Home » A Brief History of Camp Emerson » An Incomplete History (1994) » The 1940’s

The 1940’s

The Riverside Daily Press reported in July 1940 that Charles Berry, Chief of the Tribe of Tahquitz lodge and craft director, conducted an impressive fire-lighting ceremony at Herkey Creek Campground County Park with Scouts from Camp Emerson. They also performed skits such as “An operation by Dr. Quack and Dr. I. M. Bloody” and led campfire songs. It stated that Norm Mellor conducted daily nature walks at Camp Emerson at 6 and 8 a.m. as part of the troop naturalist and master troop naturalist programs. It reported that T-1 responded in two and on-half minutes during an emergency drill and that Mrs. Lois Hibbard (who may have been the wife of the 1919 assistant camp cook, Clarence Hibbard) was camp cook.

The dedication of a flagpole on top of San Jacinto Peak, to celebrate the 1937 establishment of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park was held in July 1940 with a two-day horseback ride by 60 riders. Led by Executive Helmick, thirty Scouts of T-13 with Norm Mellor, ASM T-13, represented Camp Emerson and conducted the ceremony for the California State Park Commission with the American and the California State flags. The steel flagpole later disappeared.

During summer camp in 1941, an outbreak of gastroenteritis, caused by contaminated water pumped from Strawberry Creek, led to the drilling of well # 1 (flowing at 12 gallons per minute) near what became the Agnes W. Nelson Gate. This well pumped into a water tank built on a cement platform on the hill north of the pool. That tank had replaced a smaller tank on the same hill, into which stream water previously had been pumped. These were not chlorinated but were checked by the Public Health Department. Eventually Camp Emerson was hooked up to the Idyllwild Water District system. In 1960-1961, the driest year ever recorded in the San Jacintos (8 inches of rain), this well made it possible for the camp to operate after the IWD had turned off its water. In 1993 two cement water tanks (#1 and #2) were completed for that well water, and the pool was filled with it. These tanks could be chlorinated so Camp Emerson had a reliable supply of water for emergencies.

The first forest fire remembered by a Scout occurred in 1929. George White said that he was helping to fill the sand filter for the pool when the Camp Director reported a fire below Mountain Center. A pickup load of Scouts took their shovels down and fought the fire even before the USFS arrived. He believed that they prevented the spread of the fire up West Ridge to Camp Emerson.

The depression-activated Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) opened Camp Idyllwild in Alvin Meadow during 1933, one-half mile below Camp Emerson on Tollgate Road. The military commander was Army Air Corps Major Henry “Hap” Arnold (5-star General of the Army, GG of the Army Airforce, WWII) who was the commander of March Field. Forestry management was accomplished by using the troops instructed by the USFS and CDF. The 200 recruits supplied fire suppresion assurance for Camp Emerson from 1933 to 1937, when the CCC closed. Camp Idyllwild sent a “spike camp” to Round Valley, where it built living quarters, many trails, and also a stone hut on San Jacinto Peak. In 1941 the buildings were knocked down, and part of the lumber was used to make a huge campfire the night before the dedication ceremony of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The stone hut is still used in an emergency by Scouts and hikers.

The safety of Camp Emerson was threatened in August 1941. A wildfire was started at Keenwild in Mountain Center when an angry man threw live coals into his neighbor’s yard. The resulting large forest fire spread principally east by the prevailing afternoon west wind. The western flank of the fire was stopped at Highways 74 and 243. It burned 1500 plus acres. In November 1943, another fire seriously threatened Camp Emerson. It started at Keen Camp and spread west destroying all of the buildings in Mountain Center including Tahquitz Lodge. It burned up the slope and was finally stopped near the south crest of West Ridge just above Camp Emerson. This fire was fought by anti-aircraft soldiers from Camp Hahn near March Field. The back of trees on the ridge between the Strawberry Creek crossing of Highway 74, Mountain Center and Idyllwild showed the destruction of the fire which consumed 8000 plus acres. In World War II there were no aerial tankers and very few firefighters available.

