As with many things American, Scouting in America had its roots in Great Britain. Rapidly transported and translated into a distinctly American idiom in 1910, scouting arrived in Memphis in 1915. Two troops, one at the YMCA and another, Troop 25 at Temple Israel, were already under way when the council was officially organized in 1915. The first president of the council (No. 558) was the influential investment banker transplanted from Indianapolis, Bolton Smith. The Memphis Council of the Boy Scouts of America was officially organized on February 21, 1916 with over 60 prominent business and professional leaders. One of the first actions of the Council was president Bolton Smith’s acquisition of a camp site near Hardy, Arkansas. By his own donation, nearly 200 acres of land on the South Fork of the Spring River was obtained for $2000. The council had already hired an executive field scout leader, Edward A. Everett, one of only two in the entire South, trained at Scout’s national headquarters. Along with his other duties, he would also oversee development and operation of Kia Kima, the flagship vessel for scouting’s camping launch in the mid-south.
Also in 1916 Memphian Sophie Kraus decided that working girls needed a nearby vacation spot that provide outdoor recreation. With the aid of friends, Mrs. Kraus acquired donations from businessmen and purchased 40 acres in the foothills of the Ozarks on the South Fork of Spring River not far from where Kia Kima was being planned. The Camp was first known by two names, “Girl’s Vacation Camp” and “Miramichee“. The Indian name Miramichee stuck. Miramichee was given to the YWCA of Memphis in 1920 believing that the YWCA could reach a larger number of potential campers.
While camp Miramichee hasn’t survived as a camp, in 1997 OKKPA was formed and was able to acquire and restore much of the original Kia Kima. 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of the founding of these two camps and will be celebrated throughout the year, culminating with a 100th Year Reunion at Old Kia Kima the weekend of September 15 – 18, 2016. Planning is well underway and it promises to be an amazing weekend. Mark your calendars now; you don’t want to miss this event. It’s not often one gets to celebrate a 100th Anniversary!
The Early Years
By March of 1916, 8 troops had been organized in Memphis with about 300 Scouts. Scouts who came to Kia Kima typically came as individual scouts and were assigned to provisional units or cabin groups. Troop camping was not typical of Kia Kima as it became for Currier later and Kia Kima after WWII.
The first summer’s camping at Kia Kima included 75 scouts at newly constructed facilities consisting of a Lodge and sleeping cottages. Scouts were engaged in a variety of activities such as swimming, nature study, and athletic contests. The local news in Memphis reported that the YMCA and Girls Scouts had constructed camps nearby in Hardy and Mammoth Springs as well. The rapid growth of scouting during the next decade followed close on the heels of growth of troubled youth in the urban areas of all America. Public schools were limited in their ability to capture the interest of young people with constructive activities. Delinquency became a worrisome issue. Scouting was a ready solution for those concerns as well as the larger national imperatives hinging on the horizon with war clouds in Europe. Business leaders, clergy and educators supported the effort and the good sense of healthy outdoor activities, like camping, would foster personal discipline and health. It was not a coincidence that early on the War Department sought to influence and encourage, and help shape camping activities generally, and leadership and character development particularly.
Scouting in Memphis had its first two Eagles by January 1917 - Russell Wilkinson and Edward Mitchell of Troop 1-A. In succeeding years, the Council would steadily increase that number to 23 by 1924. So advancement was built into the fabric of scouting in Memphis and thrived at the first established camp, Kia Kima, and at Camp Currier later in the decade.
Additional funds in the amount of $4,000 were approved for improvements for the camp summer of 1918. A new council executive, R. D. Crow, supervised the camp, modeled as a military containment. Well into the second year of the First World War, scouts sold liberty bonds and conducted various public service duties for the war. The camp was inspected by War Department personnel regarding hygiene and physical training effectiveness and Kia Kima was given a superlative rating. The scouts would return to Memphis in good shape to assist in the war effort and, if later called upon, fit to serve in the armed forces. Medical doctors were usually present for examinations and to oversee the health of scouts.
Budget for 1919, for the Memphis Council was set at $25,000 and $2,000 went to Kia Kima. Local businesses had been quite generous in donating material to improve facilities at the camp. The Memphis council now had 800 Scouts. Camp fees for the coming summer would be $6 per scout per week and a round trip train ticket from Memphis to Hardy was $6.60. That summer was a banner year for Kia Kima. Advancements more than doubled from the prior year and included 16 young men for First Class, 13 to Second Class, and 2 to Star. Kia Kima’s first Eagle Scouts were Jack Nelson from Troop 5, Charles Wailes from Troop 22, and Robert Charles Dean from Troop 33. Presence of a swim instructor and new diving pier brought vast improvements in swimming. The camp, which averaged 70 boys per week, was extended another fortnight to accommodate the demand for the invigorating camp experience where a boy is never bored.
Planning for the 100th Anniversary of Old Kia Kima continues. The celebration is really a yearlong event culminating in our annual reunion the weekend of September 15th – 18th 2016. Please put this date on your calendar now and plan to attend!
Kia Kima and Scouting Grows
Throughout the 1920’s, scouting in the Chickasaw Council (encompassing North Mississippi) would grow to over 1200 scouts, which included six troops of African-American Scouts. In and of itself, this was an extraordinary achievement due largely to the efforts of Bolton Smith, who spearheaded the effort on the part of the National Council of the BSA. A succession of effective scout executives during this period eventually brought W. Gordon Morris, who would oversee steady growth even through the Great Depression. He would oversee the inauguration of Camp Currier in nearby Eudora Mississippi, whose steady growth eventually eclipsed Kia Kima.
Kia Kima remained a popular camp program but seemed to reach only the more affluent who could afford the camp fees and transport costs. But Kia Kima exerted great influence on the culture of scouting within the council and especially the program of camping which unfolded at Camp Currier later in the decade. The practice of honor campers, a precursor to the Order of the Arrow, was developed there as well as the system of recognizing campers through the awarding of sashes for each year’s participation.
The Memphis Press Scimitar (Aug or Sept 1927) featured an article about the camp staff for a 10-week camp season—one of largest and most successful camps in the 12-year history of the council, as observed by Ross Mathews, council executive. Charles Craig, a Harvard graduate in his second year of law school, headed up camp the last three years. Dr. J. L. Jelks was head of the camping committee together with Dr. J.C. Ayers, Jr., Merill Schwartz, and R.G. Ramsay. Swimming instructor was Gordon Sprott; staff member Bert Pouncey, President of Central High Student body, and Joe Dalstrom, Eagle scout and attendee of 1924 world jamboree.
A detailed report of 1928 Kia Kima summer camp reveals good attendance with 211 scouts exceeding the 192 of the previous season. Camp equipment was upgraded with the addition of running water. Through the generosity of council supporter (and later vice president of council) Edward M. Salomon, a stone headquarters building was constructed from native stone—which came to be known at the Thunderbird Nest. Kia Kima offered an imposing venue to guests and campers alike as they were ferried across the river and wound their way up the steep slope to the camp quadrangle. Salomon, manager of Bry’s Department Store and prominent leader in the Jewish Community, would become Council president in 1930. Newsletters from that summer sketch the traces of vigorous activities involving competition games with campers at YMCA Mammoth Springs as well as a listing of honors and advancement of campers, which included a dazzling array of merit badges. Of special note was that Executive Morris was present for Saturday Campfire the week of August 7 to present the Eagle award to camper Howard Boyd of Troop 5.
The Summer of 1929 brought significant upgrades in medical facilities for Kia Kima. Dr. Ayers designed a newly built hospital facility and spearheaded acquisition of crucial equipment and facilities for its effective operation. Dr. Ayers and Dr. Jelk, both of whom served on the council, provided donated services to the camp and role modeled a shining example for many of their colleagues for future scout camps.
Mrs. Elizabeth B. Currier, of Geneva Switzerland, donated 500 acres of land near Eudora, MS for a second camp in 1925. A lake and swim pond would eventually be added and each troop was encouraged to build its own cabins. Use of the new camp was dramatic. Calendar year 1929 saw a doubling of Scout-day attendance (figured as the number of scouts times nights spent camping) to 1,941. By 1931 there were over 30 cabins built.
Preparations for the 100th anniversary of our camp are well underway. The annual reunion in September will be the culminating event and we are anticipating a truly memorable one. Please mark your calendar for the weekend of September 15 – 18 to attend.
The Depression Stresses to Scouting in the 30s
Many scouting supporters rested a bit easier with the strategic decision to recruit Gordon Morris as executive for the council. He had been a seasoned scoutmaster in Memphis while employed as a cotton broker. Keen minds no doubt sensed his natural abilities of organization and contacts in the business communities as key aspects to scouting’s success in Memphis. He was trained under the master chief scouter Mr. James West. Morris’ forceful leadership for the next 30 years bears out the wisdom of that selection. He came on board in February 1928.
