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Early Girl Scouts of the Black Hills

Girl Scout
Images Courtesy: Deadwood History, Inc., Adams Museum Collection

In 1912, the Progressive Era was in full swing. Women were becoming more active outside of the home and participating in political movements such as women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. It was during this time of change that Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Georgia, founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. Earlier that year, Juliette met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. This meeting inspired her to create an organization for girls that would help develop their leadership skills. Juliette founded the first Girl Scout troop with 18 girls and relatively quickly, Girl Scout Troops formed across the United States.[i]

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Jeanette Shostrom, 1943.

Deadwood History, Inc. has many items in its collections that tell the fascinating story of Girl Scouts in the Black Hills. The majority of the materials and artifacts relating to Girl Scouts are in a collection donated by Mary Zantow Bobier who was a lifelong Girl Scout and historian of the Black Hills Girl Scouts. She joined the Girl Scouts as a leader in 1960 and went on to serve as a member of the Black Hills Girl Scouts board. She amassed a collection of uniforms, books, and other memorabilia as well as research she conducted on troops in the Black Hills, all of which is now in the Adams Museum Collection.

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Mary Zantow Bobier giving Francis Bedsaul the God and Country Award.

Girl Scouting reached Lead, South Dakota, in 1917, just four years after the organization was born. Gail Markle directed this early troop. She was married to Dr. I.J. Markle, a doctor at the Homestake Hospital. Louise Curran and Evalyn Ewald also led troops formed in 1917 and 1924, respectively. These early Girl Scouts in Lead participated in activities familiar to today’s Girl Scouts. The Lead Daily Call reported on July 3, 1917, that Markle took her troop for an outing in Spearfish Canyon where they spent a night at the Yates Cabin. The troop also went on hikes and cooked over an open fire.[ii]

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Early unofficial Girl Scout camping uniform worn by Louise Curran.

Another activity the early troops participated in was fundraising. The Lead Daily Call reported on February 14, 1919 that the Girl Scouts would be holding a food and candy sale. The goods being sold included bread, jellies, cookies, and pickles.[iii] Evalyn Ewald of Lead wrote a letter to Mary Zantow Bobier dated February 24, 1973 in which she described how her troop conducted its cookie sales:

“before [cookie sales] became a national project, it was suggested in the Leader’s magazine, that cookie sales were good money makers. We worked out quite a system. We purchased flour (100 lb. sacks) – sugar – etc. at the old Hearst store – at wholesale price. Then Friday P.M.s we mixed the batter at the Scout House – packed good sized batches in covered pails and the girls took them home to bake – Sat. a.m.”

The girls then sold the cookies by the dozen.

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Undated instructions on how to sell cookies. Image Courtesy: Deadwood History, Inc., Yuill/Sundstrom Collection.

Girl Scouting started in Deadwood a bit later than in Lead. Rose D. Gorder organized the first troop in Deadwood in 1925 with ten members. Much like the troops in Lead, the Deadwood troop participated in many outdoor activities like studying the stars, birds, and plants; how to build a fire and how to cook over a campfire.[iv]

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1930s Deadwood #1 uniform worn by Gladys Sellers.

Another important part of Girl Scouting was community service. Rose Gorder told Tammi Oliver in an undated interview that the girls volunteered at hospitals and collected scrap metal during the World Wars. After World War II, the Girl Scouts began a flannel bag program where they made bags out of flannel and stuffed them with crayons, books, and toys for children in Europe who were recovering from the devastations of war.

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Jeanette Shostrom and Patty Lavier in front of the Montgomery Ward Store in Deadwood, 1942.

Scouting in the Black Hills grew rapidly through the 1920s and 1930s and in 1935, the Black Hills Girl Scout Council formed. That same year, a rally was held in Lead for the various Black Hills troops; 300 girl scouts and leaders attended.

In 1939, the Black Hills Girl Scout Council created a permanent camp for area Girl Scouts. The council formed a committee composed of women from Lead, Deadwood, Rapid City, Belle Fourche, and Spearfish to make this dream a reality.

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Camp Committee members pictured in 1941 from left to right: Mrs. James O’Hara, Deadwood; Mrs. Web Hill, Rapid City; Agnes McVey, Custer; Mrs. Harlan Walker, Lead; Eleanor Snyder, Belle Fourche; Mrs. R.T. Remschel, Spearfish; Mrs. Walter Vaughn, Spearfish.

In 1939, the committee entered into an agreement with the Homestake Mining Company to purchase 205 acres four miles southeast of Roubaix for $300.

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Letter from lawyers Kellar and Kellar to William Letson regarding the sale of land to the Black Hills Girl Scout Council.

After this initial purchase, the Black Hills Girl Scout Council asked the cities of Custer, Belle Fourche, Deadwood, Lead, Rapid City, and Spearfish to contribute money for cabins and other supplies needed for the camp.[v] In July 1941, the camp opened with a swimming pool, shower room, dining room, and cabins purchased from a logging camp in Nemo. Eighty-nine girls attended that first week of camp.[vi] A total of 363 girls attended camp that summer.[vii]

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Mineral Survey No. 1730 of the Girl Scout camp.

The camp received its official name in 1944. The Deadwood Pioneer-Times reported on August 16, 1944 that after three weeks of camping at the Girl Scout camp, the girls officially named the camp “Paha Sapa.”

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Undated postcard from Camp Paha Sapa.

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Undated postcard from Camp Paha Sapa.

The number of Girl Scouts in the Black Hills continued to grow and by the 1970s Lead had nine active Girl Scout and Brownie troops and Deadwood had five. The Girl Scouts continue to be active today in Black Hills communities teaching girls the values that Juliette Low held so dear: courage, confidence, and character.

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Mrs. Don Delicate teaching Wendy Paana, Linda Ross, and Jill Ulmer how people in other cultures greet one another as part of the World Neighbor badge.

[i] “Juliette Gordon Low,” Girl Scouts, accessed March 28, 2018.

[ii] “Girl Scouts will Feast,” Lead Daily Call, May 16, 1918.

[iii] “Worthy of Thought,” Lead Daily Call, February 14, 1919.

[iv] Gorder, Rose, interview by Tammie Oliver, undated, ARC.2008.118.114, Adams Museum Collection.

[v] “Drive for Permanent Black Hills Girl Scout Camp now Under Way” Weekly Pioneer-Times, February 22, 1940.

[vi] “89 Are Enrolled At the Girl Scout Camp,” Deadwood Pioneer-Times, July 15, 1941.

[vii] Sorenson, Sally, “History of Camp Pahasapa,” Pahasapa Post, June 22-July 3, 1964.