As a child growing up in Oxford, William Faulkner enjoyed most any outdoor activity. One of the outdoor activities that he and he brothers all enjoyed was scouting. He had always loved camping, and the woodcraft and Indian lore taught in the scout patrols appealed to the young man.
During the summer of 1924 he had been helping the minister of the local Presbyterian Church, Reverend Christian, as his assistant scoutmaster while also working as the postmaster for the University of Mississippi. In a few months Reverend Christian would leave Oxford to take over as pastor for the First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo. The Synod would provide a new pastor for the church in Oxford, but someone was needed to replace him as the scoutmaster. The pastor had liked the way that Faulkner had assisted him in teaching the boys of Oxford the ways of scouting.
Reverend Christian would say of Faulkner, “He was especially good with nature study and the boys ate it up. He was good and helpful, a gentlemen always and a fine influence upon the boys. I appreciated then, and still do, his volunteer service.” To other members of the church, that had control over the church sponsored scouting, this influence over the boys would later be challenged and changed.
Joseph Blotner in his biography of Faulkner states, “As assistant scoutmaster Faulkner had once taken the troop by train to a summer camp at Waterford, twenty miles north of Oxford. There they had hiked three miles into the woods, where they put up tents, made camp, and stayed a week.” While in the camp Faulkner would play baseball with his scouts. Some of the scouts even said that Faulkner would also write while his was in camp with the scouts. Later Reverend Christian would ask him to take over the troop after he left for his new post in Tupelo, and Faulkner agreed to be the new scoutmaster.
Faulkner would hold meetings once or twice a month in their scout room on the second floor of the Ira L. “Shine” Morgan appliance store overlooking the Square. “Shine” Morgan’s store was located in the building that now houses the Southside Gallery. At other times they would meet at the Presbyterian church. One scout, J. B. Roach, that had remained with the troop after he had passed the age of scouting would serve as Faulkner’s assistant scoutmaster. He was quoted as stating that his chief was very plainspoken, direct, and devoted to what he was doing. Together they made plans for the next summer’s activities for the boys.
Two of the scouts in the troop were his younger brother Dean and Eugene Bramlett. Bramlett would later become a well-respected doctor in Oxford. They, as the other scouts, would look forward to a standard after dinner feature of the camping with Faulkner. His after dinner stories around the campfire. They would all listen in horrified delight to the ghost stores that he would tell.
Once while camping by Dr. W. D. Hedleston’s farm lake at College Hill, the boys, as boys will do, decided to play a trick on their scoutmaster.
They all wanted to see how impervious his quite calm really was. His camping tastes were not Spartan, and he brought along a bedroll, which the boys considered fancy. While on the camping trip one of the boys caught a grass snake and they decided to slip the snake into the bedroll. At about ten o’clock the boys and their scoutmaster made ready for sleep and they listened for their leader to climb into his bedroll.
As their scoutmaster squirmed to get himself comfortable in his bedroll they waited patiently for the effects of their mischievous actions.
Suddenly their scoutmaster jerked, then leaped up with a string of expletives. As Faulkner recovered from the event the boys struggled to contain their laughter. “I’m sorry, boys,” he apologized. “That snake must have wanted to find a warm place out of the cold.”
When there was going to be a scouting event such as a hike, Faulkner would come to work at the university post office in his scoutmaster’s uniform, including his campaign hat, rather than his usual tweed suit, collar, and tie. To most of the scout he seemed the model troop leader, but not to some of the members of the church that sponsored the troop. Shortly after he lost his job as the university’s postmaster he lost his position as the scoutmaster.
It was well known that Faulkner, like his father and grandfather in their times, drank heavily. This was repugnant to the minister of the church, not only on general principles, but also because he was entrusted with the care of these young boys. Faulkner was then removed as unfit for the job.
Although I am sure that this hurt Faulkner, he did later suggest to his stepson Malcolm that he join a scout troop.
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.