Old Kia Kima youth camp near Hardy, Arkansas

Kia Kima at the Beginnings of Scouting in Memphis

by Fred Morton - September 6, 2016

Revised and adapted for the OKKPA Web Site August 2018

Part One

Scouting's impact on youth the last century cannot be underestimated. A major component of that influence rests with Scouting's camping experience which began in a concerted way with the founding of the council's first camp Kia Kima in Hardy Arkansas. This is a brief narrative of that camp's history and its inestimable effect on countless scouts.

Scouting in America had its roots, as many things American, 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 (Number 558) was the influential investment banker transplanted from Indianapolis, Bolton Smith. The Memphis Council of 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 purchase and donation of a 200 acre camp site near Hardy, Arkansas for the sum of $2,000. The council had already hired an executive field scout leader, Edward A. Everett, one of only two professionals trained at Boy Scouts 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.

Kia Kima with its proximity to the South Fork of the Spring River was selected for the camp site. The area in and near Hardy had been a highly popular summer vacation spot for affluent Memphians in search of a cooler and healthier environment for the summer months. Although requiring a four hour drive from Memphis, it was the Frisco passenger train service that delivered eager scouts to Kia Kima.

Frisco Train along the Spring River en route from Memphis to Hardy, Arkansas and old camp Kia Kima

The name Kia Kima was translated from the Cherokee language to "Nest of the Eagles". By March of 1916 the council had 300 scouts registered in 8 troops. These were the first scouts to attend Kia Kima. They came individually and were assigned to provisional units or camping groups. What became the troop-camping style at Camp Currier (opened in 1925 at Eudora, Mississippi) prevailed from the mid-1950s to the present.

The first summer's camping at Kia Kima in 1917 included 75 scouts at newly constructed facilities consisting of a Lodge and sleeping cottages. Scouts engaged in a variety of activities such as swimming, nature study, and athletic contests. The local news in Memphis reports that the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and Girls Scouts had constructed camps nearby in Hardy and Mammoth Springs. Quickly developing legacies of humor newly appointed scout executive Everett, at a scouts and parents meeting that fall recounted several humorous incidents. One was the "raid of the terrible five". Five young men from the town, apparently in their sleep wear, tried to raid the camp. They were however thwarted by the vigilant scouts who held them captive until morning and then they were escorted to their hotel in broad daylight garbed only in their pajamas.

The rapid growth of scouting the next decade followed close on the heels of troubling growth of youth in the urban areas of all America. Public schools were limited in capturing young people with constructive activities. Delinquency became a worrisome threat. Scouting was a ready solution for those concerns as well as the larger national imperatives hinging on the horizon as war clouds gathered in Europe. Business leaders, clergy and educators supported Scouting. It made good sense. Outdoor activities like camping would foster personal discipline and health. It was not a coincidence that the War Department early on sought to influence and encourage if not directly to help shape camping activities generally and leadership and character development particularly.

Scouting in Memphis had its first two Eagles by Jan. 1917 - Russell Wilkinson and Edward Mitchell of Troop 1-A. Three other Eagles had been awarded that year and the prior year: Edwin Dalstrom, Harry Finberg, and James Sutton. The Eagle was a uniquely Boy Scouts of America award. It was instituted in 1911 in the first American Handbook for Boys. Succeeding years the council would steadily increase that number to 23 by 1924. So advancement had been built into the fabric of scouting in Memphis and thrived at the first established camp Kia Kima and at Camp Currier later in the decades to follow.

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. 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. At the end of its ninth year Scouting in America could boast a membership of 431,500, a growth of more than 100,000 since the beginning of the war. About 100,000 scouts had entered war service.

Budget for the ensuing year 1919 for the Memphis Council was set at $25,000 and $2,000 allocated to Kia Kima. Local businesses had been quite generous in donating materials to improve facilities at the camp. Memphis council now had 800 scouts. Camp fees for the coming summer will be $6.00 per scout per week and round trip train ticket from Memphis to Hardy is $6.60. That summer was a banner year for Kia Kima. Advancements were more than doubled from the prior year and included 16 for First Class, 13 to Second Class, two to Star. Kia Kima's first Eagle Scouts were Jack Nelson Troop 5, Charles Wailes Troop 22 and Robert Charles Dean Troop 33. Presence of a trained waterfront instructor and a 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 was never bored" (a recurring slogan used by the council in promoting camping).

