Home » A Brief History of Camp Emerson » An Incomplete History (1994) » The 1930s

The 1930s

From the 1920’s into the 1970’s, the big attractions of Camp Emerson were a complete program as well as the physical location that provided close-by hiking and camping. The majority of Scouts would take a one-day hike up Tahquitz Peak or a two day campout to San Jacinto Peak. The trailhead was located at the George Thomas Cedar, then the end of Fern Valley Road on the corner of Dogwood, one mile short of Humber Park which became the base of the Devil’s Slide Trail. The George Thomas Cedar was destroyed in late 1957 by winds from the tail end of “Nina”, the first named hurricane that struck the Hawaiian Islands. The tree was ringed at more than 800 years of age.

A 10-mile day hike went to Tahquitz peak, 8,846′, and an overnight campout to San Jacinto Peak, 10,804′, was a 20-mile round trip. The route went up the Devil’s Slide Trail to Saddle Junction, then skirted Tahquitz Valley to Willow Creek. From there, the Scouts went out to Hidden Lake, and to Desert View to look down on Palm Springs, then back to the main trail to Long Valley, and hence to Round Valley. They would camp in Round Valley and hike through Tamarack Valley to the top of San Jacinto Peak the next morning in time to watch the sunrise across San Gorgonio Peak, 11,499′, and the desert beyond to the Salton Sea. Trains over 8000′ below looked like toys or slow caterpillars. The mountain cast a shadow of a pyramid to the west where Catalina Island was occasionally visible. In the early years and through the 1930’s, these hikes started and finished at camp which added nine miles to the newer distances from Humber Park as given above. Up to the mid-1930’s a backpack consisted of two army blankets rolled lengthwise, stuffed with canned and boxed foods, roped, and carried as a horseshoe over the shoulder. Later, Scouts began making their own packframes with the help of Scout Executive, Carl Helmick. Camp Emerson really offered the “Outing” in Scouting. (illus. 8)

Naturalist John Muir was said to have watched the sunrise from the summit of San Jacinto Park and to have exclaimed, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth.” He was with the National Forest Commission Survey of 1896 on its visit to see the destruction in Strawberry Valley by sawmills and cattle grazing.

From 1925 through 1932, Camp Tahquitz of the Long Beach Council, BSA, ran a centralized camp on the property C.L. Emerson had donated and on the hill above to the north that was leased from the USFS. From 1932-58, it used either Tahquitz Valley, Long Valley, Round Valley, or Little Round Valley for six-day camps with exploratory hikes from each campsite. These were troop camps, and the programs were run with counselors from Camp Tahquitz as guides and instructors. They did not use a central program with staff members responsible for a single subject as Camp Emerson did throughout its history.

Camp Emerson led overnight hikes in the high country, principally to San Jacinto Peak, or day hikes to Tahquitz Peak. However, from 1930, a primitive Pioneer Camp, also called Camp Mitigwa, “Maker of Men”, for advanced Scouts was held on the top of Suicide Rock, then called Massacre Rock. From Camp Emerson, they hiked five miles up the Deer Springs Trail. They then built a mile long trail to reach the campsite on top of the rock.. A USFS trail was later constructed over a similar route. All water had to be carried to this dry camp. The Pioneer Camp was held simultaneously with the regular summer camp. During 1931, there were six sessions for Camp Emerson from June 1 to August 1. The third period of that summer camp was held at the Pioneer Camp so that Girl Scouts could use Camp Emerson. This rugged camp on the rock was so popular that four one-week sessions were scheduled for 1932 with the possibility for a fifth week if needed. (illus. 9)


On June 20, 1930, Harold E. Johnson, a twelve year-old Tenderfoot Scout for only one month of T-34, Corona, became lost on top of San Jacinto Peak, 10,804′. The 48 Scouts with six leaders had hiked up from Round Valley in the dark to watch the sunrise. The last contact Johnson remembered was hearing a leader say that they would meet in Round Valley for breakfast. He did not know the route they had followed in the dark. Everyone split like quail and were soon out of sight. Johnson said he was slower scrambling down through the rocks. There were no trails, only gray rocks and patches of snow everywhere.

