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Camp Kanesatake
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History of Camp Kanesatake


In the days before the white man came into the area, tribes of woodland Indians lived and prospered among the lakes and trees of Southeast Michigan. There is a hilly region in what is now called Lenawee County that is known as the Irish Hills area of Michigan. It was here on the high North shore of Washington Lake that the great Indian Chief Tecumseh regularly met with the members of his tribe at a signaling smoke tower. The site was next to where two old Indian paths intersected, later becoming US-12 and M-50, two of the oldest roads in the midwest. One path was used by Indians traveling from Lake Erie to Chicago and the other one used by Mississippi Valley tribes who came East each year to hold powwow. On October 1, 1925 thirteen independent Boy Scout troops in Monroe and Lenawee Counties joined forces to create the original Wolverine Council. They hired a full time scout executive named George Crossland and set a Council budget that first year of $6,300.00.


In 1926 the Council purchased 27 acres of land for $5,000.00 on the North shore of Washington Lake which included the old smoke tower, buried in its center. The name Kanesatake was chosen because it was an Indian term which meant "Camp on a Hill", which is what the camp was. The initial summer camp operation was held the same year with the camp fee being $10.00 for a two week stay. By the end of 1926 the Council had purchased $8,000.00 worth of camp equipment and the state of Michigan built a road back to the center of camp. Being before the time of refrigerators the camp used 1500 pounds of ice each week during that first summer. The staff consisted of six paid employees and fifteen volunteers. There was an early campers honor program at the camp called the Powderhorn Award that was given to one scout per week. This was replaced in 1930 with a full blown Honor Camper Society called TIPISA. It had a lot of similarities to OA in that it had limited membership with election by peers, an ordeal with 24 hours of silence, and each member was given a patch of membership. About six members per summer were chosen. I located a surviving member of it in New Jersey and he sent me his 1920's leather Powderhorn award patch as well as his 1930 Tipisa Society patch. The Tipisa patch was part of a camp award system that George Crossland created. The award could be earned in full over a four year period assuming you were voted in as a member of Tipisa during the fourth year. The base award (first year award) was a large gray felt arrowhead shaped patch with a burgundy logo on it (a letter "C" with a "K" inside the "C"). The second year award was a small red felt segment in the shape of a campfire. The third year award was a small red felt segment in the shape of a bow and arrow. Each of these three awards required earning 500 points at camp. These were given for earning certain merit badges, ranks and completing camp projects. Those boys who were elected into TIPISA were given a small red felt teepee to add to the base arrowhead. The completed patch had a campfire segment on the left, a bow & arrow segment on the right and a teepee segment on the bottom. The first true camp patch was issued in 1945. When TIPISA was ending in 1945 (Tecumseh Lodge 332 was chartered in January, 1946) Alvin Jones took the TIPISA system and made a four year camp award system out of it. For the next 15 years this four patch system was used, ending for unknown reasons at the end of 1960. The first year arrowhead had a number "1" on the bottom, the second year had a campfire, the third year used a cooking pot instead of the bow & arrow and the fourth year had the teepee on the bottom. These patches were silk screened green print on gray felt. The original TIPISA system was red felt segments and logo on gray felt. Troop camping as we know it today was not the norm, back then it was mass camping under the leadership of the camp director (the Council executive) and it pretty much stayed that way until 1943 when Alvin E. Jones arrived.

The troops didn't cook either, they were fed in the camp dining hall, Army style. In 1928 the camp received its first "A" rating and stones were hauled out of the lake by hand, painted white and imbedded into the lower hill overlooking the lake to form the words Camp Kanesatake. The letters were about 15 feet high on the hill. By 1929 the camp had 7 buildings, 8 boats, and two canoes. The main lodge of the camp was destroyed by fire on Nov 22, 1930 but was rebuilt the following year. During the early depression years the camp fee was $4.50 and the Council executive, Harold Pace, only received half his pay in 1932 so he and his wife moved into a cabin at the camp to cut expenses. In 1936 the camp fee was up to $7.00 and 158 scouts came to summer camp. In 1937 electricity was brought to the camp and during the war years the camp fee was $5.00 & each boy had to bring certain food items with him because of rationing. It is not known when the camp period was reduced from two weeks to one week but it is believed to have been in the 1930's.


Alvin E. Jones was hired as council executive in Nov, 1942 and came from the Tall Pine Council of Northern Michigan. He was a man that the National Council didn't particularly want to hire. Even in the 1930's they wanted scouting professionals to be college graduates and Alvin Jones didn't have a college degree. He didn't have a high school diploma either. He worked as a temporary "field man" for Council Executive Robert Henderson of the Tall Pine Council in the late 1930's and Mr. Henderson wanted to hire him permanently because of the abilities he saw in Mr Jones. National balked and a series of letters went back and forth for weeks. It was finally approved by James E. West himself to allow Mr. Jones to attend National Training School on a probational basis. As they say, the rest is history. Mr Jones came to us in 1942 and stayed until he retired in 1965 and died two years later. He devoted his life to the scout movement. I had phone interviews with people around the country who worked for him as summer camp staff or with him as professionals. His former camp staff spoke of "Chief Jones" with sincere reverence and the professionals said they had never worked for anyone else like him. By all accounts he was an extraordinary man through his humility, kindness, and devotion. He brought the modern troop camping and cooking to summer camp when he arrived and started our Council's first OA lodge in 1946 (Tecumseh #332), basing it at the camp. In the 1940's he spent weekends at the camp hand digging footers for new buildings, mixed and poured the cement by hand, and then built them, sometimes alone. For many years he was a one man show, running the entire council, professionally speaking, by himself because of limited finances. The stress of those years, I believe, led him to a premature death.