At the outset of the decade there were 1254 scouts in 57 troops with 39 Eagle awards presented in 1930. That year included the first week’s long camp for Negro Scouts at Camp Daniels in Memphis. Participation at Kia Kima would be erratic fluctuating from 269 in 1930 to as low as 52 in 1937. All the while the pace upward continued at nearby Camp Currier with dramatic increased attendance; it had 9187 scout days in 1932. There were 2482 scouts adding summer camps at Currier in 1937 when the newly constructed swimming pool opened. A veteran scout leader Hope Ford (affectionately called Chief Ford) was hired as camp ranger in 1938.
This was also the year for first two Negro Eagle Scouts in the Council. Camp Daniels was judged one of the best Scout camp for Negroes in America. It had 94 scouts in four week’s camping for summer of 1938.
Although most scouts in the council did their camping at Currier, Kia Kima continued to hold an appeal for many. From the Commercial Appeal July 12, 1931 is reported that several scouts from Memphis troops arrived at Kia Kima. One was Lewis Donelson Troop 28. He would later become a prominent attorney and member of Memphis City Council. Among activities they would engage were canoe hikes to Mammoth Springs and overland hikes to Raccoon Springs and Otter Creek.
Beginning a precedence to continue into the future, scouts from nearby councils attended Kia Kima through the period. Also adult scout leaders were invited to Kia Kima the final weeks to experience the camp and receive vital training. To meet the competing cost of $5.00 a week at Currier, the fee was reduced from $9.50 to $8.50 for 1938. Another change was new emphasis on advancement requiring minimum rank of second class. Riflery and horseback riding were included for 1938, with 109 scouts in attendance. But camp finances were typically running deficits. That year it was $458.
The final camping season of the decade was disappointing for Kia Kima. Low attendance and staff discord sounded the death knell for the camp’s future. With only six weeks in session, 85 scouts attended. But thankfully in these hard times the deficit that year was just $166.
The council camping committee, with approval of the council executive committee, acted to close Kia Kima for the 1940 season due to declining attendance and increasing deficits. A staff person would be on site to protect the property for the summer. A decision was made to cede to the Girl Scouts the beach front property they had been using further down the river from Kia Kima.
Despite its demise over the decade, Kia Kima was stamped indelibly on the minds of many scouts in the council some of whom had never been to the camp. Fred Carney a legendary scout leader after World War Two had fond memories of time spent there and its impact on him as a growing scout. When Admiral Richard A. Byrd, the polar explorer, visited Memphis for an address in Memphis Nov. 8, 1935, one of the featured Eagle Scout honor guards for his address was 17year old William Moore of Troop 4 who was an Honor Scout of Kia Kima. Ed Russell, now a retired educator in the Memphis School system who was a scout in Memphis before the war and a scoutmaster after the war said, “I just went to Camp Currier. But I always wanted to go to Kia Kima which to my mind was a very special place for scout camping but beyond my reach financially.”
It was the image more than the lingering reality of what occurred in a later decade of Kia Kima camping that would serve as an inspiration to bring back the dear old camp on the South Fork—with vengeance.
Miramichee was given to the YWCA of Memphis in 1920 believing that the YWCA could reach a larger number of potential campers. According to legend the three original owners were a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew, which established a tradition of openness and diversity that continued throughout the camp’s history.
For a decade participants continued to be working women with a two-week period designated each summer for use by Girl Reserves (the YWCA predecessor of Y-Teens). The changeover in age groups was gradual with mixed ages attending for several years. During the years of the Great Depression the camp was open to young women and girls of all ages. Family groups also enjoyed the camp during these years.
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of camping in the Hardy, Arkansas area. As a part of our 100th year celebration Cherokee Village will be conducting “100 years of camping” in conjunction with the OKKPA Reunion in September. Cherokee Village will host several events in their Town Center, including a pancake breakfast. They will also have a display depicting the history of camps in the area including Old Kia Kima and Miramichee. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend. More information will be forthcoming as plans continue to come together for this exciting event!
Cedar Valley and Kia Kima
The history of Kia Kima would not be complete without delving into the history of the Eastern Arkansas Council which was headquartered in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The EAAC was formed in September 1935 as a result of the mergers of several councils covering the 16 counties from Blytheville to Jonesboro and south to Helena Arkansas.
