Monday, October 8, 2007


The two Scouts in this photo were both stubborn. They argued about everything. If one said the sky was blue, the other one would claim it was azure, and azure was not blue. They argued at camp. They argued in the van. They drove everybody nuts. You can tell that, in the photo, they do not agree on how to build this fire lay.

These two argued so loudly that the Law Merit Badge used them as the case for the mock trial at winter camp in 2004. The loser said the jury was stupid. The winner said the loser’s lawyers were stupid.

Later that year these two came close to a physical altercation—over whose responsibility it was to pick up a notebook that fell off of a picnic table.

The Scout on the left is Paul, our third Eagle. The Scout on the right is Calum, who is currently doing his Eagle project. Last year Paul shipped out with the navy, and there was finally peace in Texas campgrounds!

Last Sunday, Calum gave a testimonial before our church congregation, and credited Paul as his role model and inspiration. I guess sometimes Scouting is working in ways we can’t see!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Since we don’t have a “feeder” pack, recruiting has always been a challenge for us. In our 27 years of existence, only a handful of Webelos have ever visited our troop, even though we have invited them to every type of event conceivable. Most Webelos crossover to the “Pack’s Troop,” the one where you don’t have to buy new numbers for your uniform.

Except for us, this system probably works okay, right? Actually no, our district isn’t very successful at keeping Webelos in Scouts. Some say it’s because they do too much Scout-level stuff while they are Webelos. Sometimes the troop-of-the-same-number doesn’t fit the new Scout’s interests. Sometimes the new Scout quits because there is a conflict between Scouts and other activities. Sometimes the new Scout moves to another area. And occasionally, the troop itself falls apart.

Danny Olivas and Nancy Elliot of Houston’s Pack 266, sponsored by West University Methodist Church, have a new answer for this. The pack invited several area troops, including ours, to a “Meet The Webelos” event, held at their meeting place. It is the first time we have ever been invited to such a thing. Each troop was encouraged to make a 5-minute presentation about their program. Refreshments were provided. A counter that ran along the sides of the room was home for each troop’s display board. A mingle time followed the presentations. Danny promised he would encourage the Webelos to visit the troops.

Our Scouts had a lot of fun mingling with the Webelos of Pack 266. We hope each one of these fine boys finds just the right troop for them and stays in Scouting to Eagle and beyond. Any of them would be an asset to our troop. I hope that it made an impression on the Webelos to know that they were so wanted by the dozen or so Scout troops who attended.

Dan and Nancy, you and your pack have started a great thing here. Thank you!

Monday, September 17, 2007


Today ten of the stories I’ve been telling around the campfire are published in the new book, HAUNTED CAMPS: The Campfire Stories of Scoutmaster B.C. Justice. The details are on the book’s website,

Although these stories are too mature for the Cub Scouts (I was never a Cubmaster), they’re perfect for the 13-and-up crowd that demands more than a joke story or cute parable. Some of them have a moral message, but it’s left up to the reader or listener to figure it out.

On one occasion, after I told the story “Black Stain” at Lost Maples State Natural Area (Texas), a patrol who claimed they were not bothered by the story picked up their tent and moved it right next to the staff tents. Even while doing this they claimed the story had nothing to do with it, but they couldn’t come up with another reason!

One Scout, who is still with us, heard me tell the story “Vernal Pools” at Pedernales Falls State Park. He was a new Scout then. A little nervous, he made it a point to ask his mother if there was such a thing as a vernal pool. Unfortunately, there is. He’s almost Eagle now.

An assistant Scoutmaster, age 23, made a gentleman’s bet with the Scouts he could go to the abandoned bridge in the story “Sheoll Creek” at night. The Scouts followed him there. He got to within a hundred yards of it and decided it took more courage than he could muster.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Recently, as we are now between the birth of Scouting and the birth of the B.S.A., Scouters have been harking back to the beginnings a la Baden-Powell. In one of his 1909 writings, B.P. describes the preferred arrangement of campsites with patrols separated by a hundred yards or more.

When we have good, functioning patrols, they naturally pick out an area removed from the staff and the other patrols. But when the individual patrols are weak, they try to establish their area where it’s practically in the staff site or so close to another patrol that the tent ropes cross each other.

At other times we have been so small as to have only one patrol. Though we have tried numerous ways over the years to keep the single patrol motivated, it has never been viable for long.

The patrol in the picture had me fooled. I thought they were not only mentally asleep, but stupid. What I didn’t know is they had been meeting on their own and working on Scouting skills—which vaulted them to near the top in Camporee competition. Now I know that the less I see of a patrol hanging around the staff campsite, the better.

Do you camp by patrols, always?

Friday, August 31, 2007


I wish I could turn back time and visit the Ponderosa again. Yes, the Ponderosa that was the stage set for the television series “Bonanza,” in the town of Incline Village along the shores of Lake Tahoe. We went there in 2000. Sure glad we did that, because it was sold to a condo developer in 2003.

In the morning we boarded a hay wagon hitched to the back of a tractor to make the 2,000-foot climb from the shore of the lake to the ranch. On the way up, they staged a wagon “robbery” and the female bandit “shot” one of our Scouts. It was good for a laugh!

At the top, overlooking the cobalt-blue lake far below, an all-you-can-eat breakfast was served. The cowboy cooking the pancakes had a 30-foot griddle on which he made hundreds of pancakes per minute!

After breakfast, we roamed the “town” (false fronts) of the actual Virginia City from the show. I remember there was a hilarious comedy play out front (I specifically remember one of the not-too-bright bank robbers tried to hide in a privy that blew up. They constantly called the Liberty Bank “Library Bank,” and made many comic references to the greenhorns of California, which is 2 miles away). A world lasso champion dubbed “Coyboy Cal” demonstrated lasso and whip tricks the likes of which I’ve not seen before or since. He could cut a newspaper in half with a whip—right down the fold—while you held it inches in front of your face!

There were farm animals to be petted, and gold to be panned. They had one of those gravity-defying mystery mines. We paid fifteen bucks to have the photo above taken in a photo souvenir place. It was printed while we waited.

On top of all of this, you could take all kinds of photos of yourselves in the actual Cartwright house from the show. I always get a special tingle when I see some place I’ve been in a movie or on TV.

All of this cost us each about twenty dollars. I’m glad I got to share the experience with some of my Scouts!

Some sage advice: while your troop is jetting here and there to do some high-adventure program, you’re missing the best stuff! Take the byway instead and explore some down-home America. It’s not gonna wait around forever.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Last week, a youth leader told me that they had failed to start a Scouting group because the parents thought Scouting was “wussy.” The parents preferred to put their sons in sports.

The strongest, bravest people I have ever known in my life were once in our Boy Scout troop. The young man standing next to the tree in the blog entry below is an example. He was 12 when that photo was taken. By the age of 15, Dale could bench press 480 pounds and burst a tennis ball with bare hands.

But what impressed me most was how he saved a life one night. He heard some commotion in the courtyard of his apartment building, and stepped outside to see the security guard being stabbed by an assailant with a knife. While young Dale didn’t exactly rely on Scout skills, he overpowered and disarmed the attacker and saved the security guard’s life.

Wussy, eh?
By the way, he didn’t seek at medal for that, but his family got a month’s free rent

Sunday, August 19, 2007


This cedar tree used to grace the summit of Sentinel Peak at Sam Houston Area Council’s El Rancho Cima. It was a welcome spot of shade; a place to rest on hot, sunny days, and a place to gather for stargazing in the Texas hill country evenings. The hundred-year-old tree was our gift from God to our camp.

A severe thunderstorm blew the beloved tree down in May, 1985. It was God’s will, but some could not accept that. Within the next couple of years, the council bulldozed a road to the top of Sentinel Peak, leaving a large, ugly scar. Then they stuffed the top of Sentinel Peak with dynamite and blew a hole in the top big enough to swallow a car. After adding some soil, they planed a nursery tree in the hole. It survived less than a year, so bigger one was planted. This one was deliberately girdled by someone and consequently died also. I think they are on tree number 4 or 5 now. None of them measures up to the original, however.