His Patrol Leader, Corliss “Corky” Davis (ASM T-34, Skipper and later Commodore of the Temescal District Sea Scout Ship, Silver Beaver 1964) remembered the probable casue for the sudden split and fast running by everyone from the peak to Round Valley. He said he heard Camp Director, Don Heath (SM-T6), say, “Let’s set a new record down to Round Valley.” Scout Davis said that they did succeed in that goal, but in Round Valley the leaders held a countoff and realized that Scout Johnson was missing. The boys were not allowed to return to the peak and started the return with leaders to Camp Emerson. Davis said that some of the leaders immediately went back up to the peak but were unsuccessful in finding Johnson.

Scout Johnson did not see or hear anyone returning for him, and he knew that he was lost. Looking around, he saw the road (which later became US Highway 10) through the pass below with its cars and trains looking deceptively close. He thought he could make it down in one day. About 0600 hours he started down the north face. (illus. 10)

This was his diary as dictated to his mother, Mary D. Johnson, upon arriving home:


“It was very rough — rocks as large as houses, sharp peaks all covered with ice. I went slow for fear I would fall. I had not gone far when I did slip and fall into a rocky crevice; I landed on my head. I hardly knew how I got out. When I did, I found I had lost my blanket-roll and my knife. I did not see my blanket again. I don’t know where it went.

I climbed back up the ridge and thought I heard someone calling. I answered and heard my own voice come back in an echo twice. I heard the voice again, ‘Hey, Johnson!’ I answered, ‘Yes,” and then the fellow ask, ‘Are you hurt?’ And I said, ‘No.’ I thought I recognized the voice as one of my crowd. I looked and hunted. Once I thought I heard the same voice call his brother, but I could not find anyone, though I waited no one came to me, and I found no tracks.

I started north down the ridge; as I went I found more brush, lots of rock, and it was hard going. I followed the ridge till sundown, Friday night. About 4:00 o’clock, I saw a deer and her baby. I began to look for a place to sleep. I found what looked like a good place, and when I reached it the rocks were so close together I could not get between them. I went on but could not find any place where I thought I would be safe till dark. Then near a large rock, I rolled some smaller ones and made sides to my bed, so I wouldn’t foll out. I folded my kerchief for a pillow and lay down to rest.

I thought of the folks and wondered if they knew I was lost; if they could find me; and a lot of other things. I asked God to take care of me and tried to go to sleep. After a while I did go to sleep, but I wakened every little while.”


“After a while, it grew light and the sun camp up. It was very beautiful with the clouds below and the peaks sticking up like islands. It was not very cold but the wind blew some and when the sun got higher it warmed me up and I crawled out. I could see, in a little while, the whole valley. Whitewater Ranch and a long bright shiny thing. I remembered when we were down in the valley once I had seen it, and I knew there was a highway near it. That gave me courage, and I started down the ridge. It was very rocky and I had no water nor anything to eat. There were no berries and only one cactus apple, but I did not know how to open it, so I decided I had better not try to eat it.

Late in the afternoon I noticed an airplane (from March Field) near the top. I wondered why they were looking for me away up there. I took my kerchief off and waved it, but I knew I could not make him hear or see me. He went around the top several times, but finally went down out of sight. I knew then that they were hunting me. But I knew also they were not looking anywhere near where I was, and I had to get out alone.

I was pretty tired and hungry by now and don’t really know what I did do. I can’t remember where I slept that night, or whether I was warm or cold, as I guess God did take care of me. I would never have wakened the next morning. Weeks later I remembered where I slept, and it was the best bed I had while I was out, back under a big rock and there were two big rocks in front of me, so close together that when I lay down I could just see one little spot of starry sky.”


“When I was warm enough to go I started north on the ridge, and had not gone far when I thought I heard a trickle of water. I hunted and found some coming out between two rocks. I tasted a little; it was good. I had not had any since Thursday night at supper and it was Sunday about 8:00 am, but I was afraid it might make me sick so I drank a little and rested, and then drank some more, and then went on.