Camping in the Second Decade of Scouting -- the 1920's

Over this decade scouting in the Memphis Council (eventually changed to Chickasaw encompassing North Mississippi) would grow to over 1,200 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 supervise the inauguration of Camp Currier in nearby Eudora, Mississippi. Currier would eventually eclipse Kia Kima in usage. Mrs. Elizabeth B. Currier of Geneva Switzerland but a native of Memphis 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 (number of scouts times nights spent camping) to 1,941. By 1931 there were over 30 cabins built. The close proximity to Memphis made weekend and summer camp more accessible and less expensive.

Kia Kima remained a popular camp program, but seemed to reach only the more affluent who could afford the fees and transport costs. The Arkansas camp 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 summer 1927 featured articles of camp staff for 10 weeks camp season-one of largest and most successful camps in 12 year history of council, commented Ross Mathews, council executive. Heading camp for last three years was Charles Craig, Harvard grad and second year of law school. Head of camping committee was Dr. J.L. Jelks together with Dr. J.C. Ayers, Jr., Merill Schwartz and R.G. Ramsay. The swimming instructor was Gordon Sprott. Other staff members were 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. That surpassed 192 the previous season. Camp equipment was upgraded for running water. Through the generosity of council supporter (and later vice president of council) Edward M. Salomon a headquarters building was constructed from native stone which came to be known as the Thunderbird Nest. Kia Kima presented 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 week of August 7, 1935 to present the Eagle award to camper Howard Boyd of troop 5.

EVEN AS A HOUSE without a foundation cannot stand, neither can an undertaking or project succeed without an ultimate goal and aim toward which all efforts lead.

Kamp Kia Kima has as its ultimate goal the instilling of that spirit of self reliance in boys that is essential to their well being as men. The rules of the camp are the Scout Oath and Law, the foundation stones of the greatest movement for youth that the world has seen.

Weeks in the open air, weeks of association with men who teach by living and leading as we want our Boy Scouts to live and lead ten, fifteen years from now, weeks of learning by doing, those are our means to the end.

A Scout at Kia Kima is a good Scout. He learns that the good of the whole must over-rule, on occasions, what seems the good of one individual. He learns his responsibility to his fellows as he could no where else in the world. He learns to be a man.

You can give your boy no greater gift than a few weeks in Kamp Kia Kima. He'll return to you a better son, a better Scout, who is "physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

1930 President of the Chickasaw Council and
donor of the Thunderbird Lodge at camp.

The summer of 1929 brought significant up grades in medical facilities for Kia Kima. Dr. Ayers designed a newly built hospital facility and acquisition of crucial equipment and facilities for its effective operation. Dr. Ayers and Dr. Jelk both of whom served on the council donated services to the camp and provided shining examples for many of their colleagues for future scout camps.

The Depression Stresses to Scouting in the 1930's

Many scouting supporters rested a bit easier with the strategic decision to recruit Gordon Morris as executive for the council. While employed as a cotton broker in Memphis, he had been a seasoned scoutmaster. 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 validated the wisdom of that selection. He came on board in February 1928.

At the outset of the decade there were 1,254 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. There were 9,187 scout-days (the index of scouts times nights spent camping)in 1932. There were 2,482 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 the first two Negro Eagle Scouts in the Council. Camp Daniels was judged by the national council BSA as 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 of 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. It is reported by some members of OKKPA who solicited membership from campers that Shelby Foote the novelist and world renowned Civil War Historian had also been a camper at Kia Kima as a youth during the 1930s.

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 in policy was an 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. In six weeks only 85 scouts attended. But thankfully in these hard times the deficit that year was just $166.

With approval of the council executive committee, the council camping 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 on the river's south side and about a quarter mile down 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 found memories of time spent there and its impact on him as a growing scout.

Fred Carney (OKKPA Honorary Director) wearing the staff shirt of 1935

Sunday dinner in the old Mess Hall. July 1935

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 17 year 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."