The troop that blew up the top of Sentinel Peak received kudos for their conservation project. That’s right—conservation project!

Would you agree this is conservation? Sometimes our troop has been assigned “conservation projects” at camp that are questionable, like damming up creeks and destroying trees. I think that the goal of conservation should be to preserve the land and limit man’s impact upon it. Planting trees to control erosion, removing trash, installing erosion breaks on trails, and so forth—that’s conservation. With the top of Sentinel Peak no longer solid limestone, it’s destined for accelerated erosion. We could have served the environment better by installing a plastic tree.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


An article about Scouting “expanding the tent” to include immigrant youths prompted discussion on the Boy-Scout-Talk list yesterday. In the article, they state that the Boy Scout council in Framingham has 150 immigrants in their soccer program.


I can’t help but wonder if Boston is going to do what our district did a decade ago. Here follows the story of how a short-sighted chase after corporate donations for “at risk” Scouts ended up leaving a bitter taste…

We tailored our program to serve an immigrant population back in the '80s to accommodate the shift in demographics of the area we serve. At that time, no Spanish literature was available--we had to translate everything. The boys were bilingual, and did most of it themselves.

The youths we recruited turned out to be great Scouts. Many of them did not enter this country legally, but they had no future in their former country and wanted to become Americans. These boys were naturally outdoor people, naturally physically active, expected to work to pay their own way, and reluctant to take charity. Our first Eagle didn't have legal status, so it was an extra hassle because we didn't have a SS number for the application. We had a good thing going--these fellas won many district events and set a council record for camping, 58 nights under canvas in a single year.

So what happened? Our council came along and created "urban" units for "at risk" boys in direct competition with us. We were told not to approach our local schools any more to seek new members. The "urban" boys were given everything--uniforms, camps, even personal equipment--with our FOS money! And the result after a decade of this was hundreds of Hispanics on the district rolls, with very few active in the programs. And they were not real programs, bypassing the advancement requirements the district felt were inconvenient!

We really want to have some of the local Hispanic boys back. But they are not going to even look at us when they can get a free ride in the competing "urban" units. Sometimes I think even Boy Scout councils themselves do not put Scouting ethics into practice, and the result poisons the Scouting environment.

I'm not sure whose tent is expanding. Some members of our unit developed a commercial targeted at Spanish-speaking parents, promoting Scouting as an alternative to the gang culture so rampant here. (The picture above is one of the storyboard shots from the commercial.) National in Irving approved the commercial, the local Spanish TV stations agreed to run it no charge as a P.S.A., and a local TV station agreed to produce the commercial for the Boy Scouts. Incredibly, our own council didn't want to do it!

So I wonder what is really going to happen in Boston. Are they going to bring diversity to the traditional units there who provide a great program already? Or are they just going to sign up a bunch for show and put them in a "separate but unequal" tent?

Please tell me again why we can't give those 150 soccer boys a REAL SCOUT program.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Scoutmaster Steve of Troop 68 in Melrose, Minnesota, posed a question about Eagle conferences on his Scoutmaster’s Blog today. Some of the replies spoke of Eagle Scouts “aging out” after their Eagle Court of Honor.

In our troop, however, becoming Eagle is like being saved. You can’t be “saved” and then not change your life as a result. You cannot earn Eagle, you become Eagle. And that requires a Scout of unselfish character, whose focus in all of life is helping others. He cannot be helpful in Scouts and be a jerk in school and be a real Eagle.

The young man pictured above, Luis Gonzales, is a real Eagle. He lifts people up. He encourages people. He continued his service in our troop after we awarded him the Eagle medal, after he was 18, to train new Hispanic adults who were starting new troops, and to write a Spanish commercial to promote Boy Scouting. He still visits me about once a month.

