Home » History of Camp Emerson » An Incomplete History (1994) » The 1920’s

The 1920’s

The original five-acre parcel of Camp Emerson was located on the south side of Strawberry Creek. This was the land that C.L. Emerson had verbally donated to the Boy Scouts at the campfire program in 1919. This area was dedicated as C.J. Carlson Meadow at the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, and his daughter, Genevieve Carlson Lotspeich, who grew up with Camp Emerson, was present.

In 1969 Mrs. Neil Zeigler, daughter of Mr. Emerson, related the time when her father and C.J. Carlson rode horses down the valley and picked out the area that would eventually become Camp Emerson. She said that they staked it out by tying cloth strips on trees. This campsite was near the former site of the store and post office of Rayneta, on the Domenigoni Flat. The latter became part of the Idyllwild School of Music and The Arts.

In 1920, the second summer camp, then on the land that became Camp Emerson, was again under the leadership of President C.J. Carlson and Council Commissioner Wilfred Taylor, Camp Director. Assisting were Fred McEuen (later Riverside Poly High School Principal, Leadership Training Chairman, Silver Beaver 1948), Louis Goslin (SM T-3, Riverside), Percy Warner (ASM T-3, Riverside), Clyde Searl (ASM T-6, San Jacinto-Hemet) and W.J. Sage (SM T-4, Riverside). Sixty-six boys participated in this two-week camp at a cost of $6.00 per Scout.

The first newspaper that mentioned this second combined Councils’ Boy Scout camp was in the Idyllwild Breezes, July 2, 1920:


“In addition to the regular patrons of Idyllwild in years past, it has been favored this year with a camp of Boy Scouts from Riverside. They make a wholesome collection of red blooded, ‘cram full of pep’ young Americans, who are fortunate enough to be able to work off their surplus energy in the wilds of Idyllwild. A splendid camp has been made on the banks of Strawberry Creek in the grassy meadow below Idyllwild Inn, and every precaution is taken with reference to sanitary conditions. The wide expanse of meadow affords a splendid camping place, drill grounds and sport center. Baseball and other outdoor sports, together with hiking, horseback riding, and camp fires, fill up every minute of the day and early evenings. They are certainly a fine bunch of boys.”

Subsequently in October 1920, the two second-class Councils (no executives paid by the National Council) were combined to make the first-class Riverside County Council BSA, with C.J. Carlson as Scout Executive and Alfred M. Lewis, President. It was chartered in 1921 with Glen A. Calkins, President. Carlson remained as Executive until 1922 when he became the Scout Executive for the Long Beach Council. Later he became the Assistant Executive of Region XII and subsequently its Executive. Upon retirement in 1948, he returned to the Riverside County Council and was its President in 1955. He was awarded the Silver Beaver in 1951 and received the Silver Antelope in 1952.

In December 1920, Scout Executive C.J. Carlson, Commissioner Wilfred Taylor, and Scoutmasters E.L. Rea, T-6, George K. Black, Clyde Searl and C.L. Mount led twenty-five Hemet and fifty Riverside Scouts from Oak Cliff to Idyllwild and back. That distance one-way on the Idyllwild Control Road was ten miles. Hiking up took four hours and down took two hours and twenty minutes. C.L. Emerson, manager of the Idyllwild Inn, gave each Scout a bag of candy on what the Hemet News called the “Annual Mt. San Jacinto Hike”.

On January 3, 1921, Mr. Emerson formally deeded the land for a permanent campsite to RC, BSA, and it was accepted and named in his honor by the twenty-man Executive Board.

