Camp-Fire Club of America Outings

OYOITW_bookLast year I wrote an article which included an excerpt from the book, On Your Own in the Wilderness by Townsend Whelen and Bradford Angier. In that article was a quote mentioning the Camp-Fire Club of America (CFCA). I, and my friends who study and appreciate Classic Camping, have seen mention of the CFCA in text from the early 1900’s and obviously up to the late 50’s; however, we assumed they simply did not exist these days.  And little did we know the extent to which they have and what they continue to do for conservation.

As fate would have it, Shawn Orbanic, a current member and past historian of the club, saw the article. As my new friend Shawn says, “the Camp-Fire Club is 117 years old and going strong.” Having the privilege of attending their 2014 Big Game Dinner and making more friends in the club earlier this year, I can attest to that statement being more than true! What a great bunch of guys!

Hornaday.  Photo: CFCA

Hornaday. Photo: CFCA

We hope to do a more in depth article on the CFCA and its history later this year. As a country, we owe much to the CFCA for their conservation work and more. Started in 1897 and being formally incorporated in 1904, the CFCA was the idea of Dr. William T. Hornaday who was brought to New York by the Boone & Crockett Club (B&C) to run the New York Zoological Society.

Hornaday befriended numerous outdoorsman including Recreation magazine editor George Shields. They saw the need for a new club “where neither wealth, power, nor social standing counted; only proven manhood in the outdoors.” Early members included naturalists, scientists, writers, painters, hunters, and more.

Started as a social club, members would return to the club after visiting the far corners of the world revealing what was happening to wildlife and their habitat. Quickly, the CFCA became a club of conservation with a stated purpose to “combine into a parent and allied clubs, sportsmen of America that, through effective organization, proper support maybe given to game protection and forest preservation measures both state and national.”

President T. R. Roosevelt, Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, Naturalist John Muir and others.

Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot joined CFCA; they and other club members in conjunction with B&C worked together on establishing parks, wildlife and forest preserves, and restoring wildlife habitat. If there was a conservation effort involving management or protection, it is highly likely a CFCA member and/or their Conservation Fund were involved.  They have accomplished far too much to even start a list in this short article.

 

Dan Beard in a parade.  Photo: CFCA

Dan Beard in a parade. Photo: CFCA

And conservation is just part of the CFCA legacy. Other early members included Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard. Seton had his Woodcraft Indians and Beard had his Sons of Daniel Boone.  Robert Baden-Powell had met with both Seton and Beard (separately at first) and subsequently wanted to start a similar organization in England.

Ernest Thompson Seton reintroducing friction fire to Native Americans.

Ernest Thompson Seton reintroducing friction fire to Native Americans.

In 1908, the Boy Scouts started in England and quickly spread to other countries.  In 1910, the idea (originally Seton’s and Beard’s according to the CFCA) was incorporated in America as the Boy Scouts of America. Seton wrote the first Boy Scout Handbook in 1910 and served as the organization’s first chief scout. Beard was the national commissioner from 1910 until his passing in 1941, and TR was the vice president and chief scout citizen.  Many other CFCA members served on the board and committees.

While Seton wrote the BSA Handbook, interestingly, there were numerous writers associated with CFCA. Warren Miller, Zane Grey, Townsend Whelen, Bradford Angier and host of others. From 1910 to 1917 Field and Stream (now the magazine) was the newsletter of the CFCA. Other names you may have heard of include Charles Sheldon, William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), David Abercrombie, and Ezra H. Fitch.

And speaking of Abercrombie and Fitch (name sound familiar), they did a great deal in producing camping gear when the populace was looking to escape the city, i.e., towards the end of the industrial revolution. Many ideas for their gear surely came from CFCA members, including the Whelen Lean-To.   

There are many other facets of the CFCA and it’s history I hope to provide you in a later article. Right now, though, I would like to share a few pictures and videos of their Outings tradition, a promotion of Outdoor Skills. If you read Seton’s The Book of Woodcraft, you will find many ‘Games for Camp’ and other skills that translate to BSA. Many of these skills are competitive events at CFCA Outings even today. Events such as Canoeing, Shooting (rifle, shotgun, pistol), bait & fly casting, and fire skills through the flapjack and water-boil events. For over 100 years, the CFCA has kept the focus on outdoor skills in the forefront. I know you will enjoy the photos below of these Master Woodsmen of Yesteryear. Further below is a video with clips from Outings 50+ years ago as well as my friend Shawn keeping the tradition alive in 2014.

1910 Outing at Ernest Thompson Seton's Wyndygoul in CT.  Some of the names in this picture include Dan Beard, W.T. Hornaday, David Abercrombie, and Edmund Seymour.

1910 Outing at Ernest Thompson Seton’s Wyndygoul in CT. Some of the names in this picture include Dan Beard, W.T. Hornaday, David Abercrombie, and Edmund Seymour.

 

1910 flapjack contest

1910 flapjack contest

 

1910_CFC_Tents

 

1910_CFC_Canoe-Fly

 

1912_CFC_Canoe-Play

 

1912_CFC_Camp-Shave-Horn

 

1910_CFC_Rifle-Canoe

 

1912_CFC_Rifle-Horse

 

1912_CFC_Trap-Revolver

 

CFCA_other_outing

Click to enlarge.

 

Please keep in mind this is a 1997 video ripped from VHS…

 

Special thanks to my CFC friends Shawn and Jeff.  Happy Trails!

About Christian Noble

Chris Noble is the founder of MasterWoodsman.com and Woodsmoke Camping Company. A Master Naturalist, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and has worked as a Registered Forester and Certified Burn Manager in several states. Chris is also a Wilderness First Responder and since the late 90’s has been “practicing primitive” skills and taking lessons from numerous Master Woodsmen throughout North America. An advocate for Conservation, teacher of Wilderness Living Skills, and happily married, he enjoys passing what he has learned thus far to others, especially his 2 children, Emerson and Duncan.

13 Responses to Camp-Fire Club of America Outings

  1. tray@york.k12.sc.us'
    Tom Ray August 23, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    What a fantastic article Chris! I certainly learned a few things that I didn’t know. The pictures and videos are absolute treasures! Thanks so much for posting them! Outstanding!

  2. Shawn@camp-fire.com'
    Shawn Orbanic August 25, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    I am in possession of the original digital files of the Camp-Fire 100th Anniversary video however I do not have or know of the correct codecs to view them. If anyone knows of a program that can read/play videos created in Adobe Premiere 1997 or can tell me what codecs I need please let me know and I will gladly arrange with Master Woodsman to post the full video along with a film made by a group of early CFC members on our preserve in the 1920s titled “The Big Fish”. This film was never properly edited or viewed at the time of filming but was digitized and edited together for our 100th celebration. It was played once in 1997 and has not been seen since.

    • Chris August 25, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

      Thanks Shawn!

  3. survivalsherpa@gmail.com'
    Todd Walker September 11, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    Awesome stuff, Chris! Thanks for putting together a short history lesson and breathing life in to woodcraft!! Looking forward to more research and articles from you.

    • Chris September 11, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      Thanks Todd! We’re trying! 🙂

  4. hubbellsunnywood@aol.com'
    Ralph P. Hubbell September 19, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    My Grandfather was George L. Hubbell, a member of the CFA and my cousin was Edmund Seymour who is mentioned in this piece. We still have the Pot of the CFA that says -“Keep The Faith Though I Go Empty”.

    • Chris September 19, 2014 at 9:11 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Ralph. Love the quote on the pot!

    • jeffgronauer@aol.com'
      jeff gronauer September 25, 2014 at 9:54 am #

      Ralph,

      I sent a bunch of material to one of your cousins this past summer. I was in Lake Placid all summer and hoped to stop by for a visit and see Edmund Seymour’s place, and maybe the Hubbell homested up in Chazy.
      Knew about Seton’s book, ‘Rolf in the Woods’, which mentions Judge Hubbell’s home and office in Chazy during the War of 1812.

      I am the current historian at Camp Fire and helped with this article in Master Woodsman. George Hubbell came up with the expression ‘Keep the faith tho I go empty’ for the Dancing Bear Chowder Pot. I knew he was one of four people to get a pot when they were first made. One remains at the club. Another is at the Shelburne Museum (given by Marshall McLean’s daughter I believe). Still not sure how many were ever made or where they might be.

      Several CFC members had homes at John Bird Burnham’s Crater Club near Essex, NY. I believe McLean had one there.

      Lots of interesting history.

      Jeff Gronauer

  5. mkbolyard@entouch.net'
    Marshall Bolyard October 18, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    As a cadet at West Point, I and my skeet club teammates were invited to CFCA for a friendly gathering and some competition shooting back in 1967. It was a beautiful place for a get-away from the confines of the Academy. We met some wonderful people who treated us like we were special. We shot every event to our hearts content, had a wonderful lunch with the members, learned the history of the Club and walked the grounds. It is one of my favorite memories from my time at West Point. I have an old shooting patch which is emblazoned with a “winged” clay bird surrounded by the words CAMPFIRE CLAY BIRD CLUB. I also have a small silver box with a cedar interior inscribed on top with CFCA, which was awarded to me for winning the competition that day. Your article, which I just found today, brought back warm memories.

    • Christian Noble October 19, 2015 at 8:00 am #

      Hi Marshall – thanks for sharing your great story. From what I have seen, CFCA remains that same special place. Best, Chris

  6. wtt5130@comcast.net'
    Bill Thees December 4, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I just came across this article and was thrilled to read it. My grandfather, John D. Thees was probably one of the founders of CFCA and I wonder if you have any information about him in your records. His son, John D Thees Jr. ( my father) inherited his membership and i have very fond memories of weekends at our cabin on the lake at CFCA. Upon approaching the old weighted swinging gate at the entrance, we always wondered if we could make it open on the first try. I was very young at the time, and don’t know when my dad gave up his membership, but it was in the 1940s and early 50s that we went there. My grand dad would have been a member in the early 1900s. He was a big game hunter and fisherman and killed a number of trophy animals in Alaska during those times. He was featured on the cover of an early edition of Forest and Stream (later to become Field and Stream) for killing the biggest female Grizzely during a Alaskan hunt at the time.

  7. colin@nyc.rr.com'
    Colin Lane January 28, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    Chris…
    this article brings back great memories for me too. My dad, Bill Lane, was a member of CFCA in the 70’s, joining through our neighbor Nick Heineman, who was already a member. My dad started bringing my brother and I when I was 8 or so.It was great and we were always excited to go. We learned to shoot pistols, rifles and shotguns (with safety and respect mind you), we took boats out on the lake and explored every inch of the place. Best of all (for us kids) was the main lodge with all it’s taxidermed big game (that is still the biggest moosehead and antlers I’ve ever seen!) and Native American outfits (and was there Daniel Boone’s knife or something?) My brother and I won shooting medals at the annual Father-Son Day outings. I still have one of mine from 1974! I loved watching the real outdoorsmen doing the Water Boil. The rope pull at the gate always made me nervous that I wouldn’t be able to do it! I’d love to come back and have a look around some day. I hope it hasn’t changed much.

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