East Texas Area Council, B.S.A.
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were three things all former Scouts remember about Camp Tonkawa.
The deep, hot, fine white sand, the Bull Nettles and the cold swimming
hole. Paul Yater said: “Our summer camp was always at
Camp Tonkawa near Garrison, Texas during the 1940s, '50s and '60s
It was a pretty rustic camp with no hot showers, thick sand, bull nettle
and a spring-fed swimming hole with 65 +/- ºF water. You talk
For several years, East Texas Scouts did not have a camp to call their own. Many times this important item was discussed at meetings of the Executive Board, until finally the ideal camp site was located. For three years the Officers of the Council were persistent, and in September 1938, the camp site was secured. The Council leased the land from Dr. Tucker.
On March 27, 1939, the work of building the camp was started. For fourteen weeks, workman built rock walls, camp buildings, cleared brush, built roads, installed the water system, cleaned out the lake, and handled many other details which were necessary to make the camp ready for the 1939 camping season. The work was done by the C.C.C. The Council hired Jess Case as caretaker. Some money had to be borrowed, other raised, and the camp was completed on July 1, at a total cost of $5,062.16.
464 Scouts attended Camp Tonkawa during the regular camping season of 1939. Twelve Troops attended under their own leadership which was a significant fact, since camping in the Council camp was previously been on a provisional Troop basis. The following year, 1940, 475 Scouts and 32 Scout leaders, plus a staff of 13 men, representing 59 Troops, spent a week at Camp Tonkawa.
Pictured to the right is the original wooden gate entrance to Camp Tonkawa taken in 1947. It was later replaced by a metal pipe entrance, shown below, built by M. H. Barton of Henderson, and under the leadership of Paul Wagster, and the help of Paul Yater, both of Longview, the Order of the Arrow was responsible for the Archway. The gate was in place by the summer of 1951 and is pictured to your left below.
Camp Tonkawa was situated on a 55 acre tract of leased land near Garrison, Texas, twelve miles north of Nacogdoches and five miles south of Mt. Enterprise. The camp consisted of a lodge building that also housed the canteen and camp office, a quartermaster storage building, later a mess hall and a first aid building. The camping part consisted of eight campsites. This was later enlarged to 12 when a central mess hall was built. Because of the small amount of leased land some of the Scout activities had to be held off premises such as the rifle and archery range, Order of the Arrow ceremonial ring and the Explorer Base.
The last summer camp was held at Camp Tonkawa the summer of 1964. The Council had a new camp called the George W. Pirtle Scout Reservation and were now using it for summer camp.
In the 1800’s, the 50 acres of Camp Tonkawa was in a land grant to a full blood Indian, as well as the 300 acres that surround it. In the early 1900’s, Camp Tonkawa was called Akin's Mill Pond. Old-timers talked about the times they use to come to this area picnicking or to gin cotton. The spring which flowed 600 gallons of cool, clear water every minute of the year would fill the millpond and then four bales of cotton could be ginned one day and two the next before they had to close the gates and let the pond fill up again. During this time period the Tucker family purchased the property and has owned it ever since.
When the Boy Scouts left after the summer of 1964, the Texas State Fox and Wolf Hunters leased the propertyfor their hunts. Fox hounds were swapped, sold and bartered. The fox hunters left in the early 1970’s. In the late 1980’s, Ozarka Water Company leased the water rights on the property, moving out after a number of years. Then, for many years Camp Tonkawa sat vacant. The photo on the right shows the beginning of the cold springs.
The family found it impossible to keep people out of the water. People found the pond no matter what the family did to discourage trespassing. The lure of that cold, clear water was just too great!
On June 1, 2001 Camp Tonkawa was reopened as the "Camp Tonkawa Springs RV Park and Campground."
To get to the camp today you would go from Hwy. 259 east on CR 1087 for 4.5 miles. Then turn right (south) on CR 153 and the entrance is about 100 yards down CR 153.
Frank T. Hilton: