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   Chapter 10 THE CAMP FIRE

Camping For Boys By H. W. Gibson Characters: 15879

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


There is an impalpable, invisible, softly stepping delight in the camp fire which escapes analysis. Enumerate all its charms, and still there is something missing in your catalogue. -W. C. Gray in "Camp Fire Musings."

"I cannot conceive of a camp that does not have a big fire! Our city houses do not have it, not even a fireplace. The fireplace is one of the greatest schools the imagination has ever had or ever can have. It is moral, and it always gives a tremendous stimulus to the imagination, and that is why stories and fire go together. You cannot tell a good story unless you tell it before a fire. You cannot have a complete fire unless you have a good story-teller along." [1] Anyone who has witnessed a real camp fire and participated in its fun, as well as seriousness, will never forget it. The huge fire shooting up its tongue of flame into the darkness of the night, the perfect shower of golden rain, the company of happy boys, and great, dark background of piney woods, the weird light over all, the singing, the yells, the stories, the fun, then the serious word at the close, is a happy experience long to be remembered.

[Footnote 1: Dr. G. Stanley Hall, "Camp Conference Report," p. 40.]

To Build a Fire

There are ways and ways of building camp fires. An old Indian saying runs, "White man heap fool, make um big fire-can't git near! Injun make um little fire-git close! Uh! good!" Make it a service privilege for a tent of boys to gather wood and build the fire. This should be done during the afternoon. Two things are essential in the building of a fire-kindling and air. A fire must be built systematically. First, get dry, small dead branches, twigs, fir branches and other inflammable material. Place these upon the ground. Be sure that air can draw under the pile and up through it. Next place some heavier branches in tripod form over the kindling, then good-sized sticks, and so on until you have built the camp fire the required size. In many camps it is considered an honor to light the fire.

Kerosene oil may be poured upon the kindling, or old newspapers used in lighting the fire.


An interesting account of "How to Build a Fire by Rubbing Sticks," by

Ernest Thompson-Seton, will be found in "Boy Scouts of America," page 84.

Be sure to use every precaution to prevent the spreading of fire. This may be done by building a circle of stone around the fire, or by digging up the earth, or by wetting a space around the fire. Always have buckets of water near at hand.

Things to remember:

First, It is criminal to leave a burning fire;

Second, Always put out the fire with water or earth.

State Laws

Be sure to get a copy of the law of your State regarding Forest Fires, and if a permit is necessary, secure it before building a fire.

To Light a Match

Kephart, in his book on "Camping and Woodcraft" (page 88), says, "When there is nothing dry to strike it on, jerk the head of the match forward through the teeth. Face the wind. Cup your hands, backs toward wind. Remove right hand just long enough to strike match on something very close by, then instantly resume former position. Flame of match will run up the stick instead of blowing away from it."


The camp fire is a golden opportunity for the telling of stories-good stories told well. Indian legends, war stories, ghost stories, detective stories, stories of heroism, the history of fire, a talk about the stars. Don't drag out the telling of a story. Talk it in boy language. Avoid technical terms. Make the story live.

College songs always appeal to boys. Let some leader start up a song in a natural way, and soon you will have a chorus of unexpected melody and harmony. As the fire dies down, let the songs be of a more quiet type, like "My Old Kentucky Home," and ballads of similar nature.

Roast Delight

When the embers are glowing is the time for toasting marshmallows. Get a long stick sharpened to a point, fasten a marshmallow on the end, hold it over the embers, not in the blaze, until the marshmallow expands. Oh, the deliciousness of it! Ever tasted one? Before roasting corn on the cob, tie the end of each husk firmly with string. Soak in water for about an hour. Then put into the hot embers. The water prevents the corn from burning and the firmly tied husks enable the corn to be steamed and the real corn flavor is retained. In about twenty minutes the corn may be taken from the fire and eaten. Have a bowl of melted butter and salt on hand. Also a pastry brush to spread the melted butter upon the corn. Try it.

A Good Story

For an example of a good story to be told around the camp fire, this Indian tale by Professor H. M. Burr, of the Springfield Training School, is given:


"In the olden time, when woods covered all the earth except the deserts and the river bottoms, and men lived on the fruits and berries they found and the wild animals which they could shoot or snare; when they dressed in skins and lived in caves, there was little time for thought. But as men grew stronger and more cunning and learned how to live together, they had more time to think and more mind to think with.

"Men had learned many things. They had learned that cold weather followed hot, and spring followed winter, and that the sun got up in the morning and went to bed at night. They saw that the great water was kindly when the sun shone, but when the sun hid its face and the wind blew upon it, it grew black and angry and upset their canoes. They found that knocking flints together or rubbing dry sticks would light the dry moss and that the flames, which would bring back summer in the midst of winter and day in the midst of night, were hungry and must be fed, and when they escaped devoured the woods and only the water could stop them.

"These and many other things men learned, but no one knew why it all was or how it came to be. Men began to wonder-and that was the beginning of the path which led to the Great Spirit.

"In the ages when men began to wonder there was born a boy whose name was 'Wo,' which meant in the language of his time 'Whence.' As he lay in his mother's arms, she loved him and wondered, 'His body is of my body, but from whence comes the life-the spirit which is like mine and yet not like it?' And his father, seeing the wonder in the mother's eyes, said: 'Whence came he from?' And there was no one to answer, and so they called him 'Wo,' to remind them that they knew not from whence he came.

"As Wo grew up, he was stronger and swifter of foot than any of his tribe. He became a mighty hunter. He knew the ways of all the wild things, and could read the signs of the season. As he grew older they made him a chief and listened while he spoke at the council board, but Wo was not satisfied. His name was a question, and questioning filled his mind.

"From whence did he come? Whither was he going? Why did the sun rise and set? Why did life burst into leaf and flower with the coming of the spring? Why did the child become a man and the man grow old and die?

"The mystery grew upon him as he pondered. In the morning he stood on a mountain top and, stretching out his hands, cried: 'Whence?' At night he cried to the moon: 'Whither?' He listened to the soughing of the trees and the song of the brook and tried to learn their language. He peered eagerly into the eyes of little children, and tried to read the mystery of life. He listened at the still lips of the dead, waiting for them to tell him whither they had gone.

"He went about among his fellows silent and absorbed, always looking for the unseen and listening for the unspoken. He sat so long silent at the council board

that the elders questioned him. To their questioning he replied, like one awakening from a dream:

"'Our fathers since the beginning have trailed the beasts of the woods. There is none so cunning as the fox, but we can trail him to his lair. Though we are weaker than the great bear and buffalo, yet by our wisdom we overcome them. The deer is more swift of foot, but by craft we overtake him. We cannot fly like a bird, but we snare the winged one with a hair. We have made ourselves many cunning inventions by which the beasts, the trees, the wind, the water, and the fire become our servants.

"'Then we speak great swelling words: How great and wise we are! There is none like us in the air, in the wood, or in the water!

"'But the words are false. Our pride is like that of a partridge drumming on his log in the wood before the fox leaps upon him. Our sight is like that of the mole burrowing under the ground. Our wisdom is like a drop of dew upon the grass. Our ignorance is like the great water which no eye can measure.

"'Our life is like a bird coming out of the dark, fluttering for a heart-beat in the tepee and then going forth into the dark again. No one can tell us whence it comes or whither it goes. I have asked the wise men, and they cannot answer; I have listened to the voice of the trees and wind and water, but I do not know their tongue; I have questioned the sun and the moon and the stars, but they are silent.

"'But to-day, in the silence before the darkness gives place to light, I seemed to hear a still small voice within my breast, saying to me: "Wo, the questioner, rise up like the stag from his lair; away, alone, to the mountain of the sun. There thou shalt find that which thou seekest."

"'I go, but if I fall by the trail another will take it up. If I find the answer I will return.'

"Waiting for none, Wo left the council of his tribe and went his way toward the mountain of the sun. For six days he made his way through the trackless woods, guided by the sun by day and the stars by night. On the seventh he came to the great mountain-the mountain of the sun-on whose top, according to the tradition of his tribe, the sun rested each night. All day long he climbed, saying to himself: 'I will sleep to-night in the tepee of the sun and he will tell me whence I come and whither I go.'

"But as he climbed the sun seemed to climb higher and higher. As he neared the top a cold cloud settled like a night bird on the mountain. Chilled and faint with hunger and fatigue, Wo struggled on. Just at sunset he reached the top of the mountain, but it was not the mountain of the sun, for many days' journey to the west the sun was sinking in the Great Water.

"A bitter cry broke from Wo's parched lips. His long trail was useless. There was no answer to his questions. The sun journeyed farther and faster than men dreamed, and of wood and waste and water there was no end. Overcome with misery and weakness, he fell upon a bed of moss with his back toward the sunset and the unknown.

"And Wo slept, although it was unlike any sleep he had ever known before, and as he slept he dreamed. He was alone upon the mountain waiting for the answer. A cloud covered the mountain, but all was silent. A mighty wind rent the cloud and rushed roaring through the crags, but there was no voice in the wind. Thunder pealed, lightning flashed, but he whom Wo sought was not there.

"In the hush that followed the storm Wo heard a voice low and quiet, but in it all the sounds of earth and sky seemed to mingle-the song of the bird, the whispering of the trees, and the murmuring of the brook.

"'Wo, I am He whom thou seekest; I am the Great Spirit; I am the All-Father. Ever since I made man of the dust of the earth and so child of the earth and brother to all living, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, thus making him My son, I have waited for a seeker who should find Me. In the fullness of time thou hast come, Wo, the questioner, to the Answerer.

"'Thy body is of the earth and to earth returns; thy spirit is Mine; it is given thee for a space to make according to thy will; then it returns to Me better or worse for thy making.

"'Thou hast found Me because thy heart was pure and thy search for Me tireless. Go back to thy tribe and be to them the voice of the Great Spirit. From henceforth I will speak to thee and the seekers that come after thee, in a thousand voices and appear in a thousand shapes. I will speak in the voices of the wood and streams and of those you love. I will appear to you in the sun by day and the stars by night. When thy people and Mine are in need and wish for the will of the Great Spirit, then shall My spirit brood over thine and the words that thou shalt speak shall be My words.'

"And Wo awoke, facing the east and the rising sun. His body was warmed by its rays. A great gladness filled his soul. He had sought and found, and prayer came to him like the song to the bird:

"'O Great Spirit, Father of my spirit, the sun is Thy messenger, but Thou art brighter than the sun. Drive Thou the darkness before me. Be Thou the light of my spirit.'

"As Wo went down the mountain and took the journey back to the home of his people his face shone, and the light never seemed to leave it, so that men called him 'He of the shining face.'

"When Wo came back to his tribe, all who saw his face knew that he had found the answer, and they gathered again about the council fire to hear. As Wo stood up and looked into the eager faces in the circle of the fire, he remembered that the Great Spirit had given him no message, and for a moment he was dumb. Then the words of the Great Spirit came to him again: 'When thy people and Mine shall need to know My will, My spirit shall brood over thine and the words that thou shalt speak shall be My words.' Looking into the eager faces of longing and questioning, his spirit moved within him and he spoke:

"'I went, I sought, I found the Great Spirit, who dwells in the earth as your spirits dwell in your bodies. It is from Him the spirit comes. We are His children. He cares for us more than a mother for the child at her breast, or the father for the son that is his pride. His love is like the air we breathe: it is about us; it is within us.

"'The sun is the sign of His brightness, the sky of His greatness, and mother-love and father-love, and the love of man and woman are the signs of His love. We are but children; we cannot enter into the council of the Great Chief until we have been proved, but this is His will, that we love one another as He loves us; that we bury forever the hatchet of hate; that no man shall take what is not his own and the strong shall help the weak.'

"The chiefs did not wholly understand the words of Wo, but they took a hatchet and buried it by the fire, saying: 'Thus bury we hate between man and his brother,' and they took an acorn and put it in the earth, saying: 'Thus plant we the love of the strong for the weak.' And it became the custom of the tribe that the great council in the spring should bury the hatchet and plant the acorn.

"Every morning the tribe gathered to greet the rising sun, and, with right hands raised and left hands upon their hearts, prayed: 'Great Spirit, hear us; guide us today; make our wills Thy will, our ways Thy way.'

"And the tribe grew stronger and greater and wiser than all the other tribes-but that is another story." -Association Seminar, December, 1910.


Camp-Fire Musings-William C. Gray. Fleming H. Revell Company, $1.00 net.

A book full of the spirit of the woods and of camp life.


In Camp with Boys-G. W. Hinckley. Central Maine Pub. Co., $1.00.

The Shadowless Man-Adelbert Von Chamisso. Frederick Warne & Co., $1.00 net.

Mystery and Detective Stories, six volumes. Review of Reviews Co.

[Illustration: Pathfinders (hikers)]

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