California’s Camp Fire Girls’ Camps: Introduction

 

On my desk I have the 1966 Directory of Accredited Camps for Boys and Girls published by the American Camping Association. I used this directory when applying for summer jobs many years ago. Yenis Hante was a small camp with a relatively short season of only five weeks. I wanted to work as a camp counselor for at least two months. At Yenis Hante I had met counselors who had worked at other camps and sometimes had jobs lined up for the month of August after Yenis Hante closed.

Crafts at Yenis Hante
Crafts at Camp Yenis Hante 1967

 

In 1966 California had twenty-one Camp Fire Girls’ resident camps accredited by the American Camping Association. (Now the American Camp Association) They spread north from Camp Wolahi, the San Diego camp near Julian, to Camp Kimtu in Humboldt County and east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Using  ACA directories from libraries along with the earlier Sargent handbooks I have collected data about Camp Fire Girls’ camps during the last century . However, directories and handbooks were not available for every year, and camps were not always accredited. Also, sometimes there were errors and discrepancies from one directory to another, such as the year a camp was established. In 1967 we assumed Yenis Hante was opened in 1927 because that date was on the bell; later newspaper research showed that Yenis Hante opened in 1930. Camp Kimtu is not in the 1966 directory but an article in the Times Standard (Eureka, California) for August 14, 1967 reports “Camp Fire Sessions Under Way at Kimtu.” A year later the Eureka Camp Fire Council offered the 364 acre camp site to the county for $4,500 because they had found that sending girls by bus to a camp in Mendocino County would be less expensive than continuing to maintain their own camp. [1]

Bell at Yenis Hante
The Bell at Camp Yenis Hante

 

During the twentieth century there were more than three score Camp Fire Girls’ camps in California. Some of these, for example Mawahua and Woape, were ephemeral, listed only once in The Handbook of Summer Camps or a newspaper article. There might have been others which left no record at all.

In 1915 Los Angeles introduced the concept of municipal summer camps. These city owned and operated camps in national forests, were available to families and to groups such as the Camp Fire Girls. Usually a camp had a kitchen, an open air dining room, an assembly hall and cabins or tents on platforms. By 1921 Oakland, Sacramento and Stockton each had a municipal camp and Lost Angeles had two. Camp Seeley, owned by Los Angeles, and the Oakland camp were both used by Camp Fire Girls for a summer or two. [2] Camp Fire Girls also used camps belonging to other groups such as the YWCA’s Camp Estelle in the San Bernardino Mountains, the “Kiddie Camp” at Glennville and Boy Scout camps.

Just over a dozen of the sixty camps, mostly sponsored by San Francisco Bay area or Los Angeles area Camp Fire councils, operated for fifty years or longer. Those with the longest time spans are Nawakwa, Wolahi, Gold Hollow, Wastahi, Wasewagan, Minaluta and Minkalo. Other long-lived camps were Celio, Yallani, Augusta, Metaka and Okizu.

California is blessed with magnificent mountains. The San Bernardino Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and coast ranges have all been the summer homes of California’s Camp Fire Girls. Camps in the Sierra Nevada include Me-Wa-Hi near Sattley, Nawata near Placerville, Yenis Hante at Greenhorn Mountain, Minkalo in Amador County, Caniya in Sierra County and the camps around Lake Vera, near Nevada City, Augusta, Gold Hollow, Celio, Watanda, Okizu and Minaluta. A newer camp, Adahi, is located near Oakhurst. A number of Los Angeles area camps have been located in the San Bernardino Mountains; these include Wasewagan, Nawakwa, Li Tanda and Yallani near Seven Oaks, Metaka, Hemohme and Deer Ridge near Wrightwood, Wintaka at Running Springs, Cohila at Big Bear Lake, and the elusive Mawahua.

Skit at Caniya
Campers performing a skit at Camp Caniya in 1968

 

Other camps have been located up and down the coast. One of the earliest was Wasibo, a San Francisco camp located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Pacific Palisades in the Santa Monica Mountains was the location of at least two camps, Temescal and Wasewagan. Wasewagan later moved to Seven Oaks. Camp Wa-Sta-Hi was located in Big Basin, south of San Jose and Campbell.