Members of that charter Executive Board in 1920 and 1921 were: President A.M. Lewis (Silver Beaver 1931); Vice-President Dr. Bon O. Adams; Glenn Calkins (President 1921-22); George Bigelow; George Wind, Banning; Dr. J.B. Weston, Hemet; R.D. Sweet, Beaumont; A.H. Buckley, San Jacinto; H.M. Harford, Perris; B.N. Pratt, Elsinore; Hugo Guenther, Murietta (sic); Mr. Collier, Wildomar; Mr. Barnett, Temecula; Joy G. Jameson, Corona; W.W. Ayers, Highgrove; C.B. Jones, Coachella Valley; Rev. John Gabrielson, Blythe; O.K. Kelsey, West Riverside; Treasurer, C.E. Prior; Scout Commissioner, Judge Hugh Craig; and Secretary, Scout Executive C.J. Carlson. (map # 1)

In a letter of appreciation sent to Mr. Emerson by Chief Scout Executive James E. West, he said part:

“It is the unanimous opinion of individuals and groups of business men who have made similar investments of a permanent camp site for Scouts that there is no better means of stimulating interest in the essentials of Scout training and guaranteeing the permanence of the Scout program. The sense of ownership and community responsibility which is developed in each individual of the boys’ organization which has to do with the use and improvement of a camp of their own trains boys in team work and helps make them better citizens. Gifts such as you have made are an inspiration to the many leaders of boys, Scoutmasters and others, who are giving their time with such unselfish purpose to the boys of your city.”

Hemet News, February 25, 1925.

The first organized Boy Scout camp west of the Mississippi River was an ideal campsite, and the very best in all of Strawberry Valley. Strawberry Creek was a wide, fast-flowing stream, and was used as the source of water. The flat meadow which had been its floodplain was used for tents and all other camping and Scouting activities. Camp Emerson was located on the Idyllwild Control Road (became Tollgate Road) the low gear, one-way control road from Hemet to Idyllwild. Traffic alternated going up and down from Oak Cliff every ninety minutes. This road made the camp accessible all year.

First known as the Crawford Toll Road, it has been constructed by Joseph Crawford in 1876. He charged seventy-five cents for wagons and ten cents for horse riders, later raised to twenty-five cents. Daily public transportation from San Jacinto began in 1901 and consisted of four horse-drawn open stagecoaches that carried seven passengers and a driver. At that time, traffic went up in the morning and down in the afternoon.

Idyllwild was a lumbering area. During the heaviest lumbering era, from 1879 to 1906, Amansa Saunders, Anton Scherman and George Hannahs moved their three sawmills around Strawberry Valley and elsewhere on the mountain. The lumber was hauled down Crawford’s Toll Road and some of the roadway was a life-threatening 30% grade. Lumber wagons drawn by four, six, or eight horses or pulled by twelve oxen made the steep and torturous trip up and down the road. The rotten, beetle-eaten or burned stumps of some of the huge trees were all that remained of the original growth on Camp Emerson. Almost all of the trees in Strawberry Valley were second growth.

In 1909, the road was improved for automobiles. The name was changed to the Idyllwild Control Road, toll was collected, and traffic was switched every hour and a half. From 1919 through 1928, the Scouts hiked eight miles up to Camp Emerson from the site of the since-destroyed stage coach station at Oak Cliff (Toll Gate) on the South Fork of the San Jacinto River, the lower terminus of Tollgate Road. The Scouts rested and got water at the Halfway House located at Halfway Spring, where there had been a horse and people-watering and resting station before there were automobiles. In 1929, the high-gear paved road, State Highways 74 and 243, opened. The old control road had become USFS 5S06, used only as a fire control and recreational road since 1929.

Doing it the slow, hard way was re-enacted in the early 1920’s when T-40, Perris, is said to have travelled in a wagon pulled by oxen from Oak Cliff at the bottom of the grade, up to camp and then back at the end of the session. How many preferred to hike instead of sitting out the jolting ride was not known.

Because Mr. Emerson was so pleased with the results at Camp Emerson, he made additional donations. In 1924, he gave 14 acres to Idyllwild Pines, a Christian Leadership Training Camp, and property for the Riverside County Campground. In 1925, he donated five acres for Camp Tahquitz (including Camp Lee Emerson) to the Long Beach Scout Council. This was through the efforts of C.J. Carlson, their new Scout Executive. Camp Tahquitz moved to the San Bernardino Mountains after the 1958 season. Their old site and the leased land from the USFS became part of the Riverside County Campground and Nature Center.

His daughter, Alice Emerson Nelson, in THE FRIENDLIEST VALLEY, 1938. stated:

“Dad believes that just being in the mountains somehow made one a better person. It is to be hoped that the thousands of young people who have enjoyed these camps have found that this is so.”

The first mention of any construction at the camp was noted in the Executive Board minutes of April 4, 1921. A committee was appointed to oversee any plans for the camp. This committee consisted of Fred Younglove, Chairman; Ed Culnan, O.K. Kelsey (President 1923-24, Silver Beaver 1932), Charles Jones, Charles Scoville, J.P. Millar, H.B. George, J.L. Greenleaf, J.W. Bell, Rollie Smith, and M.L. Schoenthal.

Scout Executive Carlson was also the Camp Director at the third encampment of the RC Council at Camp Emerson in 1921. There the passing of rank requirements was heavily emphasized. During the six-week summer camp, the following advancement program was used:

“As part of the weekly program, a special green and brown ribbon bar pin was earned by Scouts who exhibited an outstanding effort in advancement during their stay at the camp. The requirements were as follows:

  1. Service one day in general camp service (fatigue duty)
  2. Perform satisfactorily all duties assigned by headquarters
  3. Pass, according to rank, in one of the following requirements:
    1. (a) A tenderfoot to pass five second class tests.
    2. (b) A second class to pass seven first class tests.
    3. (c) A first class to pass give merit badges.
    4. If a Scout had less than the required number of tests to pass, attaining the next higher rank would count as equivalent to the above. If possible, at least three of the above tests must be of the Court of Honor variety.
  4. Attend one instructional hike and one overnight hike.
  5. Good conduct.”

Hemet News, May 27, 1921

Ray Hanzlik was a 13 year-old Tenderfoot Scout who attended that camp. He stated that it was a fantastic and never-to-be-forgotten experience, 73 years ago. He recalled particularly that the boys dammed Strawberry Creek to make a shallow swimming-bathing pool. Several Scouts developed mumps and were quarantined to a tent above what became Tahquitz Rock, so he and others practiced semiphore signalling with those boys to pass the Second Class Rank. He also remembered that a Scout set up an aerial in two tall pines and received and decoded a World Series game sent in Morse code but he didn’t remember which teams played.

A nine-inch segment of a two and one-half foot photograph, which Hanzlik had one of the 147 men and boys that participated during the two-week session was published in the Town Crier in a 1994 publicity article for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration. He participated in the event and was honored as a founder. (illus. 3)

Pat Maloy, retired Deputy District Attorney, Riverside, was an 11-year old Tenderfoot that same year and agreed that it was a life-time experience. He recalled that all of the Scouts went on the hike from camp up the Devil’s Slide to Hidden Lake for overnight. The shallow lake had ice on it in the morning. They hiked out to the overlook to Palm Springs and retraced their steps to climb Tahquitz Peak which did not yet have a USFS fire lookout station. Hanzlik added that the boys raced down the peak and back to camp by “cutting trail,” running, and slipping and sliding off of South Ridge Trail. He said that came into Camp Emerson first but the soles of his shoes were completely gone.

The popularity of the camp had grown at an astonishing rate, and during the six-week period a total of 433 Scouts attended. For that season, Dr. Paul Simonds, Scoutmaster of T-13 Riverside, as the physician for Camp Emerson, developed the first medical history-physical examination form for Scout camps. The National Deputy Chief Scout Executive, Dr. George J. Fisher, came to the Council on Sunday, October 30, 1921, and visited the camp.

Efforts continued, and in 1922 the second RC Council Scout Executive, G. Albert Mills (during his three-month tenure before becoming the Riverside City Clerk) and Scout Commissioner, Joy G. Jameson, of Corona, received a second five-acre parcel donation from Mr. Emerson. Located on the north side of Strawberry Creek, directly across from the original land, this deed was recorded in 1924. (map # 2)

In February, 1923, the Executive Board approved plans for a kitchen and storeroom building, and estimates were secured. In June of 1923, the first structure for Camp Emerson was completed in what became the Wagon Wheel Campsite (named for a logging wagon which it later contained). It was a welcome addition for all who attended.