Peeling "spuds" by hand was part of K.P. duty for many years. Fred Carney - Mess Sgt, 1935

It was the image of the earlier glory days at Kia Kima more than the discouraging 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 a vengeance.

Part Two

The Forties -- From Decline to Rebound 1940-1948

Having lived through several economic down turns in the last 50 years all of us can appreciate the challenges that scouting must have met in the Great Depression commencing 1929. Despite the Great Depression, Scouting in Memphis continued to flourish with camping at an uneven pace. A record number of scouts were enrolled for 1940 - 2,802 - with 31 camp staff for Currier and Daniels. There were 12,181 scout-days camping for the year. 21 Eagles were awarded in 1940.

The war years, 1941-45, brought even greater stress to scouting with the drain on adult leaders siphoned off to do the fighting. Again as in World War One the value of scout training was appreciated by the government as well as the military. Those nights of camping and developing self-reliance in the wild served many a veteran scout well in the service.

Kia Kima Reopens 1948

The summer of 1941 Kia Kima was rented to the East Arkansas Council which raised hopes in Memphis to sell the property since Arkansas had good experiences with the facility that summer. But negotiations broke down and the Arkansas council purchased another property. There had been strong sentiment to revive Kia Kima but the outbreak of the World War Two 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, accounting for 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. With the number of scout camp days plummeting, a group of former Kia Kima staff and campers organized a successful fund raising effort resulting in the re-birth of Kia Kima Camp in 1948.

By 1948 the Council had 7,000 scouts and an operating budget of $54,770 creating and prompting much excitement about Kia Kima. With council approval efforts to reopen the camp were led by field executive Haskell Mize who had been camp director at Currier earlier. Among the first staff recruited were George Billingsley for waterfront director; Miles Bubba Moose Erwin as assistant on waterfront; Jack Dallas as mess sergeant; Harry Ellis for waterfront and camp doctor; and remaining staff Pat Bohan, Harry Estes, Doris Goodman and Jim McWorter. Billingsley and Erwin were sent to Aquatic School in Pontotoc, Mississippi where they were trained by one of Billingsley's future Navy instructors from the US Navy Underwater Demolition Team(UDT), Captain Fred C. Mills. This strong aquatic training would continue at Kia Kima as an integral part of the camping experience.

See photos below, courtesy of Audrey "Umpy" Osborn.

Kia Kima Waterfront circa 1950 George Billingsley (with megaphone), Waterfront Director 1948 - 1951

George Billingsley, Waterfront Director 1948-1951, decked out in his stylish "megaphone hat", overseeing the afternoon free swim at the old camp Kia Kima waterfront.

Kia Kima Staff 1949: (Back row l-r) Harry Estes, Bobby Pleasants, George Billingsley, Harold Ellis, Doris Goodman, Berl Gary; Front row l-r) Jim McQuorter, Frank Tyndall, Lou Pritchett, Jimmy Boggs, Pat Bohan and Tweed Johnson.

1950 Kia Kima Staff: (Back row l-r) Harry Estes, George Billingsley, Harold Elllis, Bobby Harriss, Doris Goodman, Bill Springer; (Middle row l-r) Frank Simonton, Miles Irwin, Bruce Lorick, Bob White, Otto Johnson, Charlie Dollar and Bobby Williams; (Front row l-r) Morton Stucky, Dick Spore, Tweed Johnson, Billy Oberle and Lou Pritchett

The Council had made the decision to use Kia Kima for older scouts-the then emerging Explorer Scouting for boys 14 and above. The Cub Scouting program was for younger boys ages 8-10(originally 9-11). Boy Scouts were ages 11-14 and Explorers age 15-18. The council placed newly hired Tweed Johnson to direct the camp. Council staff and camp staff came to Hardy several weeks in May and June to ready the camp for opening that June 1948. 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 Ole 97 (legendary for its roll of Eagle Scouts and leaders in Memphis community). Also that summer there were Miller Huckabee from North Memphis and Alvin Tate of troop 34. Among the first campers that summer were drafted as junior staff, 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 and repeated over the years was allowing campers who qualified in aquatics to make the canoe trek down the Spring River from Mammoth Springs, to the Y, the confluence of the South Fork with the Spring. From there the additional final leg was the three mile trek up stream to Kia Kima.