Luis doesn’t have to be this way. He could beat up Oscar De La Hoya if he wanted to. But he had to have a good heart to become a real Eagle, as he will always be. Real Eagles are not fickle.

On the Scouting trail, I occasionally meet a young man who was awarded the Eagle medal early, say, at the age of 13. Sad to say, though they wear the insignia, you will know them by what they do—vulgar language among friends, boasting, an arrogant air of entitlement—that tells you they are yet self-centered.

I only have 3 Eagles to my credit in 27 years of Scouting, but I sleep well knowing that these 3 are real Eagles, whom I can trust as my best adult friends.

Both our council and the National B.S.A. push leaders to rack up more Eagles because the increasing numbers look good. Is this good for Scouting, or short-sighted?

Did your troop ever award a Scout the rank of Eagle only to have regrets later? Would you send a Scout to an Eagle board of review if you knew he did not conduct himself like a Scout outside of your troop?

Monday, August 6, 2007


The mercury reached 97 today in the Bayou City. In spite of global warming, this summer has been cooler than any I can remember. Yet every time August or September rolls around, I wonder why I am still living here!

Fourteen years ago today I took this picture at sunset. We had hiked up Cascade Canyon and over Hurricane Pass over the last two days, spending the night at Sunset Lake on the west side of the Tetons. We had already worked our way over much deep snow, but we weren’t prepared for what lay between Sunset Lake and Death Canyon. We became stranded right where this photo was taken, and had to camp in the middle of the trail!

Years later, I learned that 1993 was a record year for snowfall in the Rockies. Six feet had fallen on the Tetons at the end of July—just one week before we hiked over. Even with the hardship, it was all worth it. The Teton trip is still the most memorable of all my 17 high-adventure trips to date.

What’s your most memorable summer getaway?

Saturday, August 4, 2007


Arturo is the boy on the left. This was his very first campout, a backpacking trip to Lost Maples Natural Area in the Texas hill country. The year was 1985.

You see, Arturo was special because he was the first Scout who joined our troop who did not speak English. He had only been in this country for a month or so, just enough time to pick up his first English words. He got them from a Michael J. Fox movie, “Teen Wolf.”

It happened when we were heading home, just after we turned south on FM 1623 from Stonewall, Texas. (insert “Jaws” theme here) Suddenly he pushed his fingers up into his hair and, like an exited toddler, announced his brand new words…Teen Wolf! And he sort of looked like a teenage werewolf!

Everybody started laughing, so he did it again. And again. I started laughing, too, so I pulled off the side of the road. The side doors of the van popped open and the passengers spilled out onto the grass—ROFL, except it was RIGL (rolling in the grass laughing). It was very contagious, and we were parked there over 20 minutes before the effect of Arturo’s first English words had run its course.

We’ve had a few ROFL spells since, but have yet to top this. What’s the funniest thing that ever happened in your troop?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


At least in Troop 1197 it does.

It begins with Patrol Leader Training, where we give each patrol leader a set amount of this “Funny Munny.” We get most of it back by auctioning off the food items that leader can use to cook with on PL training weekend. They will earn some of the dough back depending on the quality of food they serve. They will also win some back by winning games which are part of our training process.

For the rest of his term, the SPL hands out Funny Munny for things such as uniform inspection performance, participating in a service project, recruiting a Scout, advancement, and so forth. The TLC decides how much dough will be given and for what reasons.

At the end of the leader’s term, the Funny Munny accumulated by each patrol is counted, and the winning patrol gets a prize. It may be a campout where they don’t have to work (staff cooks and cleans for them) or a day trip to somewhere fun.

This out-of-the-box idea has been around our unit for years. A decade ago, the patrols were awarded colored yarn to hang on their flag. Later, we used fake coins made out of those key tags which have an aluminum rim. The advance in computer technology allowed us to mint Funny Munny.

Throughout the years, this has been a good motivator and a good tool for an SPL to have in his bag of tricks. Please share unique program ideas your troop uses!