One place I got down a steep slide and was on a ledge and could not find any way down at all. There was a tree near me, but I could not reach the limb, but at last I got up grit enough to jump and catch the limb nearest me, and work my way to the trunk, and went down that way. It was a big tree, and there were a lot of rocks at the foot.

About noon I found a real stream and had a good drink (East Fork of Snow Creek). I rested a while and drank some more and went on.

I saw the airplane again but they were still looking for me around the peak and I could not make them see me. About 4 o’clock I heard a rattlesnake and looked in time to see him crawl into a hole. I wanted to live and I guess he did too, so I thought if he let me alone I would let him alone. He was sure a big fellow, four or five feet long.

I crossed the stream and went up on the ridge until sundown. Then I climbed down some awful cliffs to the water and got a drink. My feet were hot and pretty tired so I took my shoes off and washed my feet, hands and face, and that rested me. Then I hunted for a good place to sleep. I found an overhanging rock and some weeds growing under it. I pulled them and took out the larger stones, piled up some boulders so I would not roll out of bed, made a pillow of my kerchief, and went to bed. It was not cold that night, and there was no wind, so I rested pretty well.”


“When I wakened Monday morning, the sun was shining and I got out in it and warmed up some. Got a drink, followed the stream a while, but it was hard going, so I climbed up to the ridge. There were many low ridges, very many, no rocks, but lots of snakes. I did not see any but heard lots of them.

I was so tired I found a good place for a bed and went to bed as soon as the sun was down. I rested well, but sometime during the night I wakened with a snort and heavy breathing right near me. I was frightened and reached for some rocks I had laid near. As I raised up I saw a deer with no horns and it was as frightened as I, and bounded away in the darkness, she may be going yet. I was awake then and could not go back to sleep for a long time.”


“As soon as I was warm I got a drink from the stream and started to walk—the floor of the valley looked so close I knew I would get out some place today.

I had not gone very far when I came to the top of ridge, and there below me were some buildings (they were part of the State Fish Hatchery) and an American flag flew on top of a pole. Soon I found a man, and I said ‘Do you suppose you could give me something to eat?’ He just looked at me, and said, ‘ Are you Harold Johnson?’ I wondered how he knew my name, but I said ‘Yes, I am. But I am hungry’.

He took me through the fish hatchery to the kitchen of his home where his wife was. There on the kitchen table was the morning paper. The headline said, “ALL HOPE TO BE GIVEN UP FOR THE LOST SCOUT.”

Their name was Van Brundt. Mrs. Van Brundt fixed me some toast, warm milk and poached eggs. We then got into his car and started down the dirt road to the highway. Along the highway headed toward Banning a policeman came along side, because we were driving too fast, and when Mr. Van Brundt said I was Harold Johnson the policeman put on his siren and let us to the Banning Hotel where I got a bath, ate more and went to bed.”

On June 27, 1930, three days after his harrowing experience, Harold E. Johnson was awarded an Associate Honorary Membership by The Adventurers of The World at a dinner in The Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles, CA. He was accompanied by his father, Roscoe Johnson (Corona postmaster) and his friend, Vincent Shank (T-34).


Camp Emerson Director, Don Heath (SM T-6 and Riverside Field Director) helped A.E. Bottell, Riverside County Horticultural Commissioner, coordinate the day-and-night search all over the mountain with many untrained volunteers and 50 horsemen. No radio communications were available: they had only signal fires and heliographs.