Although it did not yet have a permanent site Camp Minkalo was founded in 1919 making it California’s first Camp Fire Girls’ camp. The number of camps increased during the 1920s and through the depression and World War II. At the end of World War II there were more than twenty and by 1960 there were nearly thirty. In the 1960s camps began to close but there were still at least twenty-five in 1970. They continued to close through the rest of the century until there were only six in the year 2000. Today, in 2016, Wintaka, Adahi, Gold Hollow, Natoma and Nawakwa are the only resident camps in California listed on the National Camp Fire web page. I can only feel sad when I think of the mountain days that many of today’s children are missing.

 

[1] “County May Acquire Kimtu Site for Park” Times Standard (Eureka, California) July 25, 1968, p. 15. The Mendocino County camp is not named but might have been Seabow, near Laytonville, about 45 miles south of Camp Kimtu.

[2] “Municipal Summer Camps of the West” New York Times January 16, 1921, p. R7; Swenson, Stella S. One Hundred Years at Sliver Lake – Amador County: 1848-1948 – The Swenson Team (Bert & Stella), A Report Presented to Doctor Rockwell D. Hunt, Director of California History Foundation, College of the Pacific, April 1948, page 48.

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Witchcraft

“Margaret Snyder’s “Witchcraft” became a favorite song my first week at Camp Yenis Hante. Even now, more than half a century later, the words “. . . a winding road that beckons me to roam . . .” take me back to an evening gathering of girls singing the haunting melody, their faces lit by firelight.

In the last decade I became curious about the song. Friends who had attended Camp Fire Girls’ camps in other places knew “Witchcraft.” Those who had been Girl Scouts didn’t. Who was Margaret Snyder? When and why did she compose “Witchcraft”? With some Internet hints I was able to trace her to the University of Wisconsin. Cathy Jacobs at the UW-Madison Archives, kindly sent me copies of newspaper articles from the Wisconsin State Journal and the Wisconsin Alumnus.

An October 1945 article says that Margaret Snyder lived on a 4 ½ acre farm with two other women and they raised chickens, fruit and vegetables, selling “More than $100 worth of produce at their roadside stand this year.” Besides being an accomplished musician and organist at St. John’s Lutheran church Margaret Snyder was assistant buyer at the Wisco Hardware Co. She had also served for two years as Business and Industrial secretary for the YWCA. The article continues:

An active member of the B and PW [Business and Professional Women] club, she has served as editor of the Wisconsin Business Woman and also has achieved fame as the composer of the national B and PW song, “Witchcraft.” Miss Snyder, a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, studied music at the University of Wisconsin and has always been a prominent member of musical circles here.

“Witchcraft” seems rather dreamy for a business-woman’s song, but perhaps the women went to camp.

Patricia Averill, in her very comprehensive Camp Songs, Folk Songs says “Margaret Snyder composed the song in 1935 for a girls’ camp, probably the Y’s Maria Olbrich . . . on Lake Mendota near Madison, Wisconsin.” Averill adds that the song became part of the sorority tradition and that Kappa Kappa Gamma published a version in 1945. According to Averill, Snyder helped to organize an alumnae chapter of the music honorary Sigma Alpha Iota in Madison and after she died in 1961 her estate when to the music honorary’s loan fund to help music students. (pp. 348-349)

“Witchcraft” is listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries: Musical Compositions, Part 3 for the first half of 1937. The copyright entry lists it as piano music with words and is dated March 17, 1937. Camp Fire Girls discovered the song the same year it was copyrighted. The words appear on page 60 of the 1937 Sing with the Detroit Camp Fire Girls without acknowledging the song’s composer creator. The song is also in the 1939 Camp Songs ‘N’ Things, which is not a Camp Fire publication, where it is used by permission.

“Witchcraft” is found in other camp song books published by the Cooperative Recreation Service, (now World Around Songs), and in the Camp Fire publication Music Makers. The Camp Wyandot Song Book’s version replaces “me” with “us” in the second and fourth lines and the last two lines are “Memories that linger, tender and true, Bring back sweet visions, dear Camp Wyandot of you” instead of “Mem-‘ries that linger, constant and true, Mem-‘ries we cherish, _ _ _ of you,” which are found in other versions and are probably the original works. At Yenis Hante we always filled in the blank spaces with “Yenis Hante,” although “Yenis Hante of you” doesn’t really make very much sense.

Wisconsin Alumnus Volume 59 Number 10 for February 1958 noted “Margaret SNYDER ’33, WHO WORKS AT Demco Library Supplies in Madison, composes music in her spare time and recently had one of her songs, “Witchcraft” recorded by Prudence and Patience, best-selling young vocalists.” There are several YouTube videos of Prudence and Patience singing “Witchcraft”; while the music is the same, the lyrics have been changed.

In 2005 Dough Bright, discussing Prudence & Patience McIntyre wrote:

The hauntingly wistful “(if there were) Witchcraft” was an Audrey McIntyre rewrite of a song written in 1937 for a YWCA camp. While the horn section riffed gently under a luxuriant string section, the girls convincingly delivered the number in three-part harmony, with Patience overdubbing the third part. It was an artistic masterpiece that should have succeeded in the mainstream pop market, but nothing came of it.

Margaret Snyder died in 1961 and we may never know the circumstances which inspired her song. However, “Witchcraft” will continue to haunt my daydreams of Camp Yenis Hante.

 

 

White Coral Bells

White Coral Bells song 2

          I listened to the words echoing and fading table by table, enchanted by the beauty of girls’ voices singing a round. I had completed second grade and my first year as a Blue Bird, but never before recognized how beautiful singing could be. “White Coral Bells” was one of the songs we sang in the Yenis Hante dining room after meals. It was one of many songs I quickly learned to love at camp.

Yenis Hante formed my archetype of a Camp Fire Girls camp. I knew nothing then of the Gulicks’ camp on Lake Sebago in Maine, of Camp Sealth on Vashon Island or of the two dozen or more other Camp Fire Girls’ camps found in California’s mountains in the 1950s. However, I knew that camp needed mountains, pine forests and little cabins for sleeping as well as a big dining room. At camp girls hiked, learned nature lore and sang; they made friends, wrote letters home, cooked over a fire, played games and did the Bunny-hop.

I was eight-years-old the first time I boarded an Orange Belt Stage Lines bus, along with scores of other Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls, for the fifty-four mile trip from Bakersfield to Greenhorn Mountain. I had always known that someday I would go to camp. On family vacations at Huntington Lake I heard about and saw the Boy Scouts, whose camps were across the lake from my aunt’s cabin. Someday I could be a Blue Bird or a Brownie and then I could go to camp too. When I started second grade I chose to be Blue Birds because I liked the neat blue skirt, white blouse and red-and-blue vest Blue Birds wore better than the ugly brown dress Brownies wore. I have always been glad of that decision.

That first week at Yenis Hante, I learned to love singing. I saw my first snow flower (Sarcodes sanguinea) and learned to recognize Ponderosa pines by their bark which resembles the design of jigsaw puzzle pieces. We should have learned to recognize the Incense Cedars (Calocedrus decurrens) which gave Yenis Hante half of its name, but I don’t remember anyone mentioning them.

I attended Yenis Hante for a week every summer except one, until I became a Counselor-in-Training and then a counselor and could stay for five weeks – the entire summer season. My early memories merge with later ones; small changes occurred but did not change how camp felt. When I was a Blue Bird milk arrived in large milk cans on the back of a truck. At meals we poured the milk into our glasses from metal pitchers. Later milk cartons replaced the pitcher son the tables. When a milk carton was empty we turned it on its side and said the cow was dead.

The first year we washed our dishes in buckets of water standing on the benches next to our tables. Later we washed dished at a large sink in the back of the dining room and eventually the dishes were washed by the “maintenance men” – high school boys who did odd jobs around camp and drove the camp van down to Wofford Heights for mail or to Bakersfield for bread.

YH Old Cabins
The old cabins at Yenis Hante – 1956

 

My second year at camp a number of large cabins built of cinder blocks and redwood replaced some of the small wooden cabins. The new cabins had cement floors, screened windows and metal roofs. They were big enough for seven or eight bunk beds instead of four. Sometimes the older cabins, which became fewer over time, were used for crafts or other special activities, but I didn’t sleep in one again until I was a nature counselor without my own cabin group.