Even in these early years the lack of a formal council did not prevent the growth of an interest in Scouting in this area. Like young men going to Kia Kima, young men from this area pursued their interest as Lone Scouts, or through a few independently organized troops that functioned in the area.
Many men of vision, among them Gen. E.C. Robertson, Rev. Roy Davis, Col. Neil Snyder, D.B. Aycock, Rue Abramson, Floyd White, Sam Sharpe, Dewey Moore, W.D. Keesham, William Green, H.K. Barwick, Eddie Robinson, Donald Murray, D.B. Eames, and Judge C.D. Frierson, were able to come together in the fall of 1935 to realize their dream of the formalization of the Scouting program through the present council. Even then the idea of a summer camp was central to their vision. During this period, the EAAC operated at least three temporary camps, among them Camp Crowley, Camp Frierson and Camp Robertson. Each existing only for the summer at a local state park or other suitable private property. Serious consideration was given to making Frierson the official camp. A dining hall, pond and other basic facilities were even constructed.
EAAC was never a 'wealthy' council financially. Even so, the spirit of Scouting continued to grow. During the difficult World War II years, troops were formed and camping expanded. Located within EAAC was the camp of the Chickasaw Council in Memphis, Tennessee, Kia Kima. The links between the two councils were long and friendly, with many activities occurring between the two councils. In 1941 EAAC leased Kia Kima and operated it as its own camp for the summer. Discussion occurred between the two councils for EAAC to buy Kia Kima in 1941 but these discussions did not progress and another private camp in the same area was quickly identified that would serve its growing needs.
In the summer of 1942, Camp Cedar Valley, on 255 acres of rolling Ozark foothills just upstream from Kia Kima opened. By the early 1960's, growth of the Cherokee Village Corporation was beginning to show that Old Cedar Valley (as well as Old Kia Kima) were rapidly being surrounded by a growing community. Like the early 1940's, the 1960's were a difficult period in many ways. Despite this, those interested in the growth of Scouting and the development of young men came forward to develop plans for a new camp. In 1966, EAAC said goodbye to the last Scout campers at Old Cedar Valley, sold its property to the Cherokee Village Corporation and purchased 1260 acres south of Viola. For the summer of 1967, Scouts from EAAC and Chickasaw councils jointly attended camp at the new Kia Kima. The summer of 1968 Camp Cedar Valley opened as part of the Pine Trail Reservation with plans for eventually developing three separate camps, although that failed to come to fruition.
In May 2001, after years of struggling, the EAAC pursued a merger with another council. Through the summer months, assets were disposed of to settle remaining debts. On August 15, 2001, Pine Trail Reservation was sold entirely. The cabins and other buildings have been renovated and RV hook-ups have been added. It is operated as a private camp but remains a favorite destination for area Scout troops and other youth groups.
On October 8, 2001, the board of Quapaw Area Council, Little Rock, Arkansas, voted to accept the merger proposal of the former EAAC.
Miramichee continued to operate during the early 1940's limiting enrollment to girls aged 10 to 18. Miss Julia Hope Hall, YWCA Youth Director, began her long tenure as Camp Director in the late 1930's. During the war years of World War II, adult camping returned. Gasoline and tire rationing curtailed long trips, so Miramichee again became a vacation spot for employed women. Where else could one vacation for a camp fee of $10.00 per week? Adult camping continued for approximately fifteen years attracting mainly former campers from Shelby County and their families. In the 1950's camping reverted to the younger age group. Swimming, canoeing, hiking, singing games, crafts, archery and overnight sleep outs were all part of life at Miramichee, which attracted campers not only from Memphis and Shelby County but also west Tennessee, north Mississippi and east Arkansas.
The Forties from Decline to Rebound 1940-48
Despite the Great Depression, Scouting in Memphis continued to flourish with camping at an uneven pace. A record number of boys, 2,802, were enrolled in Scouting in 1940. Of these, 31 served on the staff at Camp Currier and Camp Daniels, which was the camp serving the Seminole Division of Negro scouts. In total there were 12,181 scout camping days recorded. 1940 also saw 21 scouts attain their Eagle rank.