Scout Shank kept telling the searchers that he would have gone down the north slope to the road, and that he believe Johnson would too. Paul Ganahl (Eagle Scout T-35, SM T-35) believed that he was the last to see Johnson before his descent. He said that he too became confused and missed the trail in the rough terrain, but finally found it. Walter Jameson (T-34) confirmed that he and his brother, Jim (T-34), were the only brothers on the hike that day (Johnson may have had an auditory hallucination involving them when he thought he heard a voice of a brother calling to him on day one). Experienced climbers thought that Snow Creek Canyon was too steep to descend, so no one wanted to try it and no technical climbers volunteered for the search. When the intensive hunt became organized, Johnson’s closest friend, Vincent Shank (whose father, C.E. Shank, M.D. was camp doctor) with his brother and Johnson’s Brother, Marvin, were stationed on Tahquitz Peak to operate a sun-reflective helioscope using Morse code. They would pass messages back and forth from Idyllwild to a group of Scouts on Marion Mountain and also to search parties.

Camp Director, Don Heath, had hiked from the George Thomas Cedar to San Jacinto Peak and back daily during this effort. On day four he decided that the only place that had not been searched was down the north face, so he started down. The first thing he found was Johnson’s blanket and skid marks in the snow. Later he had to jump off of a waterfall into a pool of ice water over his head. Heath came into the fish hatchery that evening, exhausted. The afternoon before, a search plane from March Field (PT-38 pilot and observer with WWI binoculars and neither with mountain search and rescue experience) had reported seeing a body in the snow near the top of the peak. It was that report that Harold Johnson read in The Riverside Press the next day when he arrived safely at the fish hatchery.

Word of Johnson’s rescue came from the RC Sheriff in Banning by phone to the USFS in Idyllwild, then he helioscope to Scout Shank on Tahquitz Peak. He remembered receiving “Boy fo—“. When he realized Johnson was safe he was too excited and he ran off. Either of the older brothers, Robert Shank, or Harold’s brother, Marvin, finished receiving “— found.” When the message was relayed everyone was overjoyed. Newspapers across the nation carried the story, although several said that he walked out with a rattlesnake in hand.

Harold Johnson said that he is not surprised that Heath missed him and passed him in the descent. He said that is a huge, rugged country. His advice to anyone who is lost, “SIT DOWN”.

Thus Don Heath was the first human to descend the East Fork of Snow Creek on the north face of San Jacinto Peak, and Harold Johnson was the second. The American Alpine Club had no record of any other descent. It confirmed that his descent is the longest with a change of altitude of 8,804′, in the shortest airline distance of 3.87 miles. This makes it the longest and steepest climb in the lower United States, a drop of one foot for every 2.32 feet of distance travelled, and average grade of 41%. (illus. 11)


In the summer of 1931, the largest Court of Honor ever in the RC was held at Camp Emerson. A total of 105 rank advancements and merit badges had been earned from Second Class through an Eagle and a Bronze Palm. This was conducted by the Knights of Dunamis.

Belt awards were very popular and could be earned in 19 Scouting subjects. For example, the “white whale” was earned by daily running to the unheated pool, and swimming one lap each morning before breakfast. George White remembered earning it every year from 1927 on. Others included fire by flint and steel, fire by friction, campfire stunt, axmanship, astronomy, nature, forestry, religious service, signalling, horsemanship and hiking to San Jacinto or to Tahquitz Peak. The awards were then painted in colors on the Scout belt using a stencil. A special Camp Medallion for the shirt was won each year during 1931 and 1932 by 30 Scouts, who had each earned 15 or more belt awards during some period. (illus. 12)

Covered-wagon trips using mules were available to the Manuel Aranaiz Ranch, a working cattle ranch in Garner Valley, and to the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation. G.E. Dodge owned the burros and C.B. Wood owned the wagon and mules. These departed from Camp Emerson during each two-week summer camp session. From 1931 to 1933, horses were kept in what became the Family Camp. The high adventure was an overnight camp to San Jacinto Peak. Hidden Lake was so dry those summers that they galloped across it. The Scouts chased Jim Wellman’s cattle in Round Valley. Many horsemanship merit badges were earned from G.E. Dodge. He taught the merit badge at no charge, and rented the horses for 35 cents an hour. (illus. 13)

Ab Brown (Medicine Man Honor, Tribe of Tahquitz, SM T-15, Riverside, Executive Board 1955-1960, Silver Beaver 1962) related that he and Bill Wesson rode two mules up the Idyllwild Control Road in 1931. Neither of these Tenderfoot Scouts had ever been to camp, and he said they were scared the whole way. Scout Executive John Leecing had trailered them and the mules from Riverside to the abandoned stable at Oak Cliffs, using a Model A Ford, and the boys did the rest. The covered wagon was trucked up the high-gear road.

In 1936 Brown was the hikemaster and led overnighting troops to San Jacinto Peak twice each week. They started and finished at Camp Emerson. Later he was on the Riverside Community College Board for 14 years and the mayor of Riverside for 12 years. Also, during 1931 and 1932, pack trains using burros carried hikers’ provisions on the San Jacinto Peak hike and to the Pioneer Camp. First the burros packed oats, hay and heavier camping gear to the top of Massacre Rock. Ab Brown remembered they then returned one-half mile back for water, where the trail (constructed by Scouts) crossed Marion Creek. Each burro carried a round steel five-gallon milk can of water back to camp. This task had to be done multiple times a day, was tedious, and required rotating the Scouts. Without the weight of the can, give gallons of water weighed 40 pounds. Brown said that he and Wesson dug out a pond in order to fill the cans and so they could take a cool dip and get clean., “There wasn’t much else to do up there, and no wonder it earned the Indian name, Mitigwa, ‘Maker of Men’.” Wyburn U.C. Hill was the Pioneer Camp Director.

American Indian Scouts from Sherman Institute (the Indian high school), Arlington, attended Camp Emerson during the 1920’s and 1930’s. C.J. Carlson had been SM of the troop while he was still Chief of Police, Riverside. They made a striking appearance in their native dress in photos by Tahquitz Rock. Their best cross-country runners participated in the 1931 and 1932 Idyllwild-to-San Jacinto Peak-to Idyllwild run, that started and finished at Gray’s Photo Studio. Tom Humphreys, a Hopi Scout, beat Bob Gray by four minutes to win in 3 hours and 12 minutes in 1931. (illus. 7)

Camp Emerson had a radio station in 1932. W6CV6 was owned and manned by Rod Leap and Louis Stevenson, Assistant Scoutmasters, T-13. They used a telegraph key to communicate in Morse code with W6CEN, USNR Armory, in the Riverside County Courthouse. This gave daily contact with Scout Executive John Leecing at headquarters across 10th Street from the courthouse. It proved useful, as there were no telephones available on the hill. For example, a new American flag, ordered by the Camp Director, was delivered to him twelve hours later.

In 1932, another structure was added to the ground of the camp. This building was located southeast of the pool, was constructed of round stones from Strawberry Creek and was built by a group of senior Scouts, at a cost of $250. Referred to as the “Cobblestone”, it was a very small building and originally built as a tool house. By attrition it became the oldest building in the camp. (illus. 14)

Before attending the Fourth International Jamboree at Godollo, Hungary, in 1933, Norman Mellor and Willard Winder, both of T-13, with Fred Bliss and Ryder Woods, Riverside, and Eagle Scout John F. Crane, Elsinore, used the camp as a practice area. While at camp Mellor received his Eagle rank from C.J. Carlson, Scout Executive Region XII. Enroute to the Jamboree they visited the National office of the Boy Scouts in New York and Chief Scout Executive Dr. James E. West (Chief Scout Executive since 1919) reported to the Riverside Daily Press that it was the best unit he had seen. At the Jamboree, as members of T-10, they won first place in the two-week contest in Scouting skills, receiving the Dr. James E. West Jamboree Award. Dr. West had been one of the daily judges, and made the presentation in person.

The RC Council Annual Report for 1934 reflected a summer camp attendance of 178 Scouts at a cost of $6.00 each. This was a light drop in attendance over previous years, due to late effects of the great depression of 1929.

