Dr. David Aborn, 2023 President of Chattanooga Audubon Society, Interviews on Stronger Together-WTCI
Written by Robert Sparks Walker at age 28 for the Chattanooga Sunday Times.
July 11, 1920
Thousands of years ago when the old earth was adjusting her surface she found in hunching her side too much matter at a certain spot, and to make her internal self more comfortable and more uniform a part of her body bulged up like the wrinkle of a soft garment. Nature then set to work and pulverized her stony self by the use of water and heat and cold. This huge hump in nature was then ready for forestation, and vegetable growth has been progressing ever since. For centuries a portion of this wonderful wrinkle has been gazing across Moccasin Bend in the direction of Chattanooga and Missionary ridge. Although only a few miles in a direct air route westward from Chattanooga, to reach the eastern base of Raccoon mountain one must travel eight miles by auto, or many miles more if he chooses to go by water. People who have eyes to see and use them observe that this huge elevation known as Raccoon mountain contains a depression known as Pan Gap. Across this gap wild beast first laid out a trail, and with the coming of the Indians they seized the animal trail, and the white man later wrested it from the red man. This old mountain trail once led to a gigantic pan carved out in the bend of the Tennessee river, but since the construction of the lock and dam below the waters have successfully obliterated it.
• • •
As our auto deposits us at the eastern base of Raccoon mountain we find this small trail awaiting us, and we accept its offer of hospitality and guidance. As our moving feet turn the stones that the feet of lesser animals have turned for ages, old sentinels of the forest stand to either side to greet us and shade us from the hot rays of the summer afternoon’s sun. Oaks, sourwoods, persimmons, maples, sourgums, sweet gums, hickories and various other denizens of this rocky mountainside long ago met together here and formed an ideal brotherhood, and it is their company that we are now permitted to enjoy, which smaller children cover the space beneath and nod their fragrant faces as we caress them with our garments. Up and up across the rocky ravines our faithful mountain path leads ups, and as we pause to rest our bodies the white blossoms of a host of American ipecac tempt us, and we are not satisfied until we have plucked a handful. We have scarcely gathered our choice until a yellow daisy-looking flower, with tall, square steam [sic], bearing six greenish leaves, arranged in whorls reminding us of the churn dashers of by-gone days, give us such a welcome that we cannot fail to add some to our collection. So we add a few of the coreopsis major and proceed on our journey. On either side of our path the trailing arbutus, pussy toes and wild honeysuckles have added their floral efforts to the history of the wayside—for it is the month of June.
The cool atmosphere, the land of real fairies and the stones lying within our path too gentle to move out of our way make us oblivious to the steepness of any part of our trail. Ants and beetles hurry across our trail, reminding us of the Saturday evenings of olden days when everybody on the farm was preparing for a day of rest. Here and there timid lizards go scurrying out of sight, and some who have not been trained in the manners of their arthropod brothers peep cunningly around a tree to see if we really deserve the name of being called and civilized people. The gentle brown toads hop across our path, for in Raccoon mountain they are lords of the day as well as the night. On our right and left the ants are busily engaged in pasturing their ant cows—the aphides—on the green foliage of weed and shrub. We pause long enough to watch them strike the aphides honey ducts, which brings a flow of honey dew within reach of their mouths. Under the green wings which nature has prepared for us, and it is tastily decorated with her best patterns of lichens. As we sit for a moment nature takes advantage of the opportunity and directs our attention to some of her other children living in Raccoon mountain, of which she is justly proud.
Scarcely have we rested until a yellow-breasted chat—that amusing clown of the bird kingdom—so successfully imitates a jay that in our imagination we can see the bluish creature not far away. But in the denoeument [sic] of its song the next note is a shrill whistle and the successive blasts echo across the mountain. In its season this bird is the master choir leader of Raccoon mountain. The indigo bunting holds the yellow-breasted chat in high esteem for its mimickry [sic] of song, and the curious and comic antics cut in mid-air by the chat seems to inspire the bunting and challenge it to music. From the highest branch of the tree-top the indigo bunting follows the chat and unwinds a repetition of the song, reminding the nature-lover of a plant whose flowers grow in terminal spikes.