Summer camp attendance continues to increase and the totals were: 1941-286 Scouts; 1942-329 Scouts.

In 1943, Norman H. Mellor M.D. was the camp doctor and nature counselor, while awaiting his call to military service in WWII (which did arrive). In addition to he nature merit badge he created two patches that could be earned as part of the nature program at the camp. These were called the Troop Naturalist and Master Troop Naturalist. In some troops, every Scout earned one or the other but none of these patches still exist.

Camp Emerson was not excluded from the fear and apprehension that the war had brought to the country. The threat of Japanese aircraft throwing inflammable papers over the forest was a major concern. The Civil Defense Wardens in Idyllwild directed the camp staff to establish a plan for covering any exterior lighting in the event of an alert. The concern was that the light might be visible from the air and provide a guiding light to aircraft. The camp staff included Bill Kenny, Assistant Scout Executive Bob Fitzpatrick and Hank Roselle (Eagle Scout, SM T-112, RC Council Field Executive, Silver Beaver 1960) as Camp Director. It was decided that the Tahquitz Peak Ranger Station would be monitored, and if a blinking light was observed on the peak, all lights in the camp would be extinguished or covered.

During one evening program, a blinking light was observed on Tahquitz Peak. The wardens came into camp and the campfire was extinguished, but the glowing coals were deemed unsatisfactory. After the wardens left, it was found that the blinking light was a star in direct line with the ranger station. Jim Fairchild remembered that the following night, despite the fact that they had renewed the fire permit daily, a USFS Ranger came into camp and flooded the firebowl with water. When full, the ranger was looking into it with a flashlight. Roselle asked what he was looking for and the answer, “embers”, drew laughter from the assembled Scouts. Fairchild said that he and two others roped the rear axle of the ranger’s truck to a pine tree while the ranger was searching the meadow for embers. Later a phone monitor was established with the USFS to answer all calls and to act promptly, but no real alerts occurred.

In 1948, the council acquired another approximately 15.5 acres from the Idyllwild All Year Resort for the price of $3,550. This added to the north and to the east boundaries of the camp (map # 3)

More creativity was in evidence with the “Camp Emerson Hymn”. This great piece of lore was written by F.A. Winter on June 27, 1945.

=Camp Emerson Hymn=

(Tune: “America the Beautiful”)

(1.) ‘Neath the skies of blue, mid pine trees given,

Nor far from rugged peaks, where friendships born live on serene,

Where nature’s grandeur speaks far from the din of cities strife,

We gather to commune, to lay aside the cares of life,

To God our souls attune.


Camp Emerson, Camp Emerson, the thought of thee brings joy,

In unison, in unison our voices we employ

To sing thy praise, to sing thy name,

Oh, glorious are thy summer days, we thus our thanks acclaim.

(2.) Here men and boys meet on a plain in nature’s mighty school

Rich fundamentals to attain of ageless changless rule.

Here bounteous lies earth’s treasure trove,

In perfect harmony, nature divine, beauty sublime, and pure



In that same year, F.A. Winter, ASM T-2 Riverside, also wrote the Indian Legend of Tee Lee Wah and The Fair Moon Tah, a four-page poem.

Prior to 1946, the camp entrance was located on the south along what became Canyon Drive. After negotiations, the Council obtained an easement through the golf course along the southwest boundary of the camp. This was improved by the construction in 1962 of a gateway with funds donated by Mrs. Earl Tweddle, and was named the Tweddle Gateway (formerly known as the Camp Emerson Family Entrance). It was dedicated to Earl C. Tweddle (SM T-16, RC Council Commissioner, Silver Beaver 1944), and his son, Harold. Harold was a Scout, who entered the US Army Air Corps during World War II, and was killed in an aircraft-training exercise near Redrock Field, AZ, in April 1944 (illus. 20)