Beginning in 1921, the first 13 PowWows (a combination of competitive individual or patrol Scouting skills from archery to wall scaling) were usually held at Evans Park in Riverside or elsewhere. The 14th was held at Camp Emerson in 1934. This was the first of this type of competition there, but subsequently many were held at camp. T-13, Riverside, won 26 of the first 29 PowWows. It was beaten by T-29, Glen Avon, twice, and by T-51, Indio, led by Henry Sevaly (Eagle Scout and SM T-13, Sm T-51). Richard Sevaly (Eagle Scout and SM T-13) confirmed that T-13 had won the majority that were ever held. The local districts would have elimination contests, and the district winners would compete in the event. By 1975, competitive PowWows had ceased, due to rising criticism against competition between Scouts and to lack of support from the CIE Council. The Council and districts continued to have camporees. (illus. 15)

The rules that governed the conduct of PowWows were as exacting as any in the most modern sports, and showed a competitive game of Scouting skills in the highest traditions of the American Indians and of Baden-Powell. Comparing these with the competitions of the 1990’s is noteworthy:

Before competing in the Council PowWow each district would hold a contest of its own. The winning patrol from each troop in an event would then compete in the show. To emphasize the patrol method, and to develop leadership, only regularly constituted patrols could enter. This eliminated the formation of superspecialty patrols made up of older more advanced Scouts.

The events were taken from the SCOUTMASTER’S HANDBOOK, were timed and were judged:

  1. Knot tying—eight in correct order for Tenderfoot Scouts.
  2. First aid—for Second Class Scouts. Team of three, one the patient.
  3. Signaling—in semiphore, in international Morse code and in Indian sign language.
  4. Wood chopping—6 inch log, one Scout.
  5. Patrol signal tower—eight Scouts form human tower and top man signals.
  6. Fire by friction—two Scouts
  7. Fire by flint and steel—two Scouts.
  8. Wall scaling— 9 foot 6-inch wall with 10 yard run before and after, five Scouts.
  9. Axe throwing—from nine or more feet a 3-inch bulls-eye, 12 inch outer ring.
  10. Archery—Scout round, 30 arrows at 50, 40, and 30 yards.

Clout shoot, 12 arrows at 120 yards.

Indian round, 6 arrows at 30 yards, kneeling, sitting and prone.

During this time period eight district campsites were developed. These consisted of approximately one acre each. As an example, the five troops of Arlington District would camp within one area during summer camp. This campsite was described as, “on a rise just above the swimming pool and but a short distance from the main cook shack…” From this description, a general area could be located.

Prior to 1935, there existed three screened structures near the original kitchen facility. These were used for dining. The meals were prepared inside the kitchen by the two cooks, and a pass-out window was located on the east side of the building for the Scouts to receive their meals. These screened-in structures lasted until the mid-1950’s. In 1944, a cook’s tent with cement floor was added. This general area became known as the Wagon Wheel Campsite with an original logging wagon was moved in. On the side of the original kitchen building a large cooking and barbeque pit was constructed in 1967 under the supervision of Bill Gruber, Temescal District Executive and Camp Director.

Ab Brown was in the contingent of 30 RC Council Scouts bound for the first National Jamboree in Washington, D.C. in 1935. They practiced Scouting skills and camping together at Camp Emerson. This Jamboree, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the BSA, was called off two weeks before it started by special order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt because of an epidemic of poliomyelitis in Virginia. President Roosevelt had been wheelchair-bound since his early 40’s by polio injuries and did not want that tragedy to happen to others. This Jamboree was held in 1938.

During the 1930’s, E.C. Shank, M.D., Vincent’s father, had organized a Boy Scout band with Jackson Ingham, Sr., that played at all Scouting events and at Camp Emerson where the bugling contest between Vincent Shank and Jack Ingham had been held.

The Annual Report for 1935 stated that 416 Scouts enjoyed summer at Camp Emerson. Of these, 96 Scouts were from the Welfare Department of the County. Owen Locke was a Field Executive for RC Council half-time, and worked in the Riverside County Probation Department half-time, and the county paid him a full-time salary. For 1937, the annual report counted a total of 334 Scouts attended long- term summer camp.

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