• • •
On down the slope we move and behold a brook that is chattering and fussing with the stones about something, and as we advance, behold, we see signs of Camp Raccoon—for directly before us some kind and thoughtful persons have gone before and left behind a rustic pioneer bridge made without a nail. As we tread over the chattering stream we think our thanks and bless the name of the Boy Scouts, who have consoled us by a message written in stone, "This is the trail." And these stones that lie at our feet, and larger ones that bask in the shade and sunshine above us, have declarations written in round white pebbles that this place we call Raccoon mountain was once the bottom of the sea.
It takes nature ten thousand years to build one inch of soil, and she has for ages been placing mite by mite and little by little in preparing Raccoon mountain a fit place for both man and beast.
• • •
Before us straight ahead we see the wonderful royal can[y]on of the Tennessee, while to our left stands a cliff that keeps guard over the Tennessee, and to the east a green peak covered with pines and oaks and blooming flowers.
High up on the east side of our right above the infant ravine, are two bubbling springs too secure for a typhoid, or any other dangerous germ, to gain entrance. When one tries to adequately describe these springs and their surrounding beauty, words and sentences flee.
• • •
Such is the site of Camp Raccoon—the boys’ training school of Chattanooga— containing some 300 acres belonging to the Chattanooga council of the Boy Scouts of America. It is where your boy has and will enjoy the thrill of outdoor life and training so necessary for his physical, mental and spiritual development.
On the table to the left stand the mess hall for the Scouts, the campfire cabin, where ghosts walk in the stillness of the night after the storytelling is over, and the many tents where boys live the long-cherished lives of primitive man. Just below the infant cascade that divides the two tables, the little stream has been dammed and here is the cool artificial lake, and it is here that your boy is tought [sic] by Camp Director Will Redd the art of swimming before he is permitted to go to the swimming hold in the Tennessee river below. It is here that the boys just before breakfast are permitted to take a cool plunge which puts the pep underneath their skins for the day. Up the hill to the right stands the cabin of Camp Warden Daddy Brooks, who is always on the job twelve months in the year, looking after the property, and in camping season giving advice and hints to the boys as to the things to heed that their sojourn in the mountain may be a success. Further up we follow the trail and if we carry a pail of water, our patch leads us on top of the table, where is situated the officers’ camp—the cozy cottages of Scout Executive Roy Bachman and the director of camp activities, Geo. A. Gay. The view from the officers’ headquarters is wonderful, and few scenes in America can excel it, because you look squarely into the face of the royal canyon of the Tennessee river. Words become as elusive as a family of young quail and as slippery as an eel in the hand when the mind tries to capture words in the English language to adequately describe the natural beauties of Camp Raccoon and its wonderful surroundings. At no place in America has nature provided a more ideal site for a Boy Scout camp than she has here. The rocks, the waters, the trees, the flowers, the insects and the stars—all of nature’s children—are here in one happy colony to lead the boy into study that can only influence him to become the highest type of an American citizen.
• • •
I have never found a more attentive crowd and the boy stake their work seriously, which means that these lessons leave an indelible stamp upon their characters. On a single practical nature hike taken at 5 o’clock in the morning through the mountains, I never found a single boy but what returned to camp with his full number of birds, shrubs, blooming flowers or trees identified and with knowledge and observation that enabled him to sufficiently describe them on examination. No one can stand by and observe the deep sincerity that prevails in camp at the flag exercises without coming away feeling inspired and impressed by the [boys’] deep reverence for their country’s flag.
The director of camp activities each morning inspects the patrol for cleanliness, etc., and they are graded accordingly. At the conclusion of the inspection the patrol which has made the best grade is presented with a first trophy—the skeleton of a horsehead. There is always a keen contest for this trophy which when won is prominently suspended with pride over the tent of the winners. But woe unto the patrol which makes the lowest grade—for theirs is the booby trophy which is also a skeleton of a horsehead with that part of the skull missing which protected the brains! I think these unique trophies are original with Camp Raccoon. A more orderly crowd of boys I have never observed anywhere. Order is the camp’s first law.
Sent to us by Ramsey Norris.