Where Did the OA and our Legend Really Come from?

Why Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service? Why Indian Lore? Where did The Legend really come from? Truth is stranger than fiction. We are at a crossroads. It is time that the historical facts be known so we can chart our future with knowledge of the past.

Above is an image of the flowchart “How the Order of the Arrow’s Legend was Developed”. This discussion will follow that chart, so you may (optionally) want to refer to it as you read the text below.

Across the top are six sources: the outside events, organizations, and materials that our founders were influenced by in the creation of the Order and its Legend. If a block begins with a name (Goodman = Dr. E. Urner Goodman, Edson = Carroll A. Edson, Seton = Ernest Thompson Seton, or Hinkle = Dr. William M. Hinkle), then it represents the thoughts or actions of that individual. If a block does not begin with a name, it is the work of multiple founders agreeing together. If a block contains a year, it is our best understanding of the year of that event.

Billy Clark 1913

E. Urner Goodman told a story from when he was Scoutmaster of Troop 1 Philadelphia, well before he became camp director and started the Order. His troop was on a troop campout. One of the scouts got sick, perhaps with the stomach flu, and was confined to bed. Scout Billy Clark volunteered to help. He slept in the bed next to the sick scout. It rained that night. In the morning the sick scout was unable to get up and thus had to use a bedpan. Billy carried the bedpan to empty it into the latrine. The ground was slippery and full of puddles. Billy slipped and fell, and in Goodman’s words, “He took the wrong kind of bath, if you know what I mean”. Scoutmaster Goodman, peaking out of his tent, watched the whole thing. He figured Billy would be angry. And who could blame him? Instead, Billy Clark smiled! He was able to laugh at himself, to see the humor. In Goodman’s eyes, he was a perfect example of the ability to remain cheerful while doing service to others, even in the most difficult and unfair situations.

Goodman: Cheerful Service

When creating the Order in 1915, Billy Clark’s example caused him to adopt “Cheerful Service” as a part of the Order. There are innumerable service organizations in the world, but few attach the word “cheerful”. Our Order values the attitude in which we do the service above the service itself. We do recognize the value of the service projects we do as an Order. But the primary objective of those projects is our character growth rather than the hours of work. It is the cheerful service we give to others in our units, and ultimately throughout our lives, which is the primary service of the Order.

Brotherhood of Phillip and Andrew

Goodman’s troop was sponsored by a church that had a youth program that identified itself as a “Brotherhood”. Although other possible sources might have also influenced Goodman and Edson to use the word “Brotherhood” (it is not an unusual word in fraternal organizations), Goodman did on multiple occasions refer to the Brotherhood of Phillip and Andrew as a model for our Order.

Goodman: Brotherhood

Goodman adopted the principle of Brotherhood, presumably from the Brotherhood of Philip and Andrew.

Treasure Island Scout Craft Award 1914

There previously existed at Summer Camp at Treasure Island a very difficult and highly desired award for Scout craft. It existed in the 1914 summer season, and possibly in prior years.

Goodman: Need Scout Spirit Award

Goodman knew of the existing Scout craft award at Treasure Island Summer Camp. As he prepared to become the Camp Director in 1915, he realized that Scout Spirit is more important that Scout craft. He knew, as Scoutmaster, that Scout craft is also a foundation of good Scouting, so he continued that award. But he decided that they needed to develop some kind of award for Scout Spirit at camp as well. His experience as Scoutmaster also told him that selection for the award would have to be by their fellow Scouts, not by the troop leadership.

Brotherhood of Cheerful Service

In the camp setup and early weeks of Summer camp at Treasure Island, E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson combined the concepts of “Cheerful Service”, “Brotherhood”, and the desire for a Scout Spirit award. They agreed that their new Order to promote Scout Spirit should be called a “Brotherhood of those who Serve Cheerfully”. Simplification led to rewording as “Brotherhood of Cheerful Service” over time.

Seton: Indian Lore Talk 1915

Just prior to the start of the 1915 summer camp season, Edson attended a talk given by Earnest Thompson Seton. Seton promoted the idea that Indian lore and culture was the perfect way to encourage youth to develop in character.

Edson: Indian Lore

Edson became enamored of Seton’s idea of using Indian lore to teach ethical principles to youth and passed that idea to Goodman.

Treasure Island was Lenape camp so use Lenape culture

Goodman and Edson decided to adopt Indian lore and culture in the new Order. Arrowheads found by Scouts on the island were concrete reminders of its past. So they decided to base it on and thereby honor the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) tribe as Treasure Island was a former Lenape seasonal camp.

Telegram to Hinkle asking for translation 1915

Combining the ideas of a Brotherhood of Cheerful Service and Lenape culture, Goodman and Edson decided that the new Order should be given a name in the Lenape language. They sent a telegram (there were no phones) to a friend who had books and knowledge of the tribe, Dr. William M. Hinkle, a Philadelphia physician. They requested he translate Brotherhood, Cheerfulness, and Service. He did have an early English-Lenape dictionary, written by early missionaries to the Lenape.

But when he tried to send “WIMACHTENDIENK WINGOLAUCHSIK WITAHEMUI”, they ran into a delay. It looked like a German code, and what we now call WWI had begun. After questioning, the telegram was delivered.

They decided that the public name for the new Order would be “Wimachtendienk” or “Wimachtendienk W. W.”, meaning “The Brotherhood”. The last two words were kept secret. Years later as Edson was spreading the Order, he noticed that the non-English name was a stumbling block to the adoption of the Order, and “Order of the Arrow” was established as our name.

The above is how the Order of the Arrow was created in 1915. We now turn to the creation of the Legend the following year.

Old English Legend in Book 1916

Fraternal organizations typically have some kind of legend. Rather than write something from scratch, one of the three of them found a story in a book of old English legends. They agreed it was a good story.

First defenders formed Brotherhood of Service

That old English story told of a people unwilling to serve each other. Those who first offered service to others changed attitudes. They became a brotherhood of service to others.

The Last of the Mohicans by Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans was his most famous book and was very popular with Scout-aged youth in 1916.

Chingachgook and Uncus as Characters 1916

The founders decided to adopt the two primary Native American heroes of Cooper’s book, Chingachgook and Uncus, in the legend they were preparing. They hoped that the popularity of those characters would aid the popularity of the legend.

Hinkle: The Legend

The Legend was written in 1916 by Hinkle, and commissioned by Goodman. The story came from the Brotherhood of Service of Old English origin. The main characters of the story were changed to Chingachgook and Uncus from Cooper’s writings. Three decisions made the prior year were key elements of the story: (1) creating the name “Brotherhood of Cheerful Service” in English, (2) “Wimachtendienk Wingolauchsik Witahemui” in Lenape, and (3) cultural alignment with the Lenape tribe.

The result appears to be a Lenape legend, strangely with Mohican leaders, about a Brotherhood promoting spiritual values based on an Old English story, whose actual foundation was an amazing bedpan incident 2 or 3 years earlier.

Download: Creation of the Legend – Flowchart

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Kent Dykes
    February 18, 2024 at 4:56 pm

    Excellent read on the origin of the Order.
    I have been a Vigil since 1963 and never knew the background of the formation.

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