I Have Seen the Arrow
Memories of the Order of the Arrow at Camp Wapehani
Submitted by Art Collins (Geschitehen)
Upon the 100th Anniversary of the Order of the Arrow
When I was a boy, Scout camp was the highlight of my entire year. I couldn’t wait to go to camp with Spencer’s Troop 95. I attended five years as a camper (1965-1969), and then served two years on staff (1970-71). Those were the last years for Wapehani as a Council camp; I helped close her down. If Scout camp was the highlight of my year, then Thursday night’s OA Callout ceremony was the highlight of the week at camp. It was solemn and impressive and made its mark on everyone who participated.
We boys not yet eligible for membership in the Order didn’t really understand what it was all about, but we longed to be in the know. We used to ask what “WWW” stood for on all the lodge symbols. “Wapehani Wild Women” is one of the answers we were told. At Thursday supper, all the Arrowmen wore their sashes. As evening approached, we non-Arrowmen were confined to our tents, stripped to the waist, with a blanket ready to throw over our right shoulders. We were warned we had to be silent throughout the evening until the next morning. The Arrowmen in camp, meanwhile, stayed away from the campsites, preparing to dress up as Indians and help conduct the ceremony.
As we lay in our bunks waiting for the guides to come, we would whisper-talk. Nerves were on edge. Eventually, we would hear bells, worn on the ankles of a torch-bearing runner. The runner, dressed in breechclout and moccasins, would throw open our tent flaps and call out, “Prepare to follow in silence!” then run on to the next campsite. We emerged from our tents and were placed in line by Arrowmen guides and brought to the entrance of our campsite. There, eventually, we would be picked up and joined to the line of campers led by the Guide of the Lodge and his helpers, and all of us would move out in silence as we went from campsite to campsite.
Finally, we stood on the dam. We were stopped, turned to face the lake, and our necks were straightened if our eyes were straying too much. A flaming arrow (an arrow with a sparkler attached) was shot out over the lake. From the far end of the lake, an answering arrow was fired from a sheltered cove. And then three canoes, with standing figures in full costume, began to cross the lake: the Chief, the Medicine Man, the Guard. The Chief began to sing, his voice carrying clear across the lake in the dark. It was heart-stoppingly beautiful.
And what was the Chief singing? Well, he was chanting names. So Aka Gha Gwa,
he began – the name of our lodge. Wimachtendienk, Wingolauchsik, Witahemui
– the name of the Order, though we didn’t know that. Then he chanted all the names of the lodges in our Area (Section), followed by the name of our camp (Wapehani)
and the names of all our campsites (names, by the way, which are still used as the names of the campsites at Maumee Scout Reservation). After that, he would chant the names of all the Vigil Honor members that he knew were attending that ceremony. Then he would start again, from the top. It usually took a little over twice through to reach the hither shore. He would pass right before us along the dam and land between the dam and the OA Circle.
Sometime around 1970, shortly after the Central Indiana Council merged with several other Councils to become Crossroads of America, we received a delegation of staff members from Ransburg Reservation. They were all Firecrafters, but their Council now having merged with Councils that used the Order of the Arrow, they were there in our camp to learn what this OA stuff was all about. It was a cordial visit, but at the end of the Chief’s song as he came to shore that evening was an unfamiliar name that only some ears could catch: No-Minisinos-Need-Apply.
Once the other three ceremonial team members were on land, they quickly took their places in the Circle, while the canoeists withdrew. We were abruptly turned to the right and marched off behind the Guide, who was stopped at the entrance of the Circle by the Guard. The two greeted each other with resounding taps on the shoulder, in the traditional patterns.
A lot has been said about what tap-outs used to be like. Nobody thought of being hit by “Indians” in a ceremony as child abuse, even though it could sting -- a lot -- and leave a mark. Most Chiefs, however, knew to cup their hands so as to inflict more noise than pain when tapping out a candidate. The real slug-fest was between the ceremonial team members. One night when I was on staff, I was playing Guard to another fellow’s Guide. We cordially detested each other, and without breaking character or otherwise showing anything out of the ordinary, we fully attempted to knock the bejeezus out of each other.
After we had been admitted to the Circle, the Guide led us around until we were spread around it in two long arcs, open to the east and the west. The four main figures then came together in the middle and began to prepare for the ceremony. The Medicine Man shot flaming arrows to the four quarters, to the sky and to the earth, as the Chief called out the salutations. Then, those arrows were answered by a flaming arrow of a different sort. Stretching from the middle of the gigantic fire lay in the middle of the Circle was a steel cable, anchored in the treetops on the eastern side. A steel pipe section wrapped in burlap soaked in “Scout water” was up in the treetops being held by a Scout in a hidden seat. When the salutations were over, he lit that torch and let it slide down the wire, which was all but invisible in the dark. It looked like a lightning bolt from heaven in answer to the ceremonial team’s invocation.
The fire began to burn. While it got going, two runners in breechclouts took short-handled torches and began to run around the circle in opposite directions. One’s course took him behind the arc of campers to the left and in front of the arc of campers to the right, while the other’s course took him behind the right arc and in front of the left arc. Each time they crossed in the open space to east and west, they would switch their torches to their new outside hands. Three times they ran, then ditched their short-handled torches for long torches, taking their places before and behind the ceremonial team.
