Cokato Boys Were First Rural Boy Scouts In U.S.A

by Karen Humphrey

They were all country boys who lived between Rice Lake and Grass LakeóDonald Martinson, Laurel Peterson, Jerome Munson, Vernon Munson, Lloyd Jorgenson, Bernard Mattson, Ralph Berg, Douglas Munson, Louis Johnson, Ernest Youngquist, and James Custeróand in 1928 they were the first rural Boy Scouts in the Unites States.

It was Axel Mattson and Albert Munson who initiated the idea. Munson, father of Vernon and Douglas, owned the Rice Lake Store. He was the scoutmaster and loaned the upstairs of his store for the monthly meetings. Edward Slebiska was the assistant scoutmaster.

Times were different in those years when the troop was organized in 1928 until it disbanded in 1932.

Crossroads communities like Grass Lake that consisted on a general store, a creamery, and a church thrived. News spread by word of mouth or notices posted at the creamery and at the store. The newspaper, even if it was head-quartered, six miles to the north, was kind of far away in those days.

Boys at the tender age of 12 were entrusted to drive the family car to the scout meetings.

"I remember tying knots on a board. That was our first project," Laurel Peterson said at a reunion of some of the scouts at Donald Martinsonís home. There were cookouts where the boys made a fire in a hole in the ground, waited for red coals, threw in some potatoes, covered them with dirt and built another fire on which they cooked shish kebabs. "I remember doing that on my own many times," Martinson said.

There were campouts at Lake Sylvia, Lake Washington, and Diamond Lake. Courts of Honor with the Cokato troop. Opportunities to be at the State Fair and march in parade in front of the Grandstand. There were sixteen-mile hikes with knapp sacks filled with lunch and canteens filled with water.

They wore scout uniforms, complete with the traditional hat and boy scout emblem woven in the ribbon. They had troop signal flags fastened to three feet of lath that they used in competition with, say, the Cokato Troop. The Boy Scout handbook became their almanac. They abided by the motto "Be Prepared." And pledged the scout oath: "On my honor, I will do my best: To do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

For all the fun that they had, and all the things they learned, it seemed that by 1932 there weren't enough younger boys to come into the troop. Albert, who had been such a guiding light, suffered from several physical problems. And there was the Great Depression that made life difficult for everyone. The first rural Boy Scout troop in America disbanded.

Four years later, Richard Peterson, president of Cokato State Bank, called up Albert and said that there was still an account at the bank, and he was wondering if it shouldn't be closed out. With the money from the account, Albert purchased one spruce tree for each scout and scoutmaster, and with some help planted them on the east shore of Cokato Lake because thatís where the Boy Scouts liked to fish.

And how did those Boy Scouts turn out? Did they live up to their oath? Well, Donald Martinson established a cement works in Cokato. Laurel Peterson became a carpenter, a building inspector, and is known to play the violin now and then. Vernon Munson took over the Rice Lake Store, then worked for Northrup King Seed for 31 years.

Jerome Munson served as a librarian for the city of Chicago. Lloyd Jorgenson owned a resort north of Eden Valley. Bernard Mattson became the Wright County Assessor. James Custer worked for the REA. And Louis Johnson, Douglas Munson, Ralph Berg, and Ernest Youngquist produced food and fiber through their farming operations.

It seems they did all right.

This article first appeared in the 16 November 1988 edition of the Enterprise Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. ©Cardan, Inc. 1988.