Kia Kima Reopens 1948
The summer of 1941, Kia Kima was used by the East Arkansas Council from Jonesboro which raised hopes in Memphis that Kia Kima would be purchased by them since Arkansas had good experiences with the facility and they were looking to establish a summer camp of their own. However, negotiations broke down and the East Arkansas Council purchased property just up river from Kia Kima and the Chickasaw Council sought to preserve its investment in Hardy.
There had been strong sentiment to revive Kia Kima but the outbreak of World War II ended those dreams for the duration. Even with loss of leadership to the war, advancement continued with 44 Eagles awarded in 1941 and 26 in 1942. Camping at Currier slackened but scouting among the Seminole Division of Negro scouts soared comprising a full one third of all scouts in the council. It was widely recognized that Memphis had one of the most successful programs for Negro scouts in all the country—with 7 Eagle scouts in 1947.
Meanwhile at Currier, problems with deteriorating cabins affected participation as many became unsafe for use. Lack of adult leaders necessary for camping at Currier further affected it adversely. However, a group of former Kia Kima staff and campers had organized to raise funds to reopen the Hardy camp which eventually came to pass in 1948. By that year the Chickasaw Council had 7,000 registered scouts with a budget of $54,770.
The anticipation of Kia Kima reopening seemed just the ticket to address the Council's camping needs. Efforts to reopen Kia Kima were assigned to field executive Haskell Mize who had previously been camp director at Currier. Among the first staff Haskell recruited were George Billingsley to be waterfront director along with Miles "Bubba Moose" Erwin as assistant waterfront director, Jack Dallas as mess sergeant, Harry Ellis for waterfront and camp doctor. Pat Bohan, Harry Estes, Dorris Goodman and Jim McWorter rounded out the staff. Billingsley and Erwin were sent to Aquatic School in Pontotoc, Mississippi. This school was conducted by Captain Fred C. Mills who was a founding father of the Underwater Demolition Teams of the U.S. Navy, which was the precursor of the Navy Seals. This strong aquatic training would continue on at Kia Kima and become an integral part of the camping experience there. Camp had not been used since the summer of 1941 and was not in the best condition. The ranger was Edgar Morgan, who along with Billingsley, Erwin, Miles and several scout executives on weekends worked full time for several weeks preparing camp.
Haskell Mize was replaced by Tweed Johnson as Camp Director prior to the re-opening and the decision was made by the council to use Kia Kima for older scouts—the then emerging Explorer Scouting for boys 14 and above.
The first week, there were only nine campers along with the nine staff. But, that gave way to strong troops from Memphis, notably Buddy Erwin’s Troop 97 (legendary for its roll of Eagle Scouts and leaders in the Memphis community). Also that summer there were Miller Huckabee from North Memphis and Alvin Tate of Troop 34. Among the first campers that summer drafted as junior staff were Louis Pritchett and Jimmy Boggs who would serve on the waterfront in 1949 and 1950. As most of the staff were older and some even veterans, Tweed Johnson allowed wide latitude in organizing activities and instructions. One of the prized experiences that summer, much repeated over the years, was allowing campers who qualified in aquatics to make the canoe trek down from Mammoth Springs.
Capturing the spirit of that inaugural summer and many to come are these words from George Billingsley:
"Most of us came from good homes and good parents. However, parents who could not offer or give what today would be considered mandatory. “Too many mouths to feed and too little to do it with.” Consequently, KK offered an escape to a different world. A world where we didn’t feel "without". But a world where we could excel and be recognized for any small talent we may have possessed. KK was a place where if one gave and shared his gifts and talents with others he was rewarded and recognize beyond all expectations. The more seasons one stayed, the more one grew and believed in himself and his fellow staff members. When he returned to the city and its environment it seemed artificial. Your “old friends” became almost strangers. You were convinced the real people were KK and the real place was Kia Kima."
This quote and all above material on the opening of camp in 1948 can be found in the Old Kia Kima Newsletter, November 1997, Volume 3, Issue 3 submitted by George Billingsley.
Even with few scouts that summer of 1948, it was a signal time for other reasons, not the least of which was the introduction of the Order of the Arrow into the scouting and camping program of the Chickasaw Council. The council already had in place the Honor Council of Kia Kima for campers honored at both Currier and Kia Kima. On August 7, 1948, 30 honor scouts from Chickasaw Council were inducted into the Order of the Arrow at Kia Kima. This would mark the Order of the Arrow as a major influence on the camping and scouting experience with great emphasis on the Native American mystique surrounding both at Kia Kima. Phil Emerick an adult council member and scout leader had been inducted into the Order of the Arrow as a scout in St. Louis. He and members of Ittawaba Lodge 235 conducted the ceremony. The Lodge number assigned was 406 and the name given was Chickasah. The Thunderbird was chosen as the lodge totem which was also adopted as the camp totem and patch.