 

Yenis Hante -A New Cabin
A New Cabin – 1960s

 

For a while we had crafts in a Quonset hut at one end of the lower row of cabins. Later the Quonset hut disappeared and there was an open-air crafts shack where supplies were stored.

YH Swimming Pool
Swimming Pool at Yenis Hante – 1956

The swimming pool, probably built in the 1930s, was fed from a stream; icy cold water flowed down the hillside above into a pipe to the pool. Newspaper articles from the 30s mention girls learning to swim there but I never did more than wade in shallow water one pre-camp weekend before the pool was completely filled. The pond, about the same size, was below the swimming pool. I think perhaps water from the pool drained into the pond.

When we filed into the dining room we always sang “Hey Ho, nobody home, meat nor drink nor money have I none, Still I will be merry” over and over until every girl stood in place behind a bench and the words of grace rang out “For Health and Strength an daily bread we praise thy name Oh Lord”. Then there was a clatter of benches as everyone sat down and the meal began. Afterwards we sang “Sarasponda” and “The Zulu Warrior” and then the lovely rounds of “White Coral Bells.”

Later, as shadows deepened and stars appeared in the ink-black sky we congregated on the long, low benches of the outdoor theater. A fire burned in the fireplace on one side of the stage and sometimes we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores. Girls might present skits on the stage and there were always songs, especially the haunting strains of “Witchcraft.”

Yenis Hante, the Camp of my Dreams

YH Sign

Yenis Hante, the Camp of my Dreams

 

“Wherever I go, I’ll never forget

Yenis Hante, the camp of my dreams”

 

For nearly five decades this song might have been heard on summer evenings, echoing through the pines and cedars of Greenhorn Mountain Park.  Although Camp Yenis Hante never belonged to the Kern County Camp Fire Council it did belong to the hearts of Camp Fire Girls who spent memorable summer weeks there from 1930 until the mid 1970s. Yenis Hante was a place where we dreamed and made friends, wrote poetry, read fairy tales and sang around a campfire beneath a starry sky.

Yenis Hante was named and first used by Kern County Camp Fire Girls in the summer of 1930.  Located within the county owned Greenhorn Mountain Park, the camp was named for the abundant wild roses and incense cedars, (Calocedrus decurrens). Yenis is an Indian word for wild rose and Hante means cedar.  During the 1920s Camp Fire Girls had camped at Shirley Meadows and at a camp located in Glennville called “The Kiddie Camp,” as well as at other mountain locations.  When Yenis Hante opened in June 1930, they had their own mountain camp to love and cherish, a cool retreat more than 6,000 feet above the hot southern San Joaquin valley floor.

After Camp Fire Girls was incorporated in 1912, word of the new organization for girls spread across the country through articles in publications such as Ladies Home Journal and St. Nicholas. There probably was at least one Camp Fire group in Bakersfield as early as 1916.  By 1922 meetings were being held to discuss recruiting more girls into Camp Fire and forming new Camp Fire Groups.  Mrs. R.E. Vivian, who was active in the P.T.A., hoped that Camp Fire would be as important to girls as Boy Scouts was to boys.[1]

Plans to establish a summer camp for Camp Fire Girls in Kern County Park on Greenhorn Mountain were announced in the Bakersfield Californian on May 28, 1923. In June Mrs. Lawrence E. Chenoweth, president of the local Camp Fire council, described a site selected on Greenhorn as “one of perfect beauty, set in the heart of virgin forest [with] a good supply of water and . . . unlimited possibilities for hikes.” [2]  It is not clear from newspaper accounts if this site later became Yenis Hante but the description does fit the area where Yenis Hante is located.  Several Camp Fire groups camped at the summit of Greenhorn in early June of that year, and added sledding to their camp activities after an unexpected storm brought rain and snow.

