Scout Camp Celebrates 50 Years

But history of original Camp Geronimo goes back as far as 1929

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Camp Geronimo is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but talk to those with a history in the Boy Scouts, and you will hear it called "The new Camp Geronimo."

As Scout camps in the Rim Country go, Geronimo, even at 50, is the baby of the bunch.

A little more than 10 years after Boy Scouts of America was chartered by Congress (1916), Scouts were tramping through the Rim Country.

The original Camp Geronimo, located on Tonto Creek, north of Kohl's Ranch, had campers as early as the summer of 1929, according to George Miller Jr., the son of Arizona Scout Executive George Miller, who ran the state's Boy Scout Council from 1928 until 1968.

The Miller family was brought to Arizona by the Boy Scout organization, and remains active in it. Miller Sr.'s great-grandson is now a Scout, both his son and grandson were members, attaining Eagle Scout status.

Miller Jr. and his wife, Violet, have built their home in Christopher Creek's Hunter Creek development, which is property that was once owned by the Boy Scouts. In fact, it was property Miller's father had the council buy.

"He had the foresight to know how much the state was going to grow and that more land would be needed by the Boy Scouts for camps," Miller said.

The first Camp Geronimo was only 10 to 15 acres leased from the Forest Service in the late 1920s. Construction on the camp began in 1931. Before the first building went up, during the summer of 1929 and 1930, the Scouts stayed in tents.

Miller said the Roosevelt Council bought the R-Bar-C Ranch for a camp in the 1940s. It then purchased the current Hunter Creek land, calling it R-Bar-C 2, and the property where the county yard is farther east of Christopher Creek, naming it R-Bar-C 3.

The property was primarily used to run cattle from the original R-Bar-C, Miller said.

The buildings at the original Camp Geronimo and R-Bar-C were built by the Scouts, supervised by professionals.

"They had their own sawmill," Miller said.

The young men who came to camp in those early years were the older Scouts, Miller said, usually between 14 and 18.

The boys would arrive by bus -- which in the 1930s through the early 1950s was a long, hard trip, taking at least eight hours.

The only link with their families was the weekly airmail service, Miller said.

"A little plane would fly over and drop a mail pack by parachute," Miller said. "Sometimes it would wind up in a tree. Once when it was in a tree, they started shooting at it to get it down. One of the boys was expecting a pair of pants from home. By the time the mail hit the ground, those new pants were full of holes where they'd been shot."

Beyond the mail, once a week, a truck would bring ice cream packed in dry ice. "That was always a big deal," Miller said.

"The new Camp Geronimo," the one better known locally and about to celebrate its 50th anniversary, was born in the early 1950s when the council started negotiating for the Spade Ranch land. The Scouts bought the land in 1954 and started construction in 1956.

Miller worked with Harold Hulbert and Herman Deitlaff building the roads.

"Herman would dynamite (for the granite) and Harold would supervise the road construction," Miller said.

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George Miller Sr.

Hulbert had a background in road construction, and owned the neighboring ranch.

"Getting the Spade Ranch is another example of my father's foresight," Miller said.

By then there were plans for the Beeline Highway and the senior Miller knew that once it was finished, there would be too many people coming to the Tonto Creek area around Kohl's Ranch. The Spade Ranch was more isolated and had room for a camp to grow.

The first campers arrived at the new Camp Geronimo, on Webber Creek, in the summer of 1956.

Scouts were not involved in the construction of the new Geronimo as they had been with the original. The Boy Scout Council was assisted by contractors from the Valley, who would come up with their crews, and by members of the Navy Reserves, Miller said.

Following the senior George Miller to the new Camp Geronimo was Herman Deitlaff.

He had worked with the Scouts at the original Geronimo and R-Bar-C, teaching them to pack burros, build trails and fences. Deitlaff continued that work at the new camp.

"Those boys would go out with Daddy for a week and come back men," said Frieda Riesh, Deitlaff's daughter, who makes her home in Payson.

Deitlaff and his wife, Eva, lived in the Spade homestead at Geronimo.

The old place is still standing, said to Kim Bergeron, marketing specialist with the Grand Canyon Council. And while people cannot go inside, they can look around it and through the windows.

Bergeron said the Scout organization hopes funds will be raised to restore the homestead, which was built in the late 1880s.

Miller's parents also made a home at the camps at different times. In fact, the only remaining evidence of the original Camp Geronimo is the fireplace of the house his parents lived in.

During the improvements to Highway 260, the construction crews took special care to preserve it, Miller said.

The last summer Miller stayed at the new Camp Geronimo was 1961. He finished college and went on to have a career as a veterinarian. But his son, Brian, continued the tradition by camping at Geronimo.

Riesh was grown and living in Phoenix with her own family by the time her parents were at the new Camp Geronimo. In fact, it is the only Camp Geronimo she has known.

She was working for the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles and whenever she could, she'd pack a lunch, pack her car with water bags and make the long trip up from the Valley to the camp. It would take about six hours, she said.

"It was dirty and dusty," she said of the trip. But when they reached Camp Geronimo they'd cool off with a swim in the creek.

Supervising the construction at the new camp was Howard Christie, Riesh said. He and Riesh's parents were very good friends, and when they retired, they lived next to one another on the property Riesh and her husband, Fred, now occupy.

Like the Miller family, Riesh and her family have kept their hand in Scouting.

"Last year we donated $12,000 to help restore the Wranglers Cabin at Camp Geronimo," she said. There is a plaque on the building commemorating her father's contributions to the Boy Scouts.

Over its 50 years, the "new" Camp Geronimo has survived fire and flood to give Boy Scouts a historical camping experience.

More than 125,000 boys have camped there over the years.

Throughout Camp Geronimo's 50th Anniversary, staff will host special activities each week at summer camp. The most noteworthy event is the Camp Geronimo Anniversary Celebration and Reunion Monday, July 3.

The Grand Canyon Council of Boy Scouts of America has reached out to camp attendees, previous staff members, and Eagle Scouts to make this celebration as special as possible. A portion of the day's activities includes a guided tour of Camp Geronimo to showcase all the improvements over the past couple of decades.

Tom Potter, chairman of the Geronimo 50th Anniversary committee states, "For men that went to camp at Geronimo as a boy, this will be like ‘coming home.'

"The fact that they can share this exceptional place with their families will be a rare event to many of our alumni. I feel fortunate to be part of the celebration and the day."

Bergeron said more than 200 guests are expected at the July 3 event, which begins around 10 a.m. with check-in and continues through about 3 p.m. with tours. In addition to the party guests, approximately 300 Scouts and their leaders will also be on hand.

For more information on the Camp Geronimo 50th Anniversary celebration or on how to become involved with Boy Scouts of America, call (602) 955-7747 or visit www.grandcanyonbsa.org.

Camp Geronimo Anniversary Celebration, Reunion

When: 10 a.m. check-in; tours through 3 p.m.

Where: Camp Geronimo, north of Payson

Call: (602) 955-7747 or visit www.grandcanyonbsa.org

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