Then in 1949, the adjacent property (the meadow of El Ranch Rayford), formerly part of the Idyllwild Golf Course, was sub-divided, closing the easement to the Tweddle Gateway. The original easement exiting to McKinney Lane off of Canyon Drive was reopened. More property was needed, so that same year the Riverside County Council purchased three lots of the subdivision along the other side of the camp, on the east boundary, at a price of $2,500. (Part of this purchase had been the fifth hold of the nine-hole golf course.) As of 1994 that was the main entrance with the Agnes W. Nelson Gate and parking lot for the camp. (map # 4)

Another permanent structure was the Baden-Powell Lodge built in 1946 by the Riverside District of the Riverside County Council. In the true spirit of Scouting a troop of black Scouts, T-20, and a troop of white Scouts T-2, of Riverside, had cooperated for years in camping, training and hiking. They also worked together to put the roof on Baden-Powell Lodge under the direction of J.P. Harvey (SM, T-20) and of Walt Klock and Ray McClellant (ASMs, T-2), the leaders of both troops. Constructed with the principal financial assistance of Moe H. Lerner, it was built just north of Strawberry Creek and south of the flagpole in the Simonds Fat Campsite. The latter was named for Dr. Paul Simonds (SM T-13, Riverside, 1921 to 1949, Silver Beaver 1937). In 1946 a two-week stay at camp was offered for the complete price of $10.00 per Scout. (illus 21)

For several years beginning in 1926 and continuing into the late 1940’s, a camp bulletin was published outlining the different activities at the camp and the Scouts who had participated. “The World’s Smallest Daily” started as a daily paper, and then became a weekly endeavor by Scouts who were present at camp. This paper was named the Emery Wheel, but the significance of the name was unknown.

Newspapers or bulletins were published by several troops over the years. Chet Snell (Eagle Scout, SM T-2 for 25 years, Vigil Honor OA, Silver Beaver 1969) edited The Troop-2-Tooter, Vol.3 # 15, 1954. It contained four pages of detailed information, advice, rules and customs of Camp Emerson at T-2. Although he had left nothing to chance (his widow Carolyn Snell said that was his engineering coming out), his “Snellitorial” did contain the softening sentence, “Camp Emerson is a pack of fun if ….”

With the continued demands on the camp, there arose a need for the construction of another campfire bowl. A site was selected north of Simonds Flat in close proximity to Beartrap Creek. The construction of Bearclaw Bowl was started in 1948 as a Tahquitz Lodge OA Ordeal project, and completed in 1949. The general location was just to the south of the site of a huge deafall beartrap for Grizzly Bears, that was used during the 1870’s and 1880’s. In 1954, the bowl was renamed the Mekyswi Bowl to show respect to a local family of Indian descent. This Cahuilla word for amphitheater or bowl was never used. During the 1980’s the OA appropriately changed the name to Beartrap Bowl. (illus. 25)

Notable in 1948 was the construction of William D. Boyce Lodge, named after the man who brought Scouting to the United States. Mrs. William Boyce, widow of Mr. Boyce, who resided in the Palm Springs area, approved of the project although unable to attend its dedication, but their daughter, Happy Boyce Parker, did and helped to place a bronze plaque on the fireplace. The southwest entrance from Estate Drive to the main parking lot was also improved with the addition of the Agnes W. Nelson Memorial Gate on November 16, 1948. This was contributed by D.G. Nelson, D.D.S. (Temescal District Chairman, Camp Emerson Committee Chairman, Silver Beaver 1943) of Corona, in memory of his wife. (illus. 23 & 24)

The number of Scouts using the camp continued to grow, and the competitive PowWows were held regularly in the fall.

Summer Camp: 1949: 276 Scouts 1950: 303 Scouts 1951: 408 Scouts

PowWows: 1948: 350 Scouts 1949: 300 Scouts 1950: 450 Scouts

1951: 450 Scouts. This latter was the 30th competitive PowWow and

T-13 had won first place in 27 of them.

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