I found out much of what I know about the Wolf Pen Gap area while compiling a history of the Eagle Rock area for the purpose of completing a Boy Scout community service project, and what a project it turned out to be. For one of the most highly respected leaders around, Emory Melton of Cassville, included some of my findings in a book he had published about the history of Barry County, Missouri.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. For aside from getting to know people of the stature of Emory Melton, who later became a Missouri State Senator, Cassville’s Boy Scout Troop 76 was recognized as being the best troop in all of the land in 1970.
Okay, to be honest about it, I could be mistaken. For I do remember that we did receive some sort of national attention, but in regards to being named the best of the best, I am not absolutely sure.
Nonetheless, I cannot imagine being in a better troop. For our Scoutmaster, Charlie Vaughan, was truly a giant among men, and this was not just in the eyes of young boys, neither.
Hero worship is one thing, but what I personally felt for Charlie went way beyond that. For I loved him as much as any son could love their own father.
No, my feelings for him were not reciprocated. For he kept me at arms-length to a certain extent, but I still cherish the memories of being around him back then.
Just to be clear, it was not that I chose to become a member of Troop 76 over a troop from Eagle Rock. For Cassville was the only town around big enough to sustain a Boy Scout troop, and even at that, close to half of its membership was made up of boys from Eagle Rock, Shell Knob, Jenkins and Horner.
Now, to say that I excelled at scouting would be an understatement. For I made Eagle Scout (the highest rank) on October 10, 1972.
Making Eagle was almost expected in Troop 76 back then. For over 50% of its members made it, and everyone who did not was considered to be a real loser.
Quite obviously, that was an extremely unfair assessment of the situation. For the national average for making Eagle is only around 5%.
No, it should not be assumed that the scoutmaster must have been really bending the rules in order to record such a high rate of success. For if anything, some of the things that Charlie did made the goal even harder to achieve.
Case in point is Raymond Jagger. For he is one of the finest individuals I have ever had the privilege to meet, but he was a poor swimmer. That was a problem. For one must earn both a swimming merit badge and a lifesaving merit badge before they can become an Eagle Scout, and Charlie was reluctant to cut him any slack. Raymond finally made it before he turned 18 (the cut-off point) which added even more to his legend.
Another example of Charlie doing things his way involved me. For I was held back from making Eagle for almost two years.
Being held back was something I was not quite used to yet, but the reason given did mollify the pain a bit. For my dad told me that Charlie had said that the reason why he held me back was because of him not wanting to lose me so soon. For when someone made Eagle, they usually quit scouting soon afterward.
Yeah, like that was going to happen in my case. For who could be Charlie's shadow any better than me?
Besides, there were still things to do in scouting, and many were indeed done by the time I finally left in 1976. For I received the God and Country Award, as well as three Gold Eagle Feathers that are to be attached to the ribbon portion of the Eagle Scout Medal for earning 45 additional merit badges (21 are required for Eagle).
I was also tapped (nominated) to become a member of the O/A (Order of the Arrow) which came as quite a shock. For I do not remember knowing all that much about it before then.
I soon learned that the O/A was an honorary group, who held their own meetings and activities separate from regular Boy Scout meetings and activities. The first of their activities I participated in was a weekend-long initiation into the Ordeal level at Camp Arrowhead, near Marshfield, Missouri (around 70 miles northeast of Cassville).
I suppose that the O/A could be thought of as being like a college fraternity—minus the wild parties, which was not a problem at the time. For I was still a good boy back then.
Come to think of it, it could also be said that the O/A has some similarities with Freemasonry. For there are three levels to it: Ordeal, Brotherhood, and Vigil Honor, and one must be nominated by another in order to reach each level.
I think it was a year later that I was tapped to reach the Brotherhood level, and then things started to become really interesting. For after completing what was required for joining the Brotherhood ranks, I was asked to serve as chief of the O/A chapter that represents the Frontier District (headquartered in Branson, around 45 miles east of Cassville) of the Ozark Trails Council (headquartered in Springfield, around 55 miles northeast of Cassville).
Yes, being named chapter chief was a very great honor—both for me and my troop. For I was the first to hold such a high office from Troop 76.
Not very long afterward, things became even more interesting. For I was informed that I had been elected first vice-chief for the Ozark Trails Council!
Again, being named to an even higher office was a very great honor, but I found it all very strange. For I had not sought to hold either office, and I was certainly unaware of being on any sort of an election ballot.
