William Dickson Boyce

William Dickson Boyce In late October of 1909, a Chicago publisher who resided in Ottawa, Illinois, was on a business trip in London, England. Standing on a corner in a dense fog, utterly lost, he was approached by a young boy who inquired, “Sir, may I be of assistance.” Upon explaining his dilemma, the boy volunteered to show Mr. Boyce the way. When they arrived, Boyce reached into his pocket for a shilling to tip the boy. The youth refused, saying, “No thank you, sir, I’m a scout and this is my good turn for the day.” Boyce, up to that point, had never heard of a scout; but, he was intrigued with the concept. He asked the boy to wait for him so that he could learn more about “Scouts”. This Scout, whose name was never recorded, became known internationally as “The Unknown Scout”.Β  This gesture by an unknown Scout inspired a meeting with Robert Baden-Powell, the British founder of the Boy Scouts. As a result, William D. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. He also created the Lone Scouts, which merged with the Boy Scouts of America in 1924.

Subsequent conversation revealed that scouting had actually begun in England in 1907 by Lord Robert Baden Powell. Meeting with Baden-Powell, Boyce gathered up all the literature he could find on scouting and read it on the voyage home to America. He decided that this was something boys in America should have, and so, to that end, on February 8, 1910, Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. Unable to get the fledgling organization up and running, in May of 1910 he was approached by Edgar Robinson of the YMCA. Together, the two decided that the organization and idea behind it should go forward, but they both admitted they lacked the expertise to carry the project to its conclusion. They brought into their group of organizers two more men: (1) Ernest Thompson Seton, a Canadian naturalist who was running a program in Connecticut for boys that he called the Woodcraft Indians; and, (2) Dan Carter Beard (“Uncle Dan”), who was running a program for boys called the Sons of Daniel Boone. These four men actually got the organization up and running. Seton was appointed the first Chief Scout, and Uncle Dan became the first Scout Commissioner. W. D. Boyce then made a pledge of $1,000.00 per month (no small sum in the year 1910!) for a period of two years to help the organization get started. These funds made it possible for the Boy Scouts of America to actually establish the basis under which it still operates today.

James E. West was hired Chief Scout Executive. West and Mr. Boyce had abrasive personalities and Boyce withdrew his presence from the organization. Although Boyce kept an eye on the progress of the organization, he no longer took an active role at this point.

W. D. Boyce, still concerned with the youth in America, turned his attention to boys in a rural setting, who were unable to attend troop meetings (remember, this is 1910-1911, there weren’t a lot of automobiles like there are today). Correspondence with Baden-Powell yielded information about Powell’s Lone Scout program, designed for just such a scenario. In 1912, W. D. Boyce incorporated the Lone Scouts of America and operated that program successfully through his publishing firm for a number of years. Boyce eventually merged the Lone Scouts with BSA in 1924, bringing 45,000 boys into the BSA program.

The third Silver Buffalo award, the most coveted honor which can be awarded to Scouters, was presented to W. D. Boyce (the first went to Baden-Powell, and the second to the Unknown Scout who assisted Boyce), with the following citation:

“William D. Boyce, publisher and incorporator of the Boy Scouts of America, who materially helped to finance the movement after turning it over to the present organization. Through his perception and appreciation of the ability of Scouting to imbue the boyhood of the Nation with the spirit, courage, gentleness, good manners and responsible citizenship, the movement was brought to America and organized on behalf of the boyhood of this country.”

In 1941, a memorial statue to honor the Founder of Scouting was erected near Boyce’s gravesite in Ottawa Avenue Cemetery. The statue, a copy of one standing in front of the Boy Scout Building in Philadelphia at that time, was designed by R. Tait McKenzie and authorized by the Boy Scouts of America. On June 21, 1941, a special dedication ceremony was held at the cemetery as part of the Thirtieth Anniversary of Scouting. The bronze statue, which sits on a granite base, was made possible by the contributions of Ottawa Scouts and thousands of Scouters all over America, former Scouts and adults who were active in Scouting at that time, who gave small sums for the memorial. With the placement of this statue, which I (editor) like to think represents the Unknown Scout, near Boyce’s final resting place, and that symbolically they are now forever together – the man and the boy who helped to start an American movement that has taught millions of boys to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

(NOTE: Reference to the Silver Buffalo information and the quote above are from a commemorative postcard issued June 21, 1941 at the dedication ceremony of the W. D. Boyce Memorial Statue in Ottawa Avenue Cemetery.)