Camp Fire camps were held in several different locations from 1924 through 1929. Eldora DeMots, a teacher at Kern County Union High School directed one at Frazier Park for two weeks starting August 26 in 1925.  In June 1926 the first national Camp Fire convention west of Chicago was held in Stockton.  Delegates from Bakersfield included Mrs. L.E. Chenoweth and her daughter Dorothy, Ruth Hanning and Eldora DeMots. During that summer Camp Fire groups camped at Mt. Breckenridge, on Greenhorn Mountain and at California Hot Springs.  In 1927 approximately seventy-five Camp Fire Girls spent the ten days after school closed at the “Kiddie Camp” located in Glenville. Again, Eldora DeMots directed the camp which was attended by girls representing eleven different groups.  Later during the summer Eldora DeMots and Mrs. W.C. Harmon attended at Camp Fire training course at Camp Wasibo, the summer camp of the San Francisco Camp Fire Girls located at Zayante in Santa Cruz County. In both 1928 and again in 1929 two sessions for Camp Fire Girls were offered at the Glennville camp and Eldora DeMots was in charge.

In the weeks before Camp Yenis Hante officially opened. The Californian provided information about the site and how girls could register to attend camp.  The paper quoted Mrs. C.L. Campbell who said, “A wonderful location has been provided this year through the kindness of the county supervisors.  The camp will be situated on the summit of Greenhorn mountain among the cedars in the county park.  The camp site has been worked out by an architect and includes a mess hall and recreation hall, with sleeping quarters arranged in a semicircle, and a space inclosed [sic] where the council fires will be held and games of all kinds enjoyed.  The girls themselves will build a stone fireplace as one of their projects.  The finest of spring water is available for drinking and it is hoped that a pool for swimming may be constructed by the time camp opens.  There will be a paid director; a registered nurse will be in attendance; a caretaker will be on the grounds at all times; and a good cook has been employed who will provide the girls with varied and nourishing food.  An instructor in handwork will also be in attendance, and all handwork material is furnished free.  Books will be provided by the county librarian, and in general everything will be done to see that the girls have a chance to develop the Camp Fire program in the happiest way.”[3]  That summer Omah Burton, a teacher and Camp Fire Guardian, was the director; the girls slept in tents and camp activities included a 4:00AM hike to watch the sun rise, painting curtains for the recreation hall, and weaving pine needle baskets.[4]

The summer of 1930 was followed by forty-five more summers when Yenis Hante provided a home under the brilliant blue mountain sky to Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls from Kern County as well as more distant towns and cities. Cabins replaced the tents in 1931.  A swimming pool filled with a creek’s melted snow water was used to teach swimming during the daily swimming periods. Camp staff was recruited from around the country as well as from Bakersfield College, and other California colleges.  Omah Burton directed the camp until 1936 or 1937.  From 1938 until after World War II there were a number of different directors including Margaret Briggs, Catherine Fowler, Margaret Momsen, Margaret McCarson, Wilma Smith and Barbara Symmes.

The succession of summers was punctuated by milestones and memorable events.  In 1938 Margaret Slack, who had been a camper for ten years became a counselor and Barbara Igel took movies of camp activities. [5]  In 1940 there was a midnight banquet; campers went to bed at 7 PM and were wakened by the camp bell at midnight for the banquet which was “served in a gaily decorated Morrison hall with a toastmistress presiding and entertainment between the courses.”[6]  The 1943 camp season was sadly cut short when a camper came down with polio and the camp had to be closed for three weeks.[7]  In 1947 Arlene Reed and Judith Marchi won weeks at camp with their essays on “What Camp Means to Me” while several other girls won “campships” for their camp posters. A 1964 C.I.T., Cheryl Acrea, came down with appendicitis and was rushed to the hospital; she soon returned to camp to complete her C.I.T. training and was a counselor the following year. The unnamed architect who laid out Yenis Hante provided a camp that resembled a compact village, a place to grow and learn as one summer succeeded another.