By 1950 scouting activities opened wide. The council had over 8,000 scouts on its rosters with 242 units. Philmont in New Mexico had been opened as a high adventure camp for older scouts. The Council Camping committee was emphasizing troop camping increasingly and stressing the need for each unit to have active nights and weeks of camping each year under canvas not in cabins. This was the case even though provisional units continued at Kia Kima for some time. The National Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge in 1950 brought several scouts into positions of leadership at Kia Kima. Bill Springer and Robert Bentley both returned to be recruited as field executives for the council. And Roy Riddick returned from the jamboree to go on to Kia Kima where he was recruited as a junior staffer that same summer. Under the vigorous leadership of waterfront staff, attendance picked up at Kia Kima while Currier remained the mainstay for weekend overnights and camporees. Negro Scouting suffered a setback with the loss of Camp Daniels at Douglass Park which was turned into a golf facility. However, an alternative camp site was arranged at T. O. Fuller State Park in South Shelby County.
The Ascendency of Scout Camping in the 50s and through 1963
While Kia Kima was making a determined, although uneven, resurgence at its reopening, Chickasaw Council would realize dramatic increases in recruitment and overall scouting beyond the council at high adventure sites to the far North and West. The weekly fees for Kia Kima were $12 and sales of Scout Circus tickets could easily cover that cost for enterprising scouts. By the mid-1950’s, the roads were fully paved to Hardy, though some still made the trip by train. Gradually the provisional troops were giving way to whole units coming to camp with their own Scoutmasters and adult leadership. More and more of the units were staying in tent sites away from the main quadrangle—Hickory Hill, 201 Ranch, Slick Rock Basecamp up river.
Thurman Frashure took the reigns as camp director in 1951 and 1952 as the charismatic waterfront staff of George Billingsley and Louis Pritchett hit its stride. When Frashure was elevated to Assistant Council Executive, newly recruited Field Executive and former Scoutmaster of Troop 35 in Memphis Ralph Young was tapped to head the camp in 1954. Bill Springer, another Field Executive, was to assist in this endeavor. By 1954, nearly all the original staff from the opening camp of 1948 were gone. Ralph Young would go on to head the camp for several summers and eventually would take leadership in setting up the new Kia Kima Reservation in 1964 and beyond.
By the mid-fifties, a collection of experiences welcomed the campers and others coming to Kia Kima in Hardy. Firstly, if you rode the Frisco train from Memphis, you got off at the Hardy station and your gear was hauled to camp by truck. Scouts coming by train would hike the two miles out to camp across the Spring River bridge, skirting the Rio Vista tourist complex, and sweeping by Kamp Kiwani Girls Scout Camp and Camp Miramichee YWCA camp before arriving at the broad meadow parking area on the south side of the river. Then they were ferried across the South Fork at the river side docks by waterfront staff who nimbly navigated across the river with four passengers in sturdy wood dinghy’s. As one approached the camp rising impressively above the North shore one could mount the climb by the steep stoned stair case or the gentler slope behind the dispensary. But in either case you came upon the imposing edifice of the Thunderbird Lodge and the quadrangle which opened onto a venue of stone lodges nestled in a wooded area whose floor cradled flint rocks eager to be tossed—though one of the earliest taboos enunciated to campers as they arrived was: “No rock throwing!”
The next order of business for campers was getting situated in one’s campsite and, hopefully, successfully reunited with one’s gear. You got dressed in swim suit and went to the camp hospital for a medical check, sometimes by a local physician and sometimes by a volunteer doctor from Memphis. Once passed, you went down to the waterfront and received your first indoctrination as to the holy grail of water safety -the buddy system - and the sacrosanct system of rating scouts as non-swimmers, beginners, or swimmers.
Afterwards it was time for supper and introduction to the rituals of camp dinning and the rigors of waiter duty. Prior to 1954, it was a Mess Hall. The new facility opened in 1954 was a Dining Hall. The tables were square and seated eight. Usually there were two staff or adults at each table. The six scouts were rotated as waiters each day. Earlier on, being a waiter was an arduous task and Mess Sergeants were perceived as demonic slave drivers whose sole task was to harass green campers. That practice faded in the late fifties. After meals were the usual series of announcements, sometimes skits, and the evening concluded by exiting singing “Trail the Eagle”.
Following supper on Sunday evening, the entire camp hiked to nearby Cedar Bluff for brief vesper services usually accompanied by young ladies from Miramichee or Kamp Kiwani. The message was always brief and the singing appropriately reverential for the setting.
The week’s routine was simple: you got up and had breakfast after assembly around raising of colors and troop report; camp sites were put in order for inspection, then off to merit badge classes or waterfront instruction. Afternoons included more classes as well as free swim, short hikes, and handicraft activity. Mid-week most units took over night hikes or canoe trips, which meant a waterfront staff came along to supervise troop swims.
Friday was water carnival day as well as last day to complete merit badge requirements. Older Explorers who had been on trek returned to camp on Fridays. And outpost camp at Slick Rock typically came into main camp on Fridays as well. Friday assembly for supper was usually a crowded affair to get everyone around the assembly and fed.
The Friday night camp fire was the culmination of the week’s activities. Included were troop awards along with vigorous singing and sometimes riotous skits. The pyro-techniques for igniting the camp fire were spectacular when they worked. The major event for the evening were near the close when the Order of the Arrow tap out ceremony was held. Usually each troop would elect members to the OA during the week. Then those elected (but who did not know of their election) were tapped out by a ceremonial team in Native American dress. The full induction process, a two-day ordeal, was held twice at summer camp and usually twice back at Currier during the fall and spring.
These rituals and routines remained almost completely intact throughout the entire era of Kia Kima’s rebirth from 1948-1963. The camp became more thoroughly a scout camp in tenor and substance transcending much of the GI issue and flamboyant bravado of the late ‘40s.
The traditions inaugurated by Louis Pritchett for ribald skits and super serious Native American celebration continued and thrived. Indian dance teams improved and flourished over the years with the likes of Perry Gaither, Charles Allen, Phil Glasgow and Steve Horn. Kia Kima dance teams made appearances at Fourth of July celebrations in Hardy and Cherokee Village as well as joint gathering of girl campers from Miramichee and Kiwani. The snake dance was always a powerful attraction. While US government policy the last hundred years nearly committed total genocide of the Native American peoples, their spirit lived on among the campers and staff at Kia Kima.
The year 1954 brought a sea change for several reasons. One was the addition of the new dining hall constructed on the North side of camp situating it mid-center of most of the camp sites. The old dining hall (destined to be lost to fire in late 50s) was converted into a handicraft shop and instructional space. Cooks were hired from the Memphis City Schools (this may have come earlier) and a special living facility was built for them.
The staff leadership had taken a new turn as Roy Riddick was hired as program director and the new waterfront director was a young man from West Virginia (student at Duke University) by the name of Steve Young (no relation to Ralph that we know of). These two along with Bob Bentley attended National Camping and Aquatic School prior to the opening of camp. The very keen emphasis of that training from BSA national was on Eagle Advancement and unit troop camping. The old casual dress for staff was forbidden. In its place was strict expectation of all staff in class A uniforms at dinner meals. This meant the new summer dress for scouts in knee socks and shorts. There was a tighter rein on staff conduct outside of camp, meaning some disciplining and dismissal of staff. This did not come without staff grumbling. But the new system worked. By summer of 1957 there were 63 units camping at Kia Kima.
But tourism was crowding the camp. Cherokee Village had become a thriving resort complex just across the river. Developer John Cooper granted a loan of 40 acres along the south shore to the camp, but that was not enough to satisfy the increasing pressure of more scouts attending Kia Kima each summer. At the Chickasaw Council’s annual meeting in December 1957 special awards were made to Roy Riddick and to Lofton “Buddy” Keltner for their distinctive contributions to Kia Kima.
The 1958 camp season welcomed 1,177 paying campers in 60 units at Kia Kima. There were now 12 separate camp sites for units and the 1959 season was extended to eight weeks to accommodate the increase. The first year to have a volunteer doctor at camp full time was 1958. This would continue until 1963. In addition, new quarters were built for the camp director. By this time camp staff had moved out of the stone cabins into cabins to the East along with the Rats Nest which housed the waterfront staff. High participation continued through 1960, when there were 2,050 scouts in camp. The final summer at Kia Kima there were 119 units at a dozen sites. Kia Kima was bursting at the seams.