Capturing the spirit of that inaugural summer and many to come are these words from George Billingsley as much later he recalled and wrote for the OKKPA Newsletter in 1997:

"Most of us came from good homes and good parents. However parents could not offer or give to us what today would be considered mandatory. Too many mouths to feed and too little to do it with. 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 beyond 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 recognized 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 KK". (this quote and all above material on opening of camp in 1948 found in Old Kia Kima Newsletter Nov. 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 had already in place the Honor Council of Kia Kima for campers honored at both Currier and Kia Kima. On August 7, 1948, thirty 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. It also became the camp totem and patch icon.

By 1950, scouting activities opened wide. The council had over 8,000 boys on its rosters with 242 units. Philmont Scout Ranch 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 to accommodate full time campers or lone-star scouts. 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. This was a decision made by the City of Memphis and it had a souring effect on the Doulgass community which from the beginning supported the camping program for African Scouts. An alternative camp site was arranged at T. O. Fuller State Park in South Shelby County. But it had few camping amenities as a scout camp, especially swim facilities.

Part Three

The Ascendency of Scout Camping in the 1950's and through 1963

While Kia Kima was making a determined, although uneven, resurgence at its reopening, the council would realize dramatic increases in recruitment and overall scouting beyond the council at high adventure sites both to the far North and West. The weekly fees for Kia Kima were $12. Sales of Scout Circus tickets could easily cover that cost for enterprising scouts. By the mid 1950s 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 units were staying in tent sites away from the main quadrangle-Hickory Hill, 201 Ranch Slick Rock Basecamp up river.

Kia Kima 1953 Staff
FRONT ROW kneeling - left to right: Cliff Noland and his son Bruce, son Rob of Bob Lunquist, Camp Director
SECOND ROW - left to right: Richard "Dicky" Draughn, George Lewis, Tony Gross, Lou Pritchett, Jerry Wilson, Joe Sullivan
THIRD ROW - left to right: Bill Sullivan, Eddie Freiberg, Roy Giddons, Roy Riddick, Gene Billingsley, James Carruth, Bobby Moore (sitting on wall)
FOURTH ROW - left to right: John Collier, Jim Dean, Lee Eden, Bill Bell, Ronnie Pollard, Perry Gaither
FIFTH ROW - left to right: Frank Simonton, Pete Bowman, Gordon "Scotty" Monteath, Fred Ashley, Audrey Umpy" Osborn
NOT PICTURED - Phil Adams, Kenneth Osborn and Bill MacSweeney.

Newly appointed field executive 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. Camp Currier would diminish as summer camp running only two weeks a summer. When Frashure was elevated to assistant Council Executive, Ralph Young newly recruited field executive and former scout master of troop 35 in Memphis was tapped to head up 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 the leadership of setting up the new Kia Kima Reservation in 1964 and beyond.

Thurman Frashure (left) Camp Director 1951-52 with Troop 35 Highland Heights Presbyterian Church at old camp Kia Kima -- August 1951 Front Porch of the Thunderbird Nest. Campers Fred Morton, Warren Schmidt and David Fleming in this photo are among several of T-35 to later become Kia Kima staffers.

1955: Ralph Young - Scoutmaster Troop 35, Post Advisor Post 35 (1949-50), BSA Executive (1953-1976), Kia Kima Camp Director 1954-56, 1958-63 and Kia Kima Scout Reservation 1964-73.

By the mid-fifties a collection of experiences welcomed the campers and others coming to Kia Kima in Hardy. First off, 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 three miles to camp crossing the Spring River bridge, skirting Rio Vista tourist complex, and lastly sweeping by Kamp Kiwani Girls Scout Camp and Camp Miramechi YWCA camp before arriving at the broad meadow parking area on the south side of the South Fork River. Then you were ferried across the South Fork at the river side docks by waterfront staff who nimbly navigated across the river with four passengers in a sturdy wood dinghies(aka dory).