Mary Broaddus became executive director of the Kern County Camp Fire Council in 1947 and served as director at Camp Yenis Hante most summers from 1948 through 1960.  The 1950s brought more girls than ever before to Camp Yenis Hante as the “baby boom” children reached school age.  During these years Orange Belt Stage Lines provided two buses to carry campers to and from camp each session.  The girls and their mothers gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Camp Fire office while the morning still had a hint of coolness and as their names were called girls eagerly boarded the buses.  After a two-hour ride the buses reached the Greenhorn Summit and the girls poured out the doors and followed the waiting counselors up the road into camp.  Passing the Woodland Pond and the swimming pool they reached the outdoor theater where the staff was introduced and cabin groups were formed.  Being transported from the hot city of Bakersfield to the shady, fragrant evergreen forests at the summit of Greenhorn Mountain, felt like magic. A delightful week of singing, hiking, outdoor cooking, camp fires, crafts and nature lore followed.

A 1933 visitor provided a dinner time description that evokes memories of Yenis Hante in the 1950s and 1960s. “It was almost the dinner hour when we drove into camp but some of the girls were still washing up under the faucets at the wooden sink outside the dinning room.” [8]  Meals were preceded by the line of girls singing “Hey, ho, nobody home, eat nor drink nor money have I none, still I will be merry” as they processed into the dining room.  Between courses there were lovely rounds of “White Coral Bells” and as they left the dining room “I’ve been camping Yenis Hante,” to the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad,”  rang through the trees.

YH Outdoor Theater
The Outdoor Theater at Camp Yenis Hante in 1956

 

While there were a few changes at Yenis Hante over the years what mattered were the things that did not change – the sense of fellowship, the scent of evergreens and the sound of birds and wind in the trees.  In 1952 a new camp sign was erected at the entrance to camp.  Beginning in 1956 larger cabins, of cinder blocks and wood, with screened windows, replaced most of the small wood cabins.  In the late 1950s the swimming pool was filled in.  Some years the pond was stocked with trout which girls could catch using bamboo fishing poles; later there were a raft and a couple of kayaks.  There were always incense cedars, pines and firs.  At Yenis Hante an eight-year-old Blue Bird could see the bright red of a rare snowflower (Sarcodes sanguinea) for the first time and learn to recognize Ponderosa pines by their bark that resembled a jigsaw puzzle.  On a short after-dinner hike a counselor showed her girls how the new green needles of a fir tree were a different shade than the older needles on the branch. The nature trail that was developed in the 1960s provided a short hike where counselors could help campers learn to recognize trees and flowers.

Mary Broaddus resigned as Camp Fire’s executive director in the early sixties and was succeeded by Dorothy Chenoweth Klausner who had attended the Stockton Camp Fire Conference in 1926 and was a Camp Fire Girl and then a guardian in the 1920s and 1930s.  From 1961 until 1965 her daughter, Deborah Osen directed Camp Yenis Hante.  During these years the Counselor-in-Training program provided opportunities for high school girls to develop skills in camp leadership and special programs were offered to older girls featuring backpacking and creative arts opportunities.

YH Pond
The Pond at Camp Yenis Hante in 1956

 

 

The ten years from 1965 to 1975 brought a decline in Camp Fire membership and camp attendance; the baby boom hand ended and there were fewer school age children and fewer women available to serve as Camp Fire Guardians. Bette Caldwell, Lilly Long and Ruth Moore were among the directors at Yenis Hante in those years. In the mid 1970s the decision was made to send Kern County’s Camp Fire members, who began to include boys in 1975, to camps in other counties.

Yenis Hante today is empty on most weekdays during the summer. As part of Kern County’s Greenhorn Mountain Park it is available for rental but most groups only come on weekends.  The camp looks much like it did fifty years ago although the pond and the sign above the road at the entrance are gone.  There is no longer a mailbox next to the bell in the center of camp; buildings have been painted a different color and back doors have been added to the large cabins. Perhaps those who sleep in the cabins today are unaware that Yenis Hante was named wild rose and cedar by those long ago Camp Fire Girls of 1930 and that once scores of girls  enjoyed summer days under the blue sky and sang as they camped “Yenis Hante, all the live-long day.”  The spirits of those long ago Camp Fire Girls still haunt the cedars and wild rose and Yenis Hante remains part of their dreams.

[1] Bakersfield Californian January 13, 1922.

[2] June 4, 1923

[3] May 30, 1930

[4] July 10, 1030

[5] June 15, 1938 and July 20, 1938

[6] July 25, 1940

[7] July 14, 1943

[8] July 4, 1933