With the continued use of the camp, more construction became necessary. On November 3, 1924, the Executive Board was advised that the “Hut” was nearing completion. This building was located on the north side of Strawberry Creek, directly south of the present-day flagpoles on Brownsea Island Field. In February, 1925, a sign, “Camp Emerson” was hung on the “Hut” and one was also hung for the main gate. Of special note is that this building was an actual log cabin that served the Scouts in a variety of ways. Over the years, it was used as a nature lodge, a trading post, and a handicraft lodge. This building remained until the early 1970’s when it was dismantled because of its age.

Charles Berry (the most famous man to utilize that building, Eagle Scout T-50 Indio), was the handicraft counselor in the Hut for several summers in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. He carved a leather photo album for Scout Executive Carl Helmick. Dr. Berry went on to become the first doctor of medicine for the NASA astronauts and also was in charge of all of their medical experiments on many flights.

The Board Minutes of November 1924 noted Camp Emerson’s use during that fall. Approximately forty-five boys spent Halloween (October 31, Friday) at the camp and an additional seventy boys spent all day Saturday.

Another multi-use building was constructed on the south side of Strawberry Creek in 1924. This building, a single-story wood-frame with a stone fireplace, was referred to as the Recreation Building. It was located approximately ten paces west of the west wall of the later Phillip Boyd Nature Lodge. Finished in 1924, it remained until 1958 when it was removed during an Order of the Arrow Ordeal. With Tahquitz Bowl directly across the meadow, this location was used as the site for the reading of the Legend of Tahquitz. Walt Hewitt (Eagle Scout T-112, LA, SM T-9, Silver Beaver 1955, T-255 Vigil Honor OA, 60 year veteran) recalled standing inside the open doorway with a megaphone and reading the Legend to the circle of Scouts during the Order of the Arrow or other campfire ceremony during the early 1950’s. (illus. 4)

During 1925-1926, eight small Adirondack-type eight-boy bunk houses were built on the north side of Strawberry Creek by eleven service clubs of Riverside County. These cabins were located across Strawberry Creek from the Council Services Building (constructed later) and west of the service road. The service road was initially the walkway in front of them. These cabins were of half-log construction, with a single sloped roof with four double bunks built inside to sleep a patrol. These early cabins were used by Scouts and Scouters after they had filled their mattress ticks with straw. (illus.5)

Kirby Hester (Eagle Scout T-51, Indio, first Vigil Honor member of Tahquitz Lodge) was also the first Scout taught surveying by Executive Helmick in 1937. They found that the boundaries of Camp Emerson had been inaccurately mapped and that some of these cabins were actually on someone else’s property to the west. A surveying party, led by County Surveyor A.C. Fulmor, in 1945, confirmed that five of the cabins had been built on land outside the limits of Camp Emerson. These cabins where moved to the locations of the district campsites throughout the camp. By 1961, the last of these structures was dismantled because of decay.

From the late 1920’s on, “Camp Emerson” was sung at every nightly campfire.

Camp Emerson

(author unknown)

(Tune: Artillery Song, The Cassions Go Rolling Along)

  1. Over hill, over dale, heads up, Scouts, and hit the trail

To Camp Emerson-we all love so well;

Swimming pool-days so cool,

Cabins straight as any rule,

At Camp Emerson-we all love so well.


Then it’s Hi Hi Hee! Camp Emerson for me,

Shout out its name and loudly call-EMERSON.

Where’er we go, Scouts must always know,

The Camp Emerson’s the best camp of all.

Rah! Rah!

Rah! Rah! The Camp Emerson’s the best camp of all.

2. Break of day-Reveille, up and at it-no delay

At Camp Emerson-we all love so well

Scout tests, too, days too few,

Nature’s secrets told anew,

At Camp Emerson we all love so well.


3. Over hill, over dale, pack your hose and hit the trail

From Camp Emerson we all love so well

On the run, games and fun,

And “Be Prepared” till day is done

At Camp Emerson we all love so well.