Warren Schmidt Kia Kima waterfront staff 1956 ferrying arrivals for a week of Kia Kima Scouting.

The Kamp Kia Kima waterfront.

Approaching the camp rising impressively above you to the North, you could mount the climb by the steep stoned stair case or the more gentle slope behind the dispensary (KK hospital). But in either case you came upon the Thunderbird Lodge (better known as the Thunderbird Nest) and the quadrangle which opened into a venue of stone cabins 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: "No rock throwing!" and "no running!" 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 from Memphis. Once passed you went down to the waterfront and incurred 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.

Retreat Flag ceremony with view of the old Mess Hall August 1951 (photo by Henry D. Fleming, Asst. Scout Master, Troop 35)

That done, it was supper time and introduction to the rituals of camp dining and the rigors of waiter duty. Prior to 1954 it was a Mess Hall (background in photo above). The new dining hall opened in 1954 and the old mess hall was converted to the trading post. [In 2016 the "new dining hall of the 1954-63 era" was converted and restored by OKKPA, Inc. as an activities pavilion.] The tables were square and seated eight. Usually there were two staff members or adults at each table. The six scouts rotated as waiters one day of the week. Earlier on, waiting was an arduous task. Mess Sergeants were perceived as demonic slave drivers whose sole task was to harass green campers. That practice faded in the late fifties. After the meals were the usual series of announcements, sometimes skits, and it all concluded by exiting singing "Trail the Eagle" as campers exited the hall.

Dining in the old Mess Hall circa 1950

Following supper on Sunday evening the entire camp hiked to nearby Cedar Bluff for brief vesper services usually accompanied by young ladies from Miramechi 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. Camps sites were put in order for inspection. Then off to merit badge classes or aquatic instructions. Afternoon included more classes as well as 30-40 minute free swim, short hikes, and handicraft activity. Mid-week most units took overnight hikes or canoe trips which meant a waterfront staff came along to supervise troop swims. Non-waterfront staff enjoyed time-off from class and for relaxation, unless serving as life guards for free-swim periods.

Friday was water carnival day as well as last day to complete merit badge requirements. Explorer Scouts on week long hiking treks returned to camp on Fridays. The Scouts at Slickrock outpost camp typically came into main camp Fridays as well. Friday assembly for supper was usually a crowded affair to get everyone around the assembly and all fed. Full class A uniforms were usually worn for Friday colors and retreat flag ceremonies, supper and campfire.

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 was the Order of the Arrow tap out ceremony. 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 much intact throughout the entire era of Kia Kima's rebirth from 1948-63. The camp became more thoroughly a scout camp in tenor and substance transcending much of the GI-military issue and flamboyant bravado of the late 40s. But 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 gatherings of girl campers from Miramechi 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.

July 4, 1958 Celebration in the Meadow south side of the river.

The summer camping year of 1954 had been a sea of changes 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 and a special living facility was built for them.

1958 Staff at Retreat in front of the new dining hall of 1954

The staff leadership had taken a new turn as Roy Riddick had been 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 Young). These two along with Bob Bentley attended National Camping and Aquatic School prior to opening of camp.

Roy Riddick, Kia Kima Program Director 1954-57; Bob Bentley, BSA Field Executive; Steve Young, Kia Kima 1954 Waterfront Director attending BSA National Camping/Aquatic School 1954.

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. At the Chickasaw Council's annual meeting in December special recognition was given to Roy Riddick and Lofton Keltner for their distinctive contributions to Kia Kima.

Although these changes altered the ambience and some activities of the camp, waterfront staff headed by Mike Moyers 1955, Lofton Buddy Keltner 1956, and David Fleming 1957-58 maintained and enforced the excellence in aquatic skills pioneered by the staff reopening in 1948. On the Eagle trail not a few boys earned their aquatic merit badges at Kia Kima. The South Fork had its own mystique for developing that mettle.

One staff member who had an indelible impact on Kia Kima was Frank Simonton.

