Boy Scouts made a splash in early Brownsville

Special to the Parade

Boy Scouts

In this photo from the Robert Runyon collection, Center for American History UT-Austin, the 1916 Brownsville Troop is shown. (Courtesy photo)

When exactly did boy scouting begin in Brownsville? According to the Brownsville Telegraph, which began publishing in 1910, Troop Number One of this city was chartered in 1914. This was only four years after the national scouting organization, the Boys Scouts of America, was established on February 8, 1910.

From the archives of the Telegraph we learn that the original scout organization was formed at the South Brownsville Christian Church in July 1914. Troop #1, for the next 14 years was the only troop in Brownsville.

In 1916, Lieutenant J.P. Cole of the Fourth United States Infantry formed a new Brownsville council of the Boys Scouts under the same charter issued in 1914.

The Boys Scout movement in no sense was a secret organization. Lieutenant Cole made it clear, “That any boy, of any nationally, of any creed, 12 years of age or older, could become a Boys Scout if he promised to keep the Scout oath and laws.”

But that was not all, as the scout then was asked to prepare himself to be tested on the composition and history of the American flag and the significance of the Scout badge. Lastly, the scout, of course, had to demonstrate his ability to make several cordage knots.

The only cost to the scout was the annual registration fee of 25 cents. “The Boy Scout is taught to thrift. He has to earn the money for his own scout expensive,” said the Scout Master.

Once the boys understood what they were getting into, the following showed up to join: Joe L. Putegnat, C. Strong, Morris Clint, Jesse Thornham, Joe J. Putegnat, Clarence Kowalski, Clarence Celaya, Duff Howard, George McGonigle, George Stell, Edward Rendall, Joe Celaya , Billie Mendenhall, Pat Haley Jr., Dillard Stokes, Henry Skelton and John Walton.

It was not long before that Troop #1 was seen at their temporary location in the corner of Washington and Seventh streets participating in their weekly meetings and drills.

In order to keep the boys interested, scout officials commented, “In a hundred ways the boy’s time is occupied by taking long hikes and camping, learning woodcraft, conducting experiments and demonstrations, and most enjoyable of all… their annual summer camp.”

Program officials provided a varied and fascinating program, “That the boys did not have time or opportunity to trail with an idle gang.” The scouting craze continued, by 1929 Brownsville had formed four scouting troops with a membership of about 235 scouts.

According to Glenn Tunney, who wrote The Story of Scouting in Brownsville, in those early days, “The city was awash in Boys Scouts troops. Then came a national calamity in October 1929, as Wall Street ‘laid its egg’ and the economy took a tumble and spending money became a pipe dream for most Brownsville kids. During the Depression years, the importance of scouting to the young men of the community became apparent. Membership in Brownsville’s Boy Scouts troops provided many empty-pocketed youngsters with a place where they could go to enjoy good fellowship while staying out of trouble.”

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1 comment

    • Jesse Thornham on February 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for this article. My father Jesse Thornham is in the photo. He talked alot about the adventures and fun he had as part of this scout troop. Where can I get a copy of the photo or a site where I can enlarge and print it?
    Thanks JST Denver, CO

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