Alvin Jones would never turn down a donation of any kind in fear of offending the donor in respect to future donations. In the late 1950's many people thought the camp could use their old upright piano and many were given to the camp even though you would never see more than two there at any time. As they were donated they would be dragged down to the shore after dark with the old camp jeep. Two long planks would be laid across two rowboats and then the piano would be maneuvered onto the boards between the boats and then Mr Jones and district executive Malcolm Warren would row the boats in the darkness to the middle of the lake where they would then row away from each other until the boards slipped off, sinking the piano. Only God and Alvin Jones knows how many pianos and other well intentioned but unusable gifts met their doom at the bottom of the lake and neither one is telling. As a side note, the lake abounded with small musk turtles and it was highly desireable for a scout (and adult) to own a hand-painted turtle shell neckerchief slide. During the summer months not enough turtles would die naturally to satisfy the demand so it caused some to meet an early demise.


Charles McIntyre joined scouting in 1925 as a member of troop 4 of Monroe and his scoutmaster was a wonderful man named Arthur Lesow. Both of them were members of a Monroe contingent that went to the 1929 World Jamboree. Young Charles was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and got to shake hands with Baden Powell. As BP walked away, Charles scooped up dirt from one of BP's footprints and sealed it in a jamboree envelope. The dirt and envelope are now part of the Monroe County Historical Society's Boy Scout collection. He was a son of one of the co-founders of the Monroe Auto Equipment Company and it was C.S. and his two brothers who helped build their father's company into the world's largest manufacturer of shock absorbers. C.S. never forgot the values of scouting or the scoutmaster who not only taught them to him but lived them himself. No one is exactly sure when it started but in December one year he called up Alvin Jones to see how things were going financially for the little council. That year the council was in the red as the year was near the end. A few days later a check quietly arrived that balanced the council budget. That December phone call became an annual tradition that went on for decades and was never publicized according to former members of the professional staff I interviewed. In 1961 the council got the chance to add 54 acres to the camp but needed $10,000.00 to pay for it. A check for the same amount appeared shortly thereafter with the only stipulation being that the first campsite that was developed would be named after Mr McIntyre's beloved scoutmaster, Art Lesow. The Lesow campsite opened a year later. C.S. McIntyre's word was legendary. Once he gave it, it was indestructible. He told me during a 1979 interview concerning the 50th anniversary of his Jamboree trip that one time he had agreed to a business deal and that he had made a mistake in the figures. To honor it, it was going to actually cause his company to lose money on the deal (a lot of money). There had been no contract signed, he had simply agreed to it verbally with a handshake. I will always remember what he said next, "we had no choice but to honor it, I gave my word". The day after his death in the early 1980's the Detroit newspapers ran a story on him and there was a quote in it from a Michigan industrialist about Mr McIntyre that said "his word was gold, you could go to the bank on it". C.S. McIntyre had learned and lived particularly well three words that his scoutmaster had taught him, "On My Honor....".


During the summer of 1945, the stones that formed the words "Camp Kanesatake" on the smaller hill overlooking Washington Lake were removed and a forty foot tall letter "C" with a "K" inside of it was trenched into the same hill with the stones being used to fill the trench. In 1951 the stones were cemented over permanently and the giant camp logo stood as a landmark in the area for six decades since. The hill is known simply as CK hill. The ceremonies for TIPISA as well as the tap-outs for the OA Tecumseh Lodge #332 were held at this hill for five decades. There was an Indian mound at the top of the hill and the hill held an aura of considerable reverence and anyone caught walking on it was required to wash it down with a toothbrush. Considering it measured about half an acre, anyone caught on it once never let it happen twice.


The first known patch from the camp was the Powderhorn award which was issued in the 1920's. There was the TIPISA award system in use from 1930- 1945, then the felt camp award system that was used from 1945-1960. In 1945, 1946, 1947, & 1953 there were felt camp patches issued that were also dated. In 1955 there was an undated twill "proficient scout" patch used with a camping segment, then from 1961 through 1976 there was a different twill patch issued for each year. The 1962, 1966, 1969, & 1970 patches were undated. Any other years in the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's not mentioned had no patch issued. In the mid 1950's there was a set of 2" round felt patches issued called the "show'en & try'en" series. Only one said Camp Kanesatake, the others had to do with horseshoes, archery, swimming, canoeing, and nature. From about 1970-74 there was a series of five promotional twill patches issued called the Chamber of Kommerse patches. The letter K was used in Kommerse because of the camp name and logo. The 1974 Kommerse patch was the only one that was dated. The camp had exactly fifty official summer camp seasons, with the last one being 1975 when operations were halted due to a merger. In 1976 a group of troops from the two counties held their own summer camp for one week and issued their own arrowhead camp patch. This unofficial camp was held for four years through 1979. They had a patch made for 1977 but the man who had them, died, and his family wouldn't release them and they simply disappeared. There was no patch in 1978 or in 1979.


The camp served youth and adults faithfully for over fifty years. Thousands of boys learned to cook and build fires under it's trees and learned how to swim and fish in it's lake. They learned of constellations in its night time skies and saw the sun rise over the morning mist on Washington Lake. The "camp on a hill" provided the romance of the Indians who once roamed it and the sweet memories of songs and fellowship around crackling campfires. Many winter days were spent sledding down it's hills. More than anything else it fulfilled that fleeting moment of magic called childhood. On the day it was sold it 1981, grown men in two counties of Michigan wept. The old camp song probably said it best....


Copyright 2000 - 2002 by David L. Eby

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