Frank Simonton (far right) with his Penthouse 4 of 1958 (l-r) Scotty Monteath, David Fleming, Perry Gaither and Frank

Young Frank attended Kia Kima as a camper in 1948-49 eventually becoming a junior staffer washing dishes. Coming from a less than privileged home, Frank earned his Eagle in 1951 but had to borrow a uniform shirt as he had no uniform of his own. Frank went on to be head of the mess hall from 1950 until 1953 when he entered the Marine Corps. Many a young camper was sorely intimidated by Frank's iron clad rule over the mess hall. Every camper had to serve as table waiter one day a week--all three meals. Frank would brook no slackers who ill cleaned the returning dishes from their tables. Frank returned to head up field sports from 1957-59 and was selected assistant camp director for 1960, 1961, and 1963. In 1964 he was selected as assistant camp director where he was highly strategic in setting the plan and pace of the new Kia Kima Scout Reservation further up the river. As much as any of his generation he carries on the Spirit of the Eagle's Nest even to this day. Frank was professor of Recreation at University of Memphis until retirement and influenced countless young men and women serving in those roles in youth and wilderness settings throughout the country.

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. The 1958 camp season welcomed 1,177 paying campers in 60 units at Kia Kima. There were now 12 separate camp sites. The 1959 season had to extend the season to eight weeks to accommodate the increase. 1958 was the first year to have a volunteer doctor at camp full time. This would continue until 1963. In addition, new quarters were built for the camp director. By this time camp staff had re-moved from the cool comforts of stone cabins into platform canvas cover tents known as Cedar Rock, now the site of the OKKPA campfire circle and the hottest part of Kia Kima.

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.

There was much rejoicing and herculean effort to break in the bigger Kia Kima up river in 1964.

By this time veteran council executive Gordon Morris had retired as well as Seminole field Executive J.A. Beauchamp. They had each in their own way led scouting and camping for boys in the council for over thirty years. Morris's successor Jones Huskey would lead the council while field executive Ralph Young (field executive 1953-76) with the aid and leadership of Frank Simonton would oversee the building and developing of the newer and larger Kia Kima, eventually called Kia Kima Scout Reservation from 1964 forward on.

For more details about the years after 1963 see The End Of An Era


What preceded is a brief and tentative historical narrative of the augmentation of camping in the Chickasaw Council of Memphis from its very beginnings. This has come about as the product of the work of the History Committee of the Old Kia Kima Preservation Association in anticipation of the Centennial Celebrations taking place September 2016 in Hardy Arkansas. Credit must be given to key principals whose arduous archival work has made this a more serious narrative of Scouting in Memphis by Wayne Dowdy. Those persons are Duane Klink and Darrell Schierholz for their exhaustive collection of records and newspaper clippings which provided vital insights to Scout's earliest as well as later years. Thanks are in order for the Memphis Public Library and their always helpful staff in the Memphis room. The history committee under the leadership of David Fleming is to be credited with the multiple efforts from various sectors and historical settings to provide a fuller rendition of the awesome impact of the South Fork's impact on generation after generation. We are indebted to that Eagle Scout from Alabama, Tommy Towery, for his formatting expertise in all these printed endeavors.

As this work shall be available in digital form through the OKKPA Smoke Signal, persons are encouraged to use it as a template to add their own personal narrative to what is introduced here.

Fred Morton

About the author

Fred Morton (1940-forward) grew up in the Highland Heights neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee graduating from Treadwell High School (Class of 1958) becoming a member of the Treadwell 12-Year Club (1st-12th grades). He was a member of Scout Troop and Post 35: Eagle Scout, Lodge Chief of The Order of the Arrow (OA) and served on the Kia Kima Staff 1954-57.

Fred in 1957 at Kia Kima standing next to the old mess hall.

Fred today (2018)

Fred is a graduate of Princeton University and Duke Divinity School. He is an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church having served as the campus minister and director of counseling ministries at Christ United Methodist Church. Fred is author of From Memphis to DaNang - A Tribute to Major James Edward Morton, about Fred's brother (Kia Kima Staff of 1954), a fatality of the Viet Nam war. In retirement Fred is serving in community and urban ministries in Memphis and most recently as an activist in Tennessee Poor People's March. He served as a Director of the Old Kia Kima Preservation Association, Inc. (2011-2017).

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.