Maple Adkins-Threats

ENG 365 Folklore

20 March 20, 2015

Tales at Tapawingo: A Place of Joy

While Boy Scouts camps have become accepted to have their own culture, rich with history, traditions, and badges, Girl Scouts camps can feature some of the same cultural richness. Girls have been attending Camp Tapawingo in Metamora, Illinois since it opened in 1958 (Kendall).  Over the past almost 60 years, hundreds of girls have attended the camp, both learning and contributing to the culture and lore of the camp.  As different generations have attended the camp, specific stories, songs, and traditions have come and gone. The many traditions can be observed and analyzed to show their functions and importance to the camp.

In order to gather information about Tapawingo, women who attended the camp when they were young and women who were counselors were interviewed.  Many of the women served in both roles. Women ranging from ages eighteen to sixty-nine and attending the camp from 1965 to present were interviewed. Interviews were conducted via email, phone, and in person.  A questionnaire was sent out asking the women demographic questions and questions focusing mainly on Tapawingo history and legends behind the traditions, landmarks, and sites. The interview also focused on how the women learned the songs and legends and the activities they did around the campfire.  The women were encouraged to include what they could without the help of outside sources. Phone interviews were also conducted with those who requested them.  The phone interviews allowed for more in depth questions and gave the informant a chance to elaborate on their answers.  

The name of the camp signifies the attitude reflected by many of the women as they recounted their experiences at the camp. Strangely only two women were able to elaborate on what the word “Tapawingo” means and give possible insight as to why it was chosen.   These women explained that the name meant “Place of Joy” and one informant reports that it was a name chosen by the first girls at the camp.  The informants knew that the name had some Native American origin, but were uncertain of the specifics.  The same origin of the name is shared by an informant in A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values who reports as far back as in the 1930s that the name meant “House of Joy” in some Native American languages (Gillis, 107). Regardless of the fact that the only a few informants were able to remember the meaning of the name, the fact that it has been remembered bears significance.  The time difference between when the two informants attended the camp was nearly twenty years and yet both of them were at some point taught the meaning which was conserved. The name is not specific to the camp in Illinois; there exist Camp Tapawingos in Oregon, and Maine.  The other camps dating back as far as 1919 also conserve the “Place of Joy” meaning of Tapawingo.  The name possibly serves as a reminder of the purpose of the camp, as a place of pleasure and to make memories.  

A major part of the culture associated with the camp was the name of the campground sleeping units. Until recent years, there were five sleeping units with tents, one lodge, and unit house.  Additionally there was a unit with just the unit house.  Currently, only three units are being used, but the names and origin stories of the old still remain with some women. Katie Stobaugh, an informant who attended the camp as both a camper and a counselor from 1991 to 2008 and whose mother went to camp, reports that she was taught that the names were picked by the first girls and were influenced by their location.  Few women remembered all of the units, even fewer were able to recall the origin of the names.  Many of the women who remembered the origins of the names belonged to the older group (attending as campers before 2005 and only serving as a counselor or faculty since).  However, there was a consensus among those who could remember origin of the names. Setting Sun was the best place to watch the sun set, Shining Star was the best for star gazing, Rustling Oaks was surrounded by oak trees, Crooked Tree was named for the crooked tree behind the unit, and Many Moons was the farthest unit from the entrance.  Within the origin of the Many Moon names, there is slight variation. Some women reported that the name was given because the unit was “many moons away from anything else” while other women reported that it took many moons to hike to the unit. The first references “many moons” as a distance to be traveled while the other refers to “many moons” as the passage of time. Despite the fact that the use of the phrase “many moons” may change its use is still conserved as a camp-wide understood descriptor.  Strangely, White Cloud was the only sleeping unit that was recalled by a majority of the women, but only one person could explain that it was named for the clouds.  The most recalled unit was Crooked Tree. Ten out of eleven women were able to talk about unit while eight of those ten reported knowing that the unit was named after the Crooked Tree found behind the unit. The legends surrounding this tree may have been Text Box: The Crooked Tree located at Camp of the more well-known stories from the camp.


Crooked Tree is one of the sleeping units in the camp that has a tree with a crooked, humped trunk after which it is named. Women who attended the camp from the mid-1960s to past summer of 2014 were able to recall the stories they were told about the tree. When examining the reason for the crooked shape of the tree, two main explanations have been circulating around the camp.  While the explanations of the odd tree shape may differ, both claim to have Native American roots. The older explanation as reported by Marie O’Connor, who attended the camp as a camper and later as a counselor from 1965-1975, claims that the tree got its crooked form because it was used as a Native American marker tree to indicate the presence of a water source or trail. Native Americans would bend the trunk of a young sapling and keep it tied down with animal hide so that it would grow to have the humped shape (Houser). Similar trees have been observed in Texas and deemed Indian Marker Trees. It is reported that the Comanche people would bend or alter the tree to point in the direction of a campsite (Gelo and Pate, 45).The explanation was still being circulated by 1990 as other women who attended at the time remember being told the marking tree explanation as well.