Around a year later (I think) I was tapped to reach Vigil Honor, and this is when some cracks in my foundation began to show. For after getting into a rather heated dispute with the council chief at the time over something or another, I resigned from my office, and then I declined to reach the level of Vigil Honor.
Why did I do that? Quite frankly, I do not know, and this goes above and beyond merely not being able to remember. For I have absolutely no idea why I would have done such a stupid thing, and I count it as being one of the most bitter of my many regrets.
Later on, I was informed of some news that gave me even more to be bitter about. For I was told by some high officials that I would have been the next council chief.
No, not every day as a Boy Scout was a good one for me. In fact, it started out that way. For the first Monday after I reached the minimum age of 11 in 1968, I attended my first meeting of Troop 76 at the Scout House in Cassville with my dad, and I was absolutely scared to death.
A classic case of a parent making their child do something that they did not want to do for their own good (in the parent's opinion, of course)? Absolutely not! For I really wanted to be a Boy Scout, but there was a matter of being quite insecure about my physical abilities that had to be overcome.
No, I would not have lasted very long with Troop 76 unless a drastic change took place. For they held outdoor activities at least every two months back then, and that involved a whole lot more than just sitting around a campfire.
These activities included several weekend camping trips in Broken Arm Valley (an area owned by Troop 76 around 10 miles northeast of Cassville). There were also a couple of Frontier District Camporees per year, a play weekend at Buzzy Snider's on Flat Creek near the Stackyards (an old logging site around 20 miles east of Cassville and 10 miles north of Shell Knob), and an annual week at Camp Arrowhead.
I was absolutely miserable the first time I spent a week at Camp Arrowhead in the summer of 1969. For on top of being woefully homesick, I was terrified of having to pass swimming and canoeing tests in order to earn merit badges that were needed for advancement in rank, and going to pieces on Thursday night (with the camp ending on Saturday) was icing on the cake.
My psychotic break came as a result of being told about The Legend of Green Hands. Later on, I found-out that it was an old tradition to tell rookie campers about the legend, but it took some time before I could fully appreciate the significance of such a rite of passage.
Just imagine being in a darkened tent late at night, hearing about an Indian brave who had his hands chopped off by the father of the maiden he loved because of how much he disapproved of her seeing him, and as if that was not bad enough, his hands were then buried inside of Soapstone Cave. This cave was (of course) not very far from our encampment, and what made it even worse on me was the date. For according to the legend, the glowing green hands of the brave would leave the cave to search for a body to attach themselves to on the 4th day of the 4th week of every month during years when there was an abundance of 4-trees (trees with limbs shaped like a 4).
Yep, the time of my demise was surely at hand. For it all lined up, and several 4-trees had been pointed out to me by older scouts throughout the previous days.
Adding even more to the drama was that I had to go to the bathroom really bad a couple of hours before the end of the 4th day of the 4th week. For the last thing I wanted to do was to leave the safe confines of the tent I was in, but I wasn’t about to let it all hang out in front of the other boys, nor was I going to go in my pants.
So, I summoned up the courage to sneak outside for a quick second (I hoped) and what happened next may still be talked about in certain circles. For I had just stuck my head out of the tent flap when I saw someone coming into camp with half of his face still covered in darkness.
I went absolutely berserk. No, that does not do it justice. For by the time my hysterics subsided somewhat, I had torn down three tents, and my screaming had been heard over a mile away.
Some speculated that I may have even been speaking in what is generally recognized as being tongues by Pentecostals and some other Christian denominations—despite being raised a good Southern Baptist. For several eye-witnesses testified that I was screaming, “YA YA YA,” over and over again.
No, I never did live that down among those who were there, but I eventually came to laugh along with them. For it was just one of those things that happen along the way to adulthood, and as an added bonus, no one in the troop ever messed with me all that much afterward.
Yes, many of my insecurities were gradually overcome, and when the summer of 1971 came around, I actually felt more excitement than dread about going to the Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico (around 50 miles northeast of Taos). For the excursion promised to include a 20-mile hike over mountainous terrain with a 60-pound backpack almost every day for over a week, but that had become little more than a leisurely walk in a manicured park to me by then.
Alas, I do not have the words to adequately describe what a wonder Philmont was. For from the French Henry Copper Mine near the top of Mount Baldy (where lightning strikes ran along the ground for yards) to active archaeological digs down in a valley that I cannot remember the name of, it was certainly quite a sight to see, and I hope it still is.
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