Truth Against Tradition: The Origins and Meanings of the Indian Motif in The Boy Scouts of America

"Playing Indian" has been a part of American culture since before America was an independent nation. Youth and adult organizations have historically used Indian motifs as advertisements for their organizations, and pseudo-Indian customs as programs to hold members' interest. A genuine interest in Native cultures was in many cases a motivating factor for many members of these organizations.

A combination of these groups' prevailing beliefs in the 'Noble savage' as a role model, and coinciding social trends leading to a call for `boys' work', led to the founding of the Boy Scouts of America, and the inclusion of an Indian motif as an integral part of Scouting. This paper chronicles the crucial events that led to Scouting's founding, and traces an Indian motif that is so strong in Scouting that it may be termed an "Indian Obsession" in extreme cases. The question, "what does Indian play mean to Scouting?" will be considered and used as a guide throughout the paper.


Jeffrey Scott Hemer


Tom Holm





Arizona State Museum: 

M9791 H464
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences