Oklahoma Boy Scout Explorers reunite in New Mexico
MIAMI, Okla. (AP) — It was 50 years ago a group of nine teenage Miami Boy Scout Explorers set out on a 12-day test of endurance at the Philmont Scout Ranch and Explorer Base near Cimarron, New Mexico.
Six of those Scouts, now in their sixties, including David Price of Miami, Oklahoma, met back up at Philmont this summer to reminisce and share stories about their time together there.
Price was 16 years old when he was part of the Philmont’s Expedition No. 1968-722-L along with, Andy Stackable now of Dallas; Rob Bartlett, now of Houston, Texas; the late J. Robb Bartlett Sr., the Scouts’ Post Advisor; Bob Fansler, now of Grove; Kurtis Francis, now of Salt Lake, Utah; David Collins, now of Tahlequah; the late Mac Payne; Jack Wimer of Grove and Mark Swanson of Broken Arrow.
The nine Boy Scout Explorers and two advisers of the Cherokee Council of Oklahoma left Miami together in the early dawn hours of July 21, 1968, in a Dodge van on a 10-hour drive to set out on their 12-day summer adventure.
The Boy Scout senior level Explorers met regularly at the First Methodist Church in Miami for their meetings.
“You have Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, then Explorer Scouts, typically this would be 16 to 17 year-olds, or high school age,” Price told The Miami News-Record .
Three of the Miami Scouts were also Eagle Scouts at the time of the trip.
Price’s family was heavily involved in scouting.
“My dad, Kenneth L. Price was an Eagle Scout, my older brother, Ronald L. Price was an Eagle Scout and I was an Eagle Scout,” Price said. “Scouting was an important part of my life, it really was. I had the history of my family and it gave you an opportunity to do all sorts of things.”
Price enjoyed the challenge of earning merit badges to rise through the levels of scouting and he appreciates the skills and values he learned in Boy Scouts.
Price credits Post Advisor J. Robb Bartlett, as the reason the Explorers were able to go on the expedition to Philmont. The Scouts fundraised $1,000 to cover the cost of the trip under his leadership.
“He had been there before, and he is the reason we went. Without him it wouldn’t have happened,” Price said.
After a wildfire in 2018 the ranch was closed for a time to expeditions. The Miami Explorers trip was to the base camp after the fires were out.
While at Philmont the Explorer Scouts camped, hiked, and participated in programs featuring geology, earth science, gold panning and mining, archaeological study and mountaineering, according to a 1968 article in the Miami News-Record
“Multiple expeditions would leave on one day. Our expedition was No. 722-L, L is the 12th letter of the alphabet and we were the 12th group leaving that day,” Price said.
“It’s funny we were all smiling here,” he said pointing to an old photograph of the Miami Explorers before they set out on their trek from a scrapbook kept of their adventure. “When we left there, there wasn’t any smiles, because it’d been arduous. We hiked 50 miles over that time period and this is mountainous, rocky terrain, and the air is really thin, especially when we went to the top of Mount Baldy. You were huffing and puffing to get to 12,441 feet at the summit.”
Each of the young Scouts carried heavy backpacks which they dropped before making the final ascent at the edge of the tree line where nothing grows on the steep mountain’s top, according to Price.
“To stand at the top of that and look around and see the panorama, it was pretty big,” he said.
Price said he had traveled as a child with his parents to California but had never been so high on a mountain before or on such an adventure.
“They have a monsoon season in New Mexico believe it or not. And we went out in that, our first day out we were in a torrent of water up to our knees the whole time, so we weren’t smiling when we came out of there. It tests you,” Price said. “It was arduous terrain, when your feet were wet and you couldn’t dry out. We slept on the ground in pup tents and we had dehydrated food we carried in. When you get up in these elevations fires don’t want to burn, they burn blue and they won’t light.”
Although it was a challenging trip, Price cherishes the memories.
“It was a great opportunity to go, this is a finite group that put out the effort with the adviser and all the fundraising and had seen to it that you could go because not everybody gets to do it,” he said.
One of the 1968 Explorer Scouts, Wimer, went to a lot of effort to organize the group’s 2018 reunion and put together an updated version of a sign the Scouts are shown with in a 1968 photo, according to Price.
The six returning Scouts replicated the photo using the new sign on the return trip in July in the same location.
“That was a big deal for us. None of us forgot that 722-L,” Price said.
“Wimer said ‘Why don’t we all get together.’ Out of then nine, six of made the trip back,” Price said. “We’ve all gotten older. I never envisioned I’d go back, and here we were, we made it back.”
This was the first time most of the men had seen each other in years and Price said he did not want to miss the opportunity.
“We recounted memories of our adventures some good, some bad,” he said.
Now 66 years old, Price said the reunion was a great opportunity to see the Philmont Ranch again as well.
The boys, now men, toured the Philmont together where they had spent time together as teenagers.
“They’ve changed it a lot it’s nicer and newer,” Price said. “We got together and a couple of us brought memorabilia, and we had a meal together one night, and a couple of get-togethers.”
The Philmont, a 35,857-acre ranch, was donated to the Boy Scouts by Oklahoma businessman and oil tycoon Waite Phillips in 1938. An additional 10,000 acres was purchased in 1963, which included Baldy Mountain.
“Waite Phillips built a palatial New Mexico style mansion that still exists, and that was sort of his retreat to go to,” Price said. “He donated it all in 1938 and they stated letting Scouts in 1939.”
Over the course of many years, Philmont has been a famous stop on the Santa Fe Trail, the home of Jicarilla Apache and Moache Ute Indians, a prospecting community and a working cattle ranch and later the site of one of the first pioneer settlements in northeastern New Mexico.
Phillips established the Philmont Ranch, which became a showplace. Immense herds of Hereford cows and Corriedale sheep grazed its pastures. Phillips built a large Spanish Mediterranean home for his family at the headquarters and named it the Villa Philmonte. He developed horse and hiking trails throughout the scenic backcountry, along with elaborate fishing and hunting cabins for his family and friends.
According to the Philmont’s website, Phillips believed in sharing his wealth with people outside his family. In this spirit, he offered 35,857 acres of his ranch to the Boy Scouts of America in 1938 to serve as a national wilderness camping area.
Phillips was quoted in newspapers after making the donation, saying: “That ranch represents an ideal of my youth ... and has meant a lot to my son and his pals. Now I want to make it available to other boys. ... I’d be selfish to hold it for my individual use.”
Since then more than 1 million Scouts and leaders have experienced such adventures at the Philmont Scout Ranch.
Price worked for BF Goodrich in data processing and after the plant’s closure, he worked in Tulsa in the same field and now is a musician and was a caregiver for his parents.
“Scouting taught me things, how to tie knots, how to be self-reliant, I remember making fire with flint and steel. Scouting broadens your horizons,” Price said.
Information from: The Miami News-Record, http://www.miaminewsrecord.com