Now that we have learned about the serious part of camping, hiking and woodcraft, about fire-building, cooking and axe work, we will leave the long trail and the hard trail and dump our duffel bag in a recreation camp, a Boy Scout camp, a Y. M. C. A. camp, or a school camp, and after we have pitched our tent and arranged our cot to suit our own convenience and everything is ship-shape for the night, it is time for us to get busy on our "good turn" and do something for the crowd.
Like the great Boy Scout Movement, the council fire is also a product of America. The council fires were burning all over this land when Columbus discovered America. It was around the council fires that the Indians gathered in solemn conclave to consult and discuss the affairs of their tribes.
Originally the council ground was surrounded by a palisade; that is, the fire was in the center of a circular fort. Around this fire the old men of the tribe made their eloquent addresses; also around this fire the warriors danced the scalp dance, the corn dance, the buffalo dance, and all their various religious dances.
Later the Cherokee Indians changed the council fire into a barbecue, where they roasted whole beefs in pits of glowing coals. This custom was adopted by the politicians in Kentucky, and the Kentucky barbecues became very famous; they were what might be called a by-product of the old Indian council fires and a European feast combined. But in 1799 the old Indian council fires became camp meetings, and around the blazing fagots the pioneers gathered to engage in religious revivals. It was at one of these meetings that Daniel Boone's great friend, Simon Kenton, was converted and became a Methodist.
The camp meetings were originated by two brothers by the name of McGee. Bill McGee was a Presbyterian, and John McGee a Methodist minister. They came to Kentucky from West Tennessee. John McGee was such a great backwoods preacher (a pioneer Billy Sunday) that he drew immense crowds of buckskin-clad men, each of whom carried a cow's horn powder flask and a long barreled rifle.
The small buildings used for churches in the pioneer settlements could not hold the crowd, so they gathered around blazing council fires, and from this beginning came the great religious revival which swept the border with a wave of religious enthusiasm.
It is a far call back to the old Indian council fire, and the blazing council fires of the pioneer camp meetings, but to-day all over this land we are holding similar council fires, many of them conducted with much ceremony, and not a few with religious fervor. The summer hotels have their council fires; the great Camp Fire Club of America, composed of all the famous big game hunters, have lately bought a tract of land for the purpose of holding their council fires in the open, and the writer interrupted the writing of this chapter to attend one of the club's council fires. The military schools are holding council fires, and everywhere the Boy Scouts have their council fires blazing; even the girls have fallen in line, and this is as it should be, Therefore it is time that some regular plan was made for these assemblies, and some suggestion of ceremony and some meaning given to the council grounds.