However, by at least 1998 and until present, a tale involving a Native American woman has surfaced as another explanation for the hump. Both campers and counselors report telling various versions of this story.   The concept of variation within conservation is apparent; the basic core elements of the narrative including a Native American female waiting at the tree remains fixed.  The variation lies in minor details. The narrative consistently involves a Native American woman/princess whose lover/husband/warrior has gone off to war. She has chosen/promised to stay resting on the tree until he returns.  Unfortunately he dies/gets lost in battle and she is not told.  She continued to wait and died on the tree and it grew around her, forming the hump.  In some versions, the woman dies there and in others, her fate is left undisclosed.

Why these stories continue to be circulated may lie in the fact that people want explanations for phenomena that are witnessed and the strong localization of the legends keep them believable and alive.  In Orlik’s Principles for Oral Narrative Research, it is explained that the narrative type of legends can exist in two forms: origin legends and anecdotes (3).  When examining the two explanations it is evident that they are both origin legends since they both are used to explain the origin of the crooked tree in a fixed location.  The legends remain believable because of visual evidence that both of the stories could have taken place (Orlik, 79).  The credibility of the legends also contributes to why both are still being circulated around the camp today.  A major reason why campers keep the marking tree legend is because the Crooked Tree does actually point in the direction of a close creek that runs behind the camp.  Additionally, it helps places emphasis on recognizing the Native American presence and history of the land before the camp was there. The fact that the land on which the camp rests would have been inhabited by the Pimiteoui before French settlers in late 1600s adds to the importance of localization in the story (Couri).  Consequently, there could have been a Native American princess/woman who lived in the area, validating the Native American love story.  Nevertheless, it does not matter which legend is true; it is merely the fact that either are possible explanations for the crooked tree that is important to the women.

While both origin stories are still circulated, there have been reports of each story being told to different demographics of campers, showing that the stories may be to serve different purposes. Multiple counselors report that the Native American love story was told to the younger girls, while the older campers were told the explanation of Native American marker tree.  One counselor explains that they tell the Native American love story to the younger girls because it has the tall tale, fairy tale element, “There is the truth and then there is fairy tales we tell to entertain kids” (Staley). A purpose for the Native American could be that it displays a dedicated woman.  The legend fits the mold of the Aarne-Thompson Tall tale type 888: the faithful wife. The legend features a woman who is completely devoted to her husband. When considering this tale type, the story could serve the function to teach the girls about being a devoted lover or wife.  Because this woman remained loyal to her husband she was remembered eras later, making her seem like a role model. This function aligns with the fourth functioned mentioned in Dundes’ The Study of Folklore (294). The story aims to support and glorify the social expectation that these girls grow up to be wives who are faithful to their husbands.

Regarding the transmission of the crooked tree origin stories, like most of the stories told by at the camp, they are transmitted orally.  Counselors told campers the stories as they visited the tree or when campers asked about the name of the unit.  An interesting trait of both legends is that there exists little variation within each over the past 50 and 25 years. Even within the Native American love story, the variation arises only in specific words. According to Orlik, no verbal narrative or story exists in its original form; by being transferred verbally, it is prone to being altered in some fashion since no person tells a story the same way. Nevertheless, there may be forms or versions of the narrative that are remarkable close to the original as witnessed in the love story legend (90).  Within this lies the principle of variation within conservation.  The core essence or ideal of the narrative may be present, but its presentation may be altered by time, region, or audience.  Alterations of the original can serve either to help the story maintain its original purpose without being coming obsolete or serve to indicate a new purpose.  At Camp Tapawingo, the two stories may have arisen separately to serve different purposes, or they help maintain the relevance of the unit name and the actual tree.  It is not the truthfulness of these stories that is important, but the role they play for the campers.

A tradition of the camp that has popped up repeatedly since 1991 until the present is the stories of fairies. Multiple informants mention the wood fairies being “present” during campfires.  The wood fairies would sprinkle fairy dust on the fire, turning it different colors.  The campers were told about fairy houses in the grass and tabletops.  Katie Stobaugh, who attended as a camper from 1991 to 2001, recalls that she was taught table manners using the fairies.  Table fairies lived on the table and if you put your elbows on the table you would crush them.  Wood fairies built their houses in the grass, therefore girls were supposed to stay on trails and off the grass or risk crushing the fairies. Examining the reported stories, the function of the fairies is seen as pedagogical tool (Georges and Jones, 189).  The counselors are using the fairies as a way to teach the campers lessons. The table fairies teach the girls table manners like refraining from putting their elbows on the table. The ‘presence’ of fairy homes trains the girls to avoid walking on the grass.  This method is commonly used to subtly teach children rules or manners. Additionally, the youngest informant who attended the camp in 2012 explains that the fairies dislike the use of technology on the camp grounds.  This new development functions as a way to endorse the rules culture of the camp even in the technological age. The use of technology at camp is prohibited because camp is supposed to serve as time with nature. In this case, the folklore discourages the girls from breaking the rules at the risk of upsetting the fairies.   

Another major tradition of the Camp Tapawingo is the opening and closing campfires.  O’Connor remembers the all girl weekly campfire as early as 1965 and many women report the campfire ceremonies as being a special part of the week and even sacred.  However, the role of the campfire gathering is not specific to Tapawingo or even girl scouts. In his publication in the Journal of American Folklore entitled “The Magic of the Boy Scout campfire”, Jay Mechling reports the significance of the campfire event for Boy Scouts and his observations are mirrored in what the women interviewed reported about their experience with the opening and closing campfires. The ceremonial campfire functions as a method to gather and creatively share experiences and bond through multiple mediums. By comparing the campfire event of the two scout groups, the conservation present can be observed as well as the variance that occurs.

Mechling explains that the event of a Boy Scouts campfire could be broken into six distinct elements: the opening, songs, skits, yells, story, and closing and benediction. The opening is often characterized by the gathering of scouts, the lighting of the fire, and the greeting.  O’Connor, who retired from the camp in 1975, reports that the opening and closing campfires would be held at the creek bed somewhere behind the camp.  The counselors would lead the girls down a trail that ran behind each unit using torches made with sanitary napkins dipped in kerosene.  Many times the counselors would dress in pajamas or as Native Americans with bells around their ankles.  The fire pit would already be constructed and the logs ready to be lit.  There would be chemicals in pit to make different color flames.  Usually they would sing “Rise Up Old Flame” or “Fire’s Burning” to start the occasion. At some point the permanent location of and the quest to the all camper campfire must have changed because no one else after O’Connor reports the event ever being by the creek.  Instead by 1991, the campfire site Bullfrog is specified. While each unit has a fire pit, Bullfrog is special. The site contains a central, large fire pit that is surrounded by full sized logs to be used as seats and a wooden stage. The area is set in front of the Mary Morgan dining hall at the center of the camp. The campfires held at Bullfrog did not function as method to cook meals or warmth but as more.   Despite the fact that the site of the campfire has changed over the years, as stated by the current camp director Katie Noland, “what happens around that campfire between the girls and their councilors is universal and timeless.” 

The songs element of the campfire event is very apparent in the Tapawingo tradition.  Women report that as campers, the songs are learned only by hearing them sung by other campers or counselors. Counselors often used the call and response method to teach songs and marches. And even though they were given standard camp songbooks, informant counselors report mainly learning the songs by hearing them from others.  Additionally, international counselors or counselors from other camps would bring new songs. O’Connor recalls one co-worker who specialized in Native American songs that she taught to campers while other transferred counselors would bring songs with them that they adapted for Tapawingo. Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts report learning through the call and response method; however, the prompt to initiate the learning differed.  One former Boy Scout reports being prompted by the phrase, “This is a repeat- after-me song” (Dryden).  The phrase “I sing a line, you sing it back” often prompted the teaching of a new song for girl scouts (Nelson, Trimble, and Merz). Songs mentioned by informants were scout originals, general camp songs, marches, and even mainstream songs.  Songs like “G for Generosity,” “Barges,” and “On My Honor” were songs identified by informants as well as found in a recently compiled Girl Scouts Song Book (Lefebvre, Stobaugh, and Peck). Certain songs were also accompanied by motions or gestures like “The Princess Pat” “Boy and Girl in a Little Canoe”, and “I’m a Little Coconut.” While many songs were generic, they carried the themes of love, friendship, and adventure.  Songs were mostly sung a capella with the occasional help of counselors who could play guitar (O’Connor). As observed by Mechling, the song list is not fixed. Depending on which campfire, the songs would differ and not all of the same songs are sung at each event. Women reported having happy, loud, quiet, and tranquil songs that could be used to set a range of moods.

A skit section was also reported by informants.  The skits were performed by both counselors and campers.  While skits were mentioned by informants, little was said about them. Despite the fact that little was said, a function will be inferred later in the paper as the content of the skits may not have been the element that held the most importance.