Since its creation, Camp Emerson has instilled a loyalty and love in all who have visited. As early as 1923, signs were evident when a camp song with a melancholy verse was composed:

Camp Emerson Alma Mater

(tune and author unknown)

How can I leave thee,
How can I from thee part,

Campfires that bring to you

Friendships anew,

I love thy swims and hikes

And all those starlit nights,

They memories linger on,

Camp Em-er-son

(Ron Richmond said this was sung every night during the 1960’s and he again sang it in 1994)

In that year, the camp consisted of a mere ten acres of land and a few buildings, and water was pumped from Strawberry Creek which ran wide and deep through the middle of camp. There was no access to a body of water for the boys to learn swimming. On April 9, 1923, the Executive Board and C.L. Emerson entered into a contract to have a share of a swimming pool he was constructing near his hotel in the area that became Fort Idyllwild in the center of town in 1993. The Idyllwild Inn (built in 1905, destroyed by fire 1945) was located in what became Eleanor Park in the center of Idyllwild. The contract gave the camp access to the pool for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon during camp season, in exchange for a $500 investment in the construction of the $7,500 pool.

A.M. Lewis (first Riverside County Council President 1920, Silver Beaver 1931) owned a truck with hard rubber tires to haul merchandise for this grocery store at 10th and Main Streets, Riverside. Dick Sampson remembered that Mr. Lewis used that truck to drive the Scouts of T-2, Riverside, to Oak Cliffs for their hike to Camp Emerson. He then trucked their gear and supplies up the steep grade.

Sampson advanced from being a 12-year-old Tenderfoot Scout to an Eagle Scout with a Bronze Palm and from an assistant patrol leader to an ASM, T-2, while attending camp for the five years from 1925-1929. Under Scout Executives H.K. Merritt and C.B. Cantrell, he enjoyed the fact that all teaching at camp was “heads on reality training,” from first aid to hiking and camping. The Tenderfoot Scouts took a 19-mile on-day hike from camp to Tahquitz Peak and back. In subsequent years, those boys hiked the two-day 29 miles to San Jacinto Peak and back.

Sampson said that the face on Tahquitz Rock had been painted by the Tribe of Tahquitz before he arrived in 1925, that “snipe hunts” were big during the years that he attended, and that belt awards had not yet been invented. He recalled that Hugh Estes used water to comb his hair in the morning and that it would often freeze before he could get a comb into it.

“Scouting was the greatest adventure and had the greatest influence of anything else on my life. We need more, not less, of it in our great country,” Sampson said at the 75th Anniversary Ceremony. He believed that all adults and all branches of government should encourage the formation of gangs of Scouts, of all age groups, to help turn this country around toward something more worthwhile.

With the ever-increasing use of the camp, the Executive Board saw a need for some type of aquatic program on their site. On September 4, 1925, RC Council President Fred Stebler (Council President 1925-1930, first Silver Beaver 1930) appointed a committee consisting of himself, A.A. Piddington (Council President 1935, Silver Beaver 1938) and A.M. Lewis to plan the construction of the swimming pool. In 1926, the Council conducted a paper drive and solicited other donations for the pool, which was built at the cost of $3,500. Major support for this project was provided by Arthur N. Sweet, who subsequently became Council President in 1931, and died during his term. Construction consisted of a concrete framework with an expansion joint-type material between the sections of concrete. The interior was covered with a rubberized material which was supposed to survive longer in the big drop in temperature during the winter months when the pool was empty. A recirculating filter was installed and water pumped into the pool from Strawberry Creek. On July 4, 1931, the pool was formally dedicated, in an old-fashioned celebration, including a real rodeo, by Council President E.M. Johnston, D.D.S. (Silver Beaver 1943) as the A.N. Sweet Pool. Mrs. Sweet and their son, Ross of T-13, Riverside, attended. The Knights of Dumanis, the Eagle Scout Fraternity, conducted the ceremony. Fortunately, the 1933 Long Beach earthquake did not damage the pool. In 1960, the pool was reconditioned with a fiberglass liner which lasted approximately four years. In 1964, the pool was again reconditioned and was given a fiberglass interior finish. This pool, with the addition of a heater, was enjoyed by Scouts and Scouters during the summer months.

After the construction of the pool and the expansion of the aquatic program, a Red Cross Junior Lifeguard program became available at summer camp. Upon completion of the requirements, the Scout was entitled to wear a blue and white rectangular felt patch, embroidered with a white lifesaving ring in the center and the words “Camp Emerson Junior Lifeguard” encircling it. This two by three inch patch was too fragile to put on a bathing suit. (ills. plate 1)

On January 2, 1926, a reunion of Scouts who had attended Camp Emerson was held in conjunction with the first Council Camporee. This was a troop activity in which patrols from each troop completed against other patrols in a variety of Scout skill exercises. These types of activities were continued in various forms.

The new Council Scout Executive, C.B. Cantrell, visited the camp during the spring of 1926, checking the progress of the pool construction and found that all five of the bridges across Strawberry Creek had been washed away. A three-week period of rain had caused Strawberry Creek to rise four and a half feet. The Karl Kelsey Bridge (O.K. Kelsey, Council Prsident (sic)) that had been constructed just north of the cookhouse was found 100 yards downstream. He reported that the Atwood-Townsend bridge was found one-half mile downstream. Among the activities that summer was a game of “capture the flag” that lasted from 6 AM to 8 PM.

“Call of the Wild” was the camp slogan in 1927. Leo M. Coombs, Canada’a(sic) most honored Scouter and noted naturalist, was Camp Director. Chief Apspinnine of Canada, taught Indian trailing, tracking and stalking. A.E. Bottel, County Horticulturist and USFS Ranger Cranston (Cranston Ranger Station on highway 74 east of Valle Vista) were on staff. Dr. Paul Simonds taught birds for this group which stressed nature study. He also improved the record-keeping of the medical physicals for camps by recording before and after height, weight and strength gains made by the Scouts. Fourty-four percent, 198 of 446 of the Council’s Scouts were pre-registered for the three two-week sessions. C.B. Cantrell was the Executive.

In 1921 or 1922, before C.J. Carlson had transferred to the Long Beach Council, he and C.L. Emerson discussed the local Indian legends, especially the Legend of Tahquitz, around campfires. They came up with the idea for an honored-campers society for older and more advanced Scouts who were skilled in back-country hiking and camping. Indian lore was used as a vehicle for teaching, just as Ernest Thompson Seton had in his earlier (1902) Woodcraft Indians program. From this beginning, Camp Emerson’s Tribe of Tahquitz was formed, and Executive Carl Helmick and tribe members confirmed this beginning. Other Councils in other areas also developed similar societies, but this may have been the first one west of the Mississippi River.

The Tribe of Tahquitz developed in the ensuing years to become a magnet to draw older Scouts back to camp. They were responsible for work projects as part of their required ordeals. Sometime between 1922 and 1925, Tahquitz Rock was first painted and the area surrounding it became the Tribe’s ritualistic turf on which no one except a tribal member was allowed, and no one was allowed to touch the rock except members, and then only for repainting. The face of Tahquitz Rock has been painted, and the slop beside it used as seating for campfires, according to George White (Eagle Scout T-7) who attended or was on staff from 1927-1932. However, Council minutes do not reflect a decision to build a Council fire ring until April 15, 1930.

Early recollections of Tahquitz Bowl, the campfire bowl in the main meadow, are from Earl Tweddle’s son-in-law, Richard Woods, Marty Vaught and Norm Mellor, who attended summer camp during the late 1920’s. The bowl originally consisted of a fire ring and several logs set in a semi-circle around the ring with the slope behind the logs. The large granite boulder to its east was painted with the symbolic face of Tahquitz. When the bowl site was selected, Idyllwild Lane did not exist, and the camp was bordered by the Idyllwild Golf Course to the south, both east and west. What became the main parking lot was a part of the fifth hole of this nine-hold golf course. No one had been found who could tell the history of the first painting of Tahquitz Rock, nor who created the design. The legend that something bad would happen to any person who touched Tahquitz Rock was created then and was widely believed. (illus.6 & 7)

George White remembered helping to replace the original 1925 front entrance sign. In 1928, he and older Scouts made “Camp Emerson”, spelled out by nailing tree branches on a 12-foot long arched log and mounted it over the entrance road which came into camp where Canyon Drive subsequently entered the property on its south.. Some time later the arch collapsed.

%d bloggers like this: