1953 – Gunshot in the Forest

“Dwight, you’re the patrol leader, just tell us what food to bring or we’ll each have to bring and prepare our own.” Not so gently urging Dwight to take charge. Dwight responded, “I don’t know what you guys want to eat and it’s too much trouble to group-cook, so everybody bring and cook your own food, be here on time, we leave at 3:30 sharp and no complaining!” And thus our Eagle Patrol camping trip was hastily planned for a Friday afternoon after school, in a day and age when thirteen year old boys frequently went camping without an adult, on the edge of a small South Arkansas county seat town, with absolutely nothing better to do. Plus we got scout credit for each camping trip!

It was a disorderly and enthusiastic gang of boys gathering in the church parking lot that hot, muggy, 1953, Friday afternoon, some with overflowing packs and others neatly organized like the scout manual taught, joking, kidding and wondering what adventure would happen this time. Last trip, to a different location, we had gone skinny dipping in the creek and then later killed a water moccasin along the same creek. This new location had been checked out by our scout leaders, only a three or four mile hike out of town, with plenty of pine trees, a creek for water, and the property owner knew we were coming.

We took off with passion, not noticing the weight of our packs, nor seeing another soul, nor having a worry in the world, scuttling along the rural highway that headed to Louisiana, though we didn’t go that far. As we hike, there’s a freshness in the air, an aroma of pine needles, a love of the great outdoors which meant more to us than the scout skills we were learning. Soon we were walking off the road into a pine forest not unlike many other campsites in the past. We were a mile or two off the road and maybe that far from any house when we stopped, gathered pine needles for a soft floor under each pup tent, since sleeping comfortable is important too!

Some of us shared campfires as we prepared everything from canned stew or Spam to the traditional aluminum foil-wrapped potatoes, carrots, and ground beef. Mom had taught me a lot about cooking at home, but it was on these camping trips that I really learned independent cooking, taking responsibility for myself. The night was invigorating, a smell of smoke, cooler air, the sun setting, an orange glow peeking through the trees, birds and crickets singing, and gentle breezes waving the tree branches. The nearby stream water was clean, made more so by our boiling or dropping those foul-tasting little tablets in it, and made more adventurous by drinking it from an old Army Surplus canteen. I loved these trips to the forests, my substitute for sports, my nature fix, my adventure, and I saw the scouting skills as stepping stones to a future success in life.

As stars twinkled above those tall loblolly pines we began the obligatory campfire, mostly stories, jokes, or anything fun. A new kid would be taken on a snipe hunt, but this time it was my favorite, telling stories round-robin style. That is where one boy starts a story and the next continues it around the circle, unbelievable tales, pink monsters, dangerous adventures, sex, heroics and lots of silliness. Even though we felt privileged to stay up late without adults around, we were tired and all in bed by 11:00 PM.

As soon as the sunrise painted the sky pinks and purples, one noisy boy was up, then the rest soon followed, some eating a bowl of cereal but most the customary bacon and eggs cooked on a campfire in our little mess kits. We were cleaning up our breakfast utensils at the creek when two boys we knew from school, Bill and James, walked through our campsite, carrying their twenty-two rifles, proud young hunters off to maybe shoot a rabbit or squirrel, while talking of deer. We chatted briefly, then they moved on into the forest on their manly quest.

It seemed like just minutes later when James came running back into camp shouting, “Bill’s been shot! Please come help us!” Nothing gets the adrenalin flowing in a Boy Scout more than a genuine need our scout skills can help. We grabbed our first aid kit, a blanket, twine and axe in case we needed to make a stretcher for the wounded. As we quickly got ready to rush out, James explained frightfully that when they needed to cross the creek, Bill didn’t want to risk dropping his twenty-two in it, so he tossed it across the creek, the rifle butt hitting the ground, causing the gun to fire back across the creek at him, being shot by his own rifle, fortunately in one of his buttocks. We all grimaced, realizing it could have been much worse or even deadly.

As we circled around Bill he immediately said, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t think it would fire. I feel so stupid! And my leg won’t move. I can’t get up.” He was scared! I took charge of the First Aid kit and poured some iodine on his wound, both sides of it, since the bullet went all the way through his right buttock. Of course it burned, but we had been taught to avoid infection at all costs, several of us having earned our first aid merit
badges. We then put bandages over both holes, though there was surprisingly very little blood, and we gave him aspirin for his pain. It was in that moment that a thousand things ran through my mind including the great value of all those Scout Skills we had been learning.

Bill continued grumbling about how much it hurt and that he could not get up or walk. Some of the other guys were already crafting a stretcher out of two slender trees, the blanket, and twine we had brought. As this was being done one boy explained that he knew the closest house, a different direction from how we came in, and volunteered to run there to call an ambulance if we would head that way. Another went with him. Two of us stayed back to guard our camp and the rest helped carry the sobbing Bill very slowly toward the house.

Because of our slowness in carrying him, the ambulance arrived at the house about the same time as us, Bill surviving just fine of course, and hopefully learning an important lesson about guns. We were all thrilled to see the little short article in the El Dorado Daily News the following Monday about a local gun accident and the heroic rescue by Troop 29 Eagle Patrol, proving to us one more value of being a Boy Scout!