Old Kia Kima youth camp near Hardy, Arkansas

A History of
Old Kia Kima
Preservation Association

As remembered by David Fleming
OKKPA co-founder
April 2022

Preface

The co-creation of Old Kia Kima Preservation Association was a 3-year event (1993-1996) including conception, gestation and ultimate birthing in 1996. The intent of this story is to disclose OKKPA’s history – its birth, infancy of crawling, walking, running and climbing. You will read about events, circumstances, starts and stops, and successes along the way. It will include the experience of exploring, abandoning and ultimately adopting an array of activities and decisions that created the foundation for OKKPA today. More importantly, you will learn about sources and rationale prompting OKKPA’s vision and mission.

1993

In the beginning, there were five of us sensing and discussing the urge to reunite on the sacred grounds of Kia Kima where our trek into adulthood began. We were in our 50s, each living in different states: Frank Simonton (Bartlett, TN); Gordon “Scotty” Monteath (CA and VA); John Ozier (Baton Rouge, LA); Perry Gaither (Macon, MS) and David Fleming (me, Davis, CA). Thirty-five years had passed since we had last been together at the same time and place.

With the exception of Gaither, we met in Memphis on a warm July 1993 morning in the lobby of the East Memphis Hilton. Simonton’s duties as a faculty member at Memphis State University prevented him from continuing with us on our Arkansas journey to Hardy and Cherokee Village. There we would meet with Gaither (his wife, Judy, and 16-year young daughter, Emily) in Cherokee Village where Gaither had arranged rentals for our stay.

1993 In Memphis - l-r: David Fleming, Frank Simonton, John Ozier and Gordon “Scotty” Monteath

July 1993… Joan & Scotty Monteath - Perry & Judy Gaither - David Fleming - John Ozier Photo by Emily Gaither, Perry’s daughter

Of these 5, only Gaither had not ventured into California, where over the past 35 years Monteath, Ozier and Simonton had made stops at the Fleming abode in northern California. It would not take long to reunite in the same hilarious fashion as we had last experienced at old camp Kia Kima. For the next 3 days we would explore, ponder and wander the much changed environs we had not experienced since those summers from 1949 to1958. Included was a canoe trip on the Spring River to test our whitewater canoeing skills.

We arrived in Cherokee Village on July 11, 1993, where we met with Gaither, his wife and daughter. It took no time to happily reunite and to begin sharing our life journeys since our scattered gatherings over the years. While both lived in California, Monteath and Fleming had several mini-gatherings to explore the whitewater rivers of California, Oregon and Idaho, on one occasion nearly destroying Fleming’s new whitewater canoe. Monteath would later move to Virginia.

In 1962, Ozier and Fleming met in California where Fleming was serving in the US Air Force and Ozier was passing through enroute from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Oakland with his ultimate departure to Japan on his final US Army tour of duty. In 1967, they would meet again with their respective spouses in Memphis for a short visit, never to visit in person again until 1993. Simonton would also meet with Fleming in 1975 while he was leading students from the University of Memphis on a tour of recreational areas in California (Lake Oroville, Yosemite, San Francisco, etc.). They would not meet again for another 18 years – July 1993 in Memphis.

Gaither, Ozier and Simonton had several mini reunions over the years in Memphis and Macon, Mississippi where Gaither resided and served as a professor of English at a nearby college. Not so amazing were the links we continued having by way of celebrating birthdays with seasonal greeting cards, phone calls, and occasional letters. Each of us had married and welcomed our children into our lives as we developed our careers.

Activities during our 1993 reunion included dining at old and new establishments in Hardy and Cherokee Village (Sitting Bull). We roamed the countryside to stir memories of our hikes to afternoon swimming holes (Upper Falls, now known as Star Falls, Humphrey's Ford, Otter Creek, and Raccoon Spring). A highlight was a full day canoe trek on the Spring River from Mammoth Springs to Humphrey's Ford with a lunch stop at Many Islands. Following the lead of Captain “Scotty” Monteath (retired Captain US Navy), we had only one mishap, a canoe log jammed with Gaither (stern) and his daughter Emily (bow). Rescue by Ozier and Fleming went smoothly.

Perry Gaither later recorded his 1993 memory on an audio tape.

A visit to the old campgrounds (the quad) was a joyful yet tearful occasion we would never forget. The experience was described by Fleming in an article published in the Old Kia Kima Newsletter and later in the Memphis Commercial Appeal with the intent of awakening those who shared the experiences and values instilled in us while on those sacred grounds high above the South Fork waters:

On an unseasonably chilly day in mid-July 1993 we stood there as 55-year-old men contemplating the place and the ruins of our beloved Kia Kima Scout camp. This was the place where we had started our treks into manhood some 35 years ago. Without a spoken word, we simultaneously realized that the Spirit of Kia Kima had been lying dormant in our hearts. The Kia Kima Spirit was awakening us to the fact that this sacred bit of land - where the river runs through it - was once again longing for the sounds of youthful voices. We knew then that we must do something to honor this sacred place and to pass on the Legacy of the Kia Kima Spirit.

While milling around the remaining walls of our beloved Thunderbird Lodge, an ominous black cloud appeared overhead accompanied by a chilling wind blowing the top limbs of the trees and giving us a sense of presence of kindred spirits who had shared these sacred grounds with us. It was then that we finally rediscovered our Kia Kima heritage. Our journey to Old Kia Kima was beginning. We came to realize what it was to know the place for the first time:

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
-- T.S. Eliot

Unaware that OKKPA conception had taken place, we departed our 1993 reunion trusting that we would annually gather on those sacred grounds. We had then started on journeys we would never regret. We vowed to return at another time, a time when we would begin the time for gestation. In 1994, 1995 and 1996 we did just that – together with an ever increasing number of brothers and sisters of the South Fork waters.

1994

Having re-awakened dormant feelings and the Spirit of Kia Kima, four brothers of the old camp would experience the second gathering in September 1994. Joining Gordon “Scotty” Monteath and David Fleming for this second gathering were Buddy Keltner and John Hurt. The four of us were happily surprised to have a brief visit in Cherokee Village with Ralph Young and his wife, Martha Jane, who were visiting Joe Clark. Joe was the retired resident ranger of the new Kia Kima (now known as the Kia Kima Scout Reservation). Ralph (nicknamed Padre) had served as a long-time camp director of both the old and the new camps.

Cherokee Village, September 1995
Front: Scotty Monteath – Back: Larry Young, Buddy Keltner, David Fleming, Ralph Young and Joe Clarke. Photo by John Hurt

Our 1994 adventures included a canoe trip and a trek to the old Kia Kima campground where we witnessed nature continuing to reclaim what had once been Native-American Osage terrain. The Old Kia Kima Spirit was beginning to grow and kick. We would again pledge to return to the old camp in 1995 as the gestation was underway. We were inspired by the feeling that something good was in the making and we were sensing what would ultimately become the birth of OKKPA. When and how would eventually emerge in 1995 and 1996.

1995

As avowed in 1994, we gathered again in September 1995. We are eternally grateful for John Hurt’s initiative and creativity with the first issue of the Kamp Kia Kima Sentinel (Summer 1995). Attending the reunion for the first time was Roy Riddick, our esteemed leader and Kia Kima Program Director of 1954-57. Roy was wholeheartedly welcomed back to remind us of his 1954 BSA National Camping School slogan to “Save the World for the Boy.” Attendance increased from the original 4 to 6 with the return of Perry Gaither.

The 1995 canoeing venture planned by John Hurt was intended to begin on the South Fork River at Saddle, Arkansas and end at Slick Rock. Waiting what seemed hours for the canoe rental manager to meet us at his Saddle store, Hurt finally recalled the reservation date had been changed. We would later learn the rental manager was busy bush hogging elsewhere. We reconnoitered and moved on to the Spring River for a joyous day of white-water canoeing.

Our 1995 gathering was not complete without another on-site tour of our beloved old camp. There, we sadly found the area being used as a dumping site for washing machines, tires, refrigerators and more.

The abandoned Kia Kima became
a dumping ground

As we stood there in silence, Monteath turned and said, “We must do something about this.” Then and there, the seed was silently planted with his statement. The 2nd of the triennial was ending and the 3rd was beginning as we departed to contemplate what that “something” would be.

To be continued ...


OKKPA Early Reunion Attendees

1993 199419951996 *
  1. Adams, Phil X
  2. Billingsley, George   X
  3. Boggs, Jimmy X
  4. Fleming, David X XX X
  5. Gaither, PerryXX
  6. Gresham, Jerry X
  7. Harriss, Bobby X
  8. Hurt, John XX X
  9. Keltner, Buddy XX
10. Monteath, Scotty X XX X
11. Osborn, Umpy X
12. Oswalt, Cohen X
13. Ozier, JohnX
14. Riddick, Roy X
15. Simonton, Frank** X
16. Tate, Ron X
17. Williams, Bobby X
18. Wilson, Charles X
19. Young, Ralph X
* OKKPA was incorporated in July 1996
** Simonton met briefly with us in Memphis before
the original four gathered at Kia Kima


Old Kia Kima is not associated with the Boy Scouts of America or Chickasaw Council, BSA.
Old Kia Kima Preservation Association is responsible for Old Kia Kima and this website.