Letter Re: Old Boy Scout and Girl Scout Handbooks are Available Online

Mr. Rawles,
I loved seeing the recent mention of the older Boy Scout Handbook on your site. I know I have been writing you back and forth for ten years or so now and I can’ t ever remember mentioning my Boy Scout history and the materials I have collected from the various Boy Scout books over the years.

First off I am an Eagle as are both my brothers, as is my father and all of his brothers, and as was my grandfather and all of his brothers who were young enough to participate in scouting (his older brothers were 18 before scouting came to the U.S.) My oldest is about to become an Eagle Scout and my second son is well on his way (one merit badge and a project to go …)

I have on my bookshelf and ready to toss into my kit when/if we have to leave the house a 34th printing of the “Handbook for Boys” printed circa 1940 which was my father’s book, a reprint of the 1911 printing of the same (the one my grandfather would have used), a 1981 version (mine), and 1998 version (my sons version which I used when I was Scoutmaster). I also have the matching Fieldbooks for the same years. And a very large collection of the various merit badge books. Most of these you can pick up for next to nothing at a garage sale these days but they are packed with vital information that really is not covered in other places – the only primitive survival book that I have found that comes close to the Boy Scout materials (especially the older ones) is the Larry Dean Olsen book.

For example in the older Boy Scout manuals there are instructions (which I have both practiced and taught) for: making tents from canvas tarps, rations prior to widespread adoption of freeze dried/canned foods, recipes and cooking methods for the same over an open fire, tracking, signaling, and on and on and on. I have enjoyed teaching the boys over the years about things such as sloosh and mountain man bread, how to cook meat directly ON a fire, etc. Probably the best time we have had was canteen cup weekend – you got a canteen, a canteen cup, a spork, and had to pack your own rations to last the weekend and be cooked and eaten in the canteen cup. (The canteen cup can be easily substituted by a tin can or similar scrounged container.)

For those of you who don’t know slosh is a cornbread made of corn meal, egg, lard (or leftover bacon drippings), and just a wee bit of water and cooked either on a stick or if you are lucky in a fry pan. Mountain man bread is similar but you use wheat flour. Or if you are cheating (or showing boys how to do it for the first time) you use canned biscuit dough . . . Both sloosh and mountain man bread can be made with ingredients that store for a long time when you are on the trail without any special preparations. Flour, real bacon (smoked and dried not the stuff sold in the stores as “bacon” today), and lard last a long time. As a side note the pioneers would pack eggs in lard or grease (not Vaseline) to store them for a trip. My family tells tales of a large water barrel that was filled with eggs and had cooling bacon grease and lard poured over them lasting from when the wagons left Independence until they got into Utah.

Needless to say my scouts quickly learned how to quickly boil water in a canteen cup with a small fire, and eat dried oatmeal for breakfast, trail foods like gorp and jerky and pemmican for lunch, and then to use bits of jerky or pemmican to flavor stews and soups for dinner. We used the edible plants guide to forage for wild plants during the day as we walked and then added those to the stews/soups for dinner. The boys who packed lots of food quickly would fall behind and would quickly get tired of the bland sameness of top ramen noodles.

And between the bacon grease/lard mixture and bee’s wax you have a good way to keep leather conditioned and waterproof on the trail. In fact I just picked up a child’s saddle for my daughter for $20 and reworked the leather using bee’s wax – and now she has a beautiful saddle in nice cordovan color that will last her for years and years. The parts that needed to stay flexible such as the skirts were worked with lard/bacon grease at first (leave the leather in a warm place so they can slowly melt into the leather) and then a top layer of bee’s wax.

Probably my favorite example of the importance of the basic skills that the scout books contain though deals with my uncle. He had just finished up medical school and residency and had come home to Idaho when he witnessed a car accident. Without thinking he ran over and performed life saving first aid on the woman who was injured. And then afterwards realized that what he had done was not learned in medical school or his residency but rather was the end result of his Boy Scout first aid training many years before.