing field, not watch from the sideline. Scouting has made me a better parent. When you repeat the Scout Oath and the Scout Law, even as an adult, you internalize it. You know that they are looking to you as a role model.”
Pellowski adds another tip about parenting in the Scouts.
“Only one thing you need to know: You’ve got to have fun,” he says. “If you are having fun, you know that the boys are having fun, too.”