Yells, as described by Mechling, were a way for the Boy Scouts troops to be competitive with each other. Yells or anything similar to what was described were not reported by any of the women.  The lack of yells in the girl scouts campfire may be attributed to a difference between how boys and girls play. In Feminist Theory and the Study of Folklore, the different ways boys and girls behave in their own groups are examined.  Girls focused more on constructing and maintaining relationships.  The yells are supposed to loud and active, yet nothing of the sort is reported by female informants.  For females, games were characterized by being passive, symbolic, including turn-taking, and attempting to maintain unity which seems counterintuitive if portrayed as Mechling suggests (Hollis, 130).  Additionally, Boy Scouts traditionally attend camp with their troops.  At larger camps, troops would have their individual yells to use as way to identify themselves and proclaim their pride (Dryden). At Camp Tapawingo, while girls can sign up with their troops, it is more common for girls to go as individuals or with another friend. Consequently, there would be no pre-determined troops for there to be competition and yells not serve nearly the same function for the Girl Scouts at Tapawingo.

As far as stories are concerned, the informants were asked mainly about the stories surrounding the history of the camp, but not necessarily those told at the campfire.  The stories told had the characteristics more of legends. The final part of the campfire was the closing and benediction. Similar to Mechling findings, the women report singing slower songs for this part of the evening.  As the ceremony draws to an end, the mood becomes softer and comes down like the inflection of a voice as one gets closer to the end of a statement. 

Mechling’s analysis also focuses on the shifting roles of the campers and counselors as both the audience and performers and the leaders and followers as a way to form bonds between all members of the group. For examples, the importance of the skits lays no so much in the content, but in the function it plays in allowing the campers to switch roles. As campers, interviewees report that they would be part of the audience by watching skits such as the Raisin Bran skit or introduction skits done by the counselors on the stage. These skits were usually done during the opening campfire. The campers were predominantly in the role of the audience. They would watch counselors display skills like juggling, singing solos, or playing instruments.  However, at the end of the week, the campers would be expected take up the role as performers and to give their own skits, reviewing the events and experiences of the week.  By this time, the campers are bonded closer with the counselors, each other, and camp. This bond is reflected by the fact that they are no longer audience members looking up at the performing, distant counselors, but that they are both performers and equals. Even the role of campers in songs shares this dichotomy. Campers are audience members for songs like “Rose, Rose, Rose” which was only sang by counselors, but are performers when in call and response songs and marches.

While the whole campfire event was able to be broken down into segments, it is evident that the all-camp campfires played a role in how the week went for the girls.  Each campfire can be analyzed using a similar lens that Mechling uses. The first campfire serves as the opening for the whole week. The girls are introduced to all of the staff, told the rules, and introduced to the camp as a whole. The songs sung at this ceremony are more upbeat and generally louder. At this campfire, the sillier songs like “I’m a Little Coconut” would be sung.

This is still a bonding time, but it is clear who is the audience and who is the performer. However, the closing campfire is the closing and benediction for the week-long camp session. Informants report this being more of a solemn, meditative night, a night to reflect on the week and say goodbye. At this campfire, slower songs were usually picked by the counselors to sing. Traditional closing songs included “Linger” “Make New Friends”, “Rose”, and Dean Martin’s “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me.” Even lullabies were sung. One informant reported singing “Make New Friends” while in a circle holding hands. Everyone would close their eyes, hold hands and a hand squeeze would go around the circle. When you felt your hand squeezed, you stick your foot in the middle and pass it on (Trimble). Similar to what Mechling reports about the Girl Scouts around the campfire, this time serves as chance to reflect on the week, to reflect on the time spent with each other, and to acknowledge the end of an experience.  While some elements are shared between the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, for females the ceremony is overall less aggressive as seen by the lacking yells.  Instead if an arena, the area is more of a “domestic hearth” where the campers and counselors can gather and bond through a range of activities (Mechling, 55).

            Currently, Camp Tapawingo is undergoing much physical change.  As time has passed, older units have been retired, the Crooked Tyree has been cut, and new buildings are being constructed.  Nevertheless, the camp stories and traditions surrounding all parts of the camp should be preserved for their value.  The specific legends like those of the Crooked Tree, the Many Moon unit, and the fairies al serve a purpose for those who attend the camp. Although it is not as well explored or advocated, Girl Scouts camp folklore can be just as rich and powerful as the folklore found at a Boy Scouts camp.  Using Mechling, the difference and similarities in the campfire ceremony between the two scouts can observed, analyzed, and further appreciated. 


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