Story of the Unknown Scout

The story of the Unknown Scout is the story of how Scouting began in the USA. It exemplifies “Scouting Spirit”; the ideal attitude that Scouts around the world are supposed to show. It starts with a single “good turn” and goes something like this…

The Unknown Scout
It was late 1909. The British capital lay in the grip of a dense “pea soup” fog. It had rolled in during the night and had enveloped the whole city in its smoky yellowness. Street lamps had been lit before noon. They shone with a feeble glow that penetrated only a few feet into the murkiness.
An American businessman walking slowly along the poorly lit street stopped under a lamp post and tried to orient himself. No doubt now, he was lost.

The figure of a boy moved past the man, then turned and came back.
“Can I help you, sir?” the youngster asked.
“You certainly can,” said the man. “I have a business appointment somewhere around here. I’ll be much obliged if you’ll tell me how to get there.”
“If you’ll give me the address I’ll take you there.”
When they got to the destination, Mr. Boyce reached into his pocket for a tip. But the boy stopped him.
“No thank you, sir. I won’t take anything for helping.”
“And why not?” the American asked.
“Because I’m a Scout! Haven’t you heard about Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts?”
The American had not. “Tell me about them,” he said.
The boy told him what he could of himself and his brother Scouts and all the fun they were having in Scouting.

But the American wanted to know still more.
“I know where you can find out,” said the boy. “Our headquarters is close by, in Victoria Street. The General may even be in the office today.”
“The General?”
“Baden-Powell himself, sir.”
“Fine,” said the American. “Let me finish my errand. Then, if you have time, we’ll go to your headquarters.”
The boy waited, then showed the way to the Scout office, and disappeared before the American had a chance to learn his name.

What happened next?
And so 51 year old William D. Boyce, newspaper and magazine publisher from Chicago, Illinois, met the founder of the Boy Scout movement, the British military hero, Lieutenant-General Robert S. S. Baden-Powell, and learned about Scouting from the Chief Scout himself.

On February 8th, 1910, Boyce and a group of leaders founded the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). From that day forth, Scouts have celebrated February 8th as the birthday of Scouting in the United States.

BSA fleurdelis 220x220

Is it true?
Whilst it’s probable the story has been embellished over the years, it is almost certainly based on fact. It is known that William Boyce stopped off in London on his way to Africa in 1909 and picked up some literature on Scouting, and that in 1910 he incorporated i.e. formed into a legal entity the BSA. Whether or not it was foggy is another matter…but it remains a great story.

More about William Boyce
Despite his interest in youth and in Scouting, Boyce had neither the time nor the inclination to run the BSA. He quickly turned its leadership over to Edgar M. Robinson, the senior boys’ work secretary of the YMCA’s International Committee in New York. Boyce did agree to give the BSA $1,000 per month for operating expenses—provided that boys of all races and creeds be included—but that was the extent of his involvement.

In 1915, he founded a new Scouting organization, the Lone Scouts of America, to serve boys that BSA troops couldn’t reach. The LSA competed with the BSA’s Pioneer Division (created in 1916) for nearly a decade, until Boyce agreed in 1924 to merge it with the BSA.

William Boyce Photo 1919-02-Boys-Life-Norman-Rockwell-cover-The-Daily-Good-Turn-400

Photo of William Boyce and cover of Boys’ Life magazine showing painting by Norman Rock

American Buffalo
In the British Scout Training Centre at Gilwell Park, England, Scouts from the United States erected a statue of an American Buffalo in honour of this unknown scout. The statue is inscribed, “To the Unknown Scout Whose Faithfulness in the Performance of the Daily Good turn Brought the Scout Movement to the United States of America.”

Gilwell Park American Buffalo

Text adapted from Wikipedia “Scout Spirit”, Oct 014 
Also material from Scouting Magazine