The drummer began to drum a slow march in 4/4 time. The six members of the ceremonial team -- torch-bearer, Guide, Chief, Medicine Man, Guard, torch-bearer -- walked around the circle in front of the campers. After a blank round, candidates would begin to be tapped out. Adult Arrowmen standing behind the candidates would hold up a hand or a sash to indicate who was to be tapped out. The lead torch-bearer would dip his torch in passing, the drummer would hit an end-cadence – ba-ba-ba-bum, BUM!
– and the entire team would stop, pivot toward the campers, and the Chief, standing right before the candidate, would fix him with his eyes and tap (strike
would be a better word) him three times on his bare left shoulder. Then the Guard would throw his left arm up to his right shoulder, the Chief would mark an arrow on his forearm with a red marker, and the team would reform and begin moving again with the drum.
As soon as the team had cleared the stunned candidate, Arrowmen standing behind him would escort him to a line forming on the east side of the fire, facing the lake. “Escort” is too weak a word for it; “bum’s rush” was more like it. Some smaller candidates’ feet never touched the wet grass. And there the candidates would stand, in one or two or three short lines, throughout the rest of the ceremony. The fire would be blazing like gangbusters at this point, which could make standing there until the end even more of a test of your endurance.
Sometimes, a Vigil Call-out would be held. The Vigil Chief would stride out in the middle of the ceremony, calling out, “Stop the ceremony!” The Vigil candidate(s) would be called out of the crowd, tapped out by the Vigil Chief, have a triangle of arrows hung on his neck, and then walked around the fire in the middle of a triangle of spars, with firepots burning at the angles.
After all the candidates had been tapped out, the ceremonial team would make a final pass around the circle, just to make sure they hadn’t missed anybody. Then, the Chief would yell, “Visitors, go home! Campers return to your campsites!” The Visitors, who had been watching from the waterfront area just across the corner of the lake, would head for their cars. The campers who had not been called out were taken back to their campsites by their guides.
We did the Pre-Ordeal at camp in those days. And then the new candidates were set out with only the blanket or sleeping bag they wore over their right shoulder to spend the night in the woods. In the morning, they were collected and sent to breakfast. They were told they couldn’t talk again until after breakfast, although I think that was later changed to after grace was said. The morning was still charged with magic for those who hadn’t been chosen. After breakfast, the new candidates were dismissed from the dining hall first, amid a storm of applause.
The candidates came back to camp for their Ordeal at the end of summer. Brotherhood candidates would do their testing and ceremony on Friday night. Ordeal candidates arrived Saturday morning (having done their Pre-Ordeal at camp). They were immediately separated into gangs for work projects. Silence was expected and enforced. The work was hard, and it lasted all day. My Ordeal lunch was a half sandwich of undressed spam and a small Dixie cup of weak lemonade. We got to attend the banquet, but we weren’t off silence until after the ceremony, which didn’t take place until dark. And then, we got our sashes hung on us. We took the Obligation. We received the Admonition. And now we were in the know, and could look forward to wearing the symbols of the Order and playing Indian the next year at camp!
The Ordeal ceremony was held in the Callout Circle, I think, but I also remember there being a hidden circle we used for Brotherhood ceremonies across the lake, just uphill from the dam. At one ceremony in that circle, one of our Advisors, Dr. John Droste, was chagrined to find that he couldn’t remember the Admonition; he was turned away and had to go ask somebody what it was in order to be admitted to the circle. A common joke at the time was to reply to the question, “Have you seen the arrow?” with, “Why, have you lost one?” before giving the correct answer.
I was tapped out and did my Ordeal in 1968. A year later, I got my Brotherhood. And at the conclusion of that conclave, we were told that there was something called a National Conference being held for all the Arrowmen in the country the very next week, and we were the Host Lodge for it. We needed workers. It was too late to sign up as a participant, but anybody who signed up to work would get the patch, the mug, the neckerchief, and also get to wander around the IU campus playing Arrowman for several days. It was my first NOAC. It cost me ten bucks. A better deal I haven’t had in all my years with the Order since.
I kept the Vigil at Camp Wapehani in April of 1972. It was sad to see it de-commissioned. I remember the conclave when we took the flagpole out of its block so that both could be moved to Maumee. Nobody could figure out how to get the long (and slippery) metal pole out of the hole. Then Dick Martin opened a Fieldbook or some other handbook of knots and looked up something called a pipe hitch. He tied that on the pole and we lifted it out as if it were nothing – the only time I’ve ever seen that knot used. We had already de-commissioned the Dining Hall; it wasn’t in use during 1971, our last year at Wapehani.
Memories crowd in upon me. Some are crazy things, like the summer we had eating contests. A camper in my cousin’s troop (Troop 3) ate something like forty-six prunes for breakfast one morning (we used a lot of surplus commodities, if you couldn’t guess). Rex Legler, then our Waterfront Director, couldn’t let a mere camper show him up, so the next morning, he ate sixty-three
prunes at a single sitting. After breakfast, he retired to his cabin, and was not seen the rest of the day.
But the deepest and clearest memories of Camp Wapehani, the most moving experiences, took place by firelight. And the best of these were often accompanied by the sounds of the Chief’s song coming across the lake under a sky filled with stars.