Following is an excerpt from Sierra Summers: The History of Gold Arrow Camp (publish date: November, 2017).
[…] In the meantime, Jeanie was hatching a much bigger change in her mind, one that she’d broached only briefly with Manny in casual conversation. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to try having girls at Gold Arrow?” she’d suggest, a prompt Manny would often shrug off as nonsense and “out of the question.” Gold Arrow was, after all, the last of the rugged camps for boys. “It was definitely appropriately named,” said Jeanie. “It was for boys only.” In those days, wrote Jeanie, “Manny liked the role of Frontiersman. He wore buckskin clothes, moccasins, and had a real Indian chant wakeup and goodnight. He liked the idea of the outdoor toilets, no electricity except where positively necessary, and certainly very little plumbing and no telephone.” But the question of having girls was fair, she’d thought, one that a number of parents had begun asking as well. The more she persisted, the more Manny relented, until one day he asked Jeanie if she thought girls would like Gold Arrow. “I’m a girl and I LOVE it,” she said.
Following the 1961 season, the idea of having girls at Gold Arrow became a question of when, not if; it was a question that would move toward resolution on an early spring evening in 1962, when Manny and Jeanie paid a social call to the home of Pat Rauen, one of Manny’s first campers in the 1930s, who now had a family of his own and whose son Mike had just finished his first summer on the mountain; it was expected that younger brother Tim would soon follow. Manny had put together a slide show, which featured Mike and his camp mates participating in activities like archery, canoeing, sailing, and waterskiing; there were also archived slides of Pat when he was a camper, junior counselor, and finally a counselor, thrown in so Manny could wax nostalgic with him about the old times at Gold Arrow. They laughed about what a rascal Pat was at camp, recalling the famed Counselor’s Day rotten egg battle he engineered. They talked about how tough and rugged camp was and how boys played Capture the Flag armed with real pinecones, which left cuts and bumps and a few swollen eyes when they hit their mark. They recalled the Beaver singing and playing his drum to wake the boys and send them off to bed. And at one point in the evening, Pat broke out his green and gold five-year blanket—he was the first camper to earn such an honor—and he showed it off proudly to Manny and Jeanie. Manny winked at Mike and told him one day he might earn one too.
Taking it all in was nine-year-old Holley Rauen, Mike’s younger sister, who sat “transfixed by all the slides and stories,” she said, and started crying miserably when the reel was done. She was jealous of the boys and couldn’t understand why girls couldn’t go to Gold Arrow Camp too: “I remember climbing into Jeanie’s lap and whimpering, It just isn’t fair,” she said. Jeanie consoled her and let her know that she couldn’t agree more. Girls could and should do all those fun things. Moments later, the Rauen kids shuffled off to bed, leaving the grown-ups to talk into the night. Pat told Manny that if indeed he decided to open the camp to girls, Holley would be the first to sign up. It was certainly something Manny would consider, and now that Jeanie was in his life, she’d help him consider it even more. Manny was no pushover, but soon enough he conceded and in the summer of 1962, Gold Arrow welcomed its first group of girls to camp. Holley was overjoyed when her dad told her that both she and Mike would be going to Gold Arrow that summer. “I was the very first girl camper to sign up,” she said, “and I am proud to say that.”
Thirty-four more girls followed Holley for that summer of 1962. Jeanie said often that the limited number was by design; the Vezies wanted to keep enrollment low and manageable so they could spend a lot of time with the girls and ensure they were having a good experience. They went with them to regular programs and outposts, with Manny filming their every move. Said camper Judy Hoff (1962), “I remember riding up a ridge a couple times so he could get the shot just right with the sun in the background.” Capturing campers in action—even if it was staged—was a vital part of the recruiting plan, more so with girls in the fold. Manny needed footage of girls happily and successfully doing everything boys did, so the Holley Rauens of the world would no longer have to watch with envy as boys rode horses and sailed.
The first night of girls’ camp in 1962 likely provided the defining moment of the entire summer, a moment that Jeanie shared in various iterations over the years. It began with Manny and Jeanie visiting each of the tents and sprinkling the campfires with “fairy dust” (sawdust soaked in gasoline), which cast magical silver sparkles above the flames. They chatted with the girls and shared in the camaraderie, then returned as they were getting tucked in. Jeanie made it a point that night to visit Holley Rauen first: “She came back and tucked me into my cot and was so delighted that I had my dad’s green and gold blanket covering my sleeping bag,” Holley said. Jeanie also crowed over Holley’s foot locker, how it was organized so perfectly with all the clothes rolled up and organized by type: “I sure loved the extra attention.”
It was a big moment for the Vezies, too. Seeing Pat Rauen’s five-year blanket over Holley’s sleeping bag was emotional; it was the first blanket Manny had ever awarded, and now it had returned some two decades later to warm the very first Gold Arrow girl. “Needless to say,” Jeanie wrote, “we had difficulty controlling our emotions.”
Girls arrived in greater numbers in the summers that followed, and they traveled to camp the same way the boys did—by train from Glendale to Fresno—which six-year camper Ellen (Fead) Fields (1966-1971) said was the best part of the journey because the train was where you “met all your camp friends for the first time.” Once off the train, campers were loaded onto a bus for the slow, uphill climb to Gold Arrow. It was an unpleasant trip, as buses lacked air conditioning, and open windows let in only hot air. Fields said she actually didn’t come up in a bus her first summer, recalling instead travelling in “the back of a big, open truck”:
[t]hey piled our trunks in, then our duffel bags, then we rode on top of our duffel bags. It was a hot, long drive and I was really homesick. One girl started crying and said she missed her parents, then everyone started crying.
Once off the bus (or truck), Jeanie said that girls settled into a camp where the “quarters had softened a bit” compared to when Gold Arrow was just for boys. Manny had added two shower/toilet rooms, one in the center of camp near the horse riding circle and living area, another below the dining porch. They were a step up from the outdoor bathtubs and outhouses used in previous summers and, said Jeanie, would better satisfy the Forest Service, which had become more demanding in its requirements as Gold Arrow welcomed more campers. Despite added facilities, Jeanie continued to use outdoor tubs for a tradition that became known as “Jeanie baths,” where campers were scrubbed clean and hosed down the day before heading home.
There was nothing pleasant about the practice, and many referenced being “scrubbed raw” in an effort to remove dirt that had gotten underneath their skin. Wrote Jeanie, “I wish I had a dollar for every camper I scrubbed and shampooed because some of them were too modest to be naked with others.” Campers continued to use the small, unlit outhouses too, which became famously known as KYBOs, a crude acronym encouraging efficient visits to the toilet when Nature called: get in, Keep Your Bowels Open, and get out. “The outhouses used when it was The Last of the Rugged Camps for Boys might not be acceptable for the girls and for our increased enrollment,” Jeanie said. The Vezies in fact went to “considerable expense” to please the Forest Service in the 1960s, Jeanie said, elevating electricity and plumbing standards while also adding a staff bathhouse with toilets and showers on one side for women, with the same on the other side for men.
In addition, Manny had built a number of tent platforms and outfitted them with cots, which remained out-of-doors, on decks. Part of the allure of Gold Arrow for four-year camper Harry Chandler (1962-1965) and his older brother Norman was sleeping under the stars, much like their dad Otis did more than twenty years before them. Camper Claudia Gregory said she and her cabinmates in the late-sixties had a pact that they couldn’t go to sleep each night until they’d counted ten falling stars: “Talk about idyllic summers!” she wrote. Harry Chandler remembers “the big wooden platforms with a tent on one side and sleeping cots on the other”: “When it rained, you had to scurry inside,” he said. And if campers were lucky enough to have an all-wood cabin, they could scurry indoors to huddle around a potbelly stove during a rainstorm. Camper Dede Heintz (1964) recalled her cabin group drying their wet rubber sneakers on the stove, only to have the soles melt from the heat.
The infamous “Jeanie Baths.” Campers were hosed down and scrubbed with a brush before going home. Photo: Gold Arrow Camp archive.
Camper Ellen Fields and friend on Shaver Island with pine needles in their hair, 1966, her first summer at GAC. Photo: Ellen Fields.
The Vezies standing together at Big Campfire. Gold Arrow Camp archive.
Want to read many more stories like this one? Order your copy of Sierra Summers!
Enjoy this excerpt from Sierra Summers: The History of Gold Arrow Camp!
“I believe […] that every boy should develop some sort of hobby […] a pleasant pastime that you choose when the day’s work is done; a love of doing something for the thing itself.”
– Manny Vezie, Founder of Gold Arrow Camp
Most of the activities Gold Arrow campers participate in today are in fact the same ones Manny’s first charges enjoyed over eighty years ago, including Manny’s favorite: canoeing.
Krieg reported that Manny had “wonderful canoes” and that since his time at Red Arrow, they were always “one of his great loves.” Campers learned to properly paddle and mastered all the different strokes, and though it wasn’t that popular, Manny always made it a primary activity at camp. One of the ways he made it more thrilling was to take the boys out of camp on “river running” trips, said Krieg: “In the thirties boys ran the San Joaquin and King’s River by canoes […]. Few were experienced in river running and a canoe was totaled each trip.” It got expensive to lose a canoe each time out and, of course, it was a bit risky, but no one ever got hurt. Manny also took a few canoe trips in Yosemite “just to see the waterfalls and the deer,” Krieg said.
There was also a sailing program with “two classes of boats,” said Krieg: 12-foot-long Snowbirds and “Snipes that had a main sail and a jib.” The first two years, Manny didn’t have a huge fleet, but by 1940, Krieg reported the program featured “quite a few sailboats.” Campers were given instruction on the rules of the lake and rights of way before they launched, and there was a series of tests boys could take and skills they could demonstrate to earn the designation of “Skipper.” Once boys piloted their sailboats skillfully, they were awarded a white officer’s cap that had the Gold Arrow Camp symbol on the front. “I think I wore that cap for years, all through school,” said Krieg. People would ask him what it was, and he announced proudly “I’m a sailing skipper. I have passed the solo test to sail in some heavy winds.” It was this kind of pride in individual accomplishment that Manny wanted all of his Gold Arrow campers to experience and take home with them.
Among other water activities, there was swimming, motor boating, paddle boarding, log rolling, kayaking, and something Krieg called “platter” boating: “These were small boats […] about three feet long, and the boys would kneel in the boat and move it with their hands.” On Sunday afternoons, these water activities were frequently on display at camp “water festivals.” Campers battled it out in the “two way inlet platterboat race” or the “one lap plunge swim,” with winners earning points toward all-tent trips to Lakeshore for sodas; no matter where they finished, all participants earned a hearty “two hips and a hooray” from the counselors for giving it their best shot. Finally, later in the forties, Manny introduced “aqua planing” to camp, a milder version of waterskiing. Krieg said that Manny was actually “very scared of water-skiing because he felt if a person fell, the water-ski would come back and hit him in the head.” With aqua-planing, campers just fell off into the water, and the injury risk was minimal.
When they weren’t playing around on top of the water, they were skulking around under it. The activity was called “helmet diving,” where Krieg said campers “put a heavy steel helmet on [their] heads and went underwater and walked around the bottom of the lake.” Camper Thomas Wyatt (1945) spoke of his experience with the activity:
At the close of our session, when there were few campers in camp, I was at the swimming area and was offered a chance to try the diving helmet. It was a shoulder-mounted affair, with a face plate. I was given a rope to tug on to signal for more air or less air from the person manning the air pump. Well, I started out and became submerged, and the forgot the codes for more air! So, I swam out from under the helmet! So much for my first underwater adventure!
Camper Chas Luckman in the August 3rd edition of Smoke Signals described it as an activity that required “trusty assistants at the air pump” as campers “descended into the darkness of the lake’s blue waters.” Those same assistants then waited for “a tug and then a tug tug at the rope” before pulling the camper up. Luckman’s account also tells of the courageous Bill Brown, the junior counselor who descended “some distance down” to rescue a megaphone a waterfront lifeguard had dropped. He resurfaced to a hero’s welcome, megaphone in hand. Wrote Luckman, “As the frozen diver was being relieved of his helmet he shakingly commented, ‘I am never going down in such deep water again.’” Suffice to say that helmet diving is not among the offerings for current Gold Arrow campers.
Back on land, archery was one of the “primary sports in the early days” of camp, said Krieg. Manny had set up a number of archery ranges with targets at various distances as well as pop-up targets of small animals and a deer that would dart across the stream on a pulley. “You never knew when that deer was going to cross,” said Krieg, “but when it did you had a chance to see if you could hit this moving target.” Campers were always thrilled to hit the deer and to earn merit pins on the range from the National Camp Archery Association. To liven things up a bit, Manny even considered a “flu flu” range, said Krieg, where campers could “shoot an arrow straight up in the sky and land it on a target below.” The counselors badgered Manny to do it, according to Krieg, but at least in this case, he felt it was too dangerous.
There was also riflery, of course, and campers shot .22-long rifles at targets set at a distance of fifty feet to earn medals from the National Rifle Association. All boys had to “take a special test” to use the rifles, and could qualify for awards under the NRA’s “Junior Marksman” program. Campers were given a rule book that described benchmarks like “Sharpshooter” and “Expert Rifleman” and bound them to a sportsmen’s code by which they promised, among other things, to “never allow the muzzle of [the] gun to point at anything which [they] do not intend to shoot.” Many a camper returned home with his prized riflery rule book and his scored targets to share with Mom and Dad.
When the boys weren’t shooting targets, they were likely riding horses, one of the two largest programs at Gold Arrow Camp. Smoke Signals editor Bob Shelton wrote that without horses, “half of Gold Arrow’s charm and color would fade into the afterglow.” It was a program that Manny insisted be a Gold Arrow focal point as he knew the appeal horsemanship and the romantic myth of the frontier had for the modern American boy. By 1945, Manny had twenty-nine horses in camp with “a dozen or so more […] scattered among the mountains,” wrote Shelton.
With so many horses available to campers every summer, it was likely that a few would get loose from time to time, said Krieg. To keep track of them all, the horses were branded, an event campers were invited to attend when camp opened in mid-July. “The kids,” said Krieg, “loved to smell that horse flesh.” The men in charge of the horses and the rebranding event were “Kit” Carson Shade and Jim Gordon, with “Doc McClure in charge of heating the iron,” wrote Smoke Signals staffer Mike Millikan. Carson “actually did the dirty work” but “only one or two horses seemed to mind it very much.” As a result, wrote Millikan, “the boys began shouting for their money back.” In the end, nine horses were branded in July 1945, indelibly registered with the capital letters “VZ,” which Millikan reminds us “stands for Mr. Vezie.”
Manny loved the horse program and frequently led campers on trail rides to the “Indian Swimming Hole” and Lakeshore, among other places. While on the trail, he shared a story with campers about two miners who were scared they’d be robbed of their gold, so they hid their stash in the mountains as it began to snow.
Upon their return, the miners couldn’t find their treasure: “I believe the gold is somewhere near Gold Arrow Camp, boys,” Manny would say. “Let’s see if we can find it.” It was a slow, methodical story, said Krieg, one that typically culminated in an open meadow, where one lucky boy would always spot a big canvas bag of gold-foil candy bars. “I found it,” the boy would yell, and Manny, in his slow, easy voice, would tell the boys that gold was not very good to eat, but candy bars sure were. “He handed the candy bars out to the kids,” said Krieg. “He told these stories all the time as part of camp.”
Additionally, horses were the centerpiece of the pack trips Manny took every year, beginning in 1935. One Smoke Signals artifact from August 15, 1945 (“A Hundred Miles of Rugged Beauty”) describes how Manny ran short overnights and two- to three-day trips during the regular camp season, followed every August by a two-week post-season trip for “campers who [had] proven […] able to acquit themselves with credit in outdoor activities.” These postcamp trips were big productions, with anywhere from twenty to thirty adults and campers taking to the Sierra high country. It can be argued, based on the verbiage devoted to them in Smoke Signals, that Manny’s pack trips were, in fact, the highlight of every boy’s summer. There, we read of the “mighty” Rangers’ trip to Coyote Lake, “where the natives use mosquitoes for can openers” and the lake glistened “in the westing sun”; of tent five’s first pack trip to Red Lake, arriving after a “tiresome ride” to a “meal of sandwiches and soup” followed by “snow fights” and a thunderstorm; and of tent four’s “short mile horseback ride” to the Indian Swimming Hole, where they set up camp and had a dinner of “brown potatoes, gravy, emerald string beans, and a whole watermelon,” before a “pinecone fight […] without a casualty” and a campfire with “ginger snaps and stories.” Indeed, the pages of the camp newspaper are full of descriptions that seem to come straight from the pages of cowboy adventure novels.
But before any boy could participate in one of these memorable experiences, they had to pass what Krieg called “test camp,” an area set up below the road, overlooking the lake in what is now called “The Ridge” (Cabins 23, 24 and 25). Boys had to go to test camp for one night to “make sure [they] kept a clean camp,” said Krieg. Boys did all the things they would do at a normal campsite, then counselors came the next day to check them out. If they passed, they were eligible to go on a pack trip. According to Krieg, there was no camper who ever failed test camp, but there was some sport in casting a shadow of doubt when the counselors did their final checks. “You left a paper over here,” they might say, or “You didn’t do the right thing over there.” It was all in good fun, said Krieg, and in the end, they all learned to be good campers.
Arguably, the post-season pack trips were Manny’s finest hours and perhaps the excursions from which he derived the greatest satisfaction. He planned the itineraries himself, changing them each year while keeping them under wraps until departure as a way to build anticipation in the boys. Invariably, he led the rugged company to places “in God’s Great Grandeur […] where the gold trout are seldom bothered by man.” All trips began with a truck ride from Huntington Lake to Mono Hot Springs where explorers found their horses and supplies waiting. Imagine the thrill the boys must have felt to have their own horses for two weeks. In one abridged travel log, captured in Smoke Signals, Manny led the group to Bear Creek before heading over Selden Pass, 11,500 feet “up to Heaven where the view stretches out a hundred miles over Marie Lakes on one side and Heart Lake on the other.” They camped and fished for three days at Sally Keys Lake before dropping for two days into Blaney Meadows, “where the fishing is fine and hot springs gush forth.” The final leg of the journey took them to Florence Lake, where the truck to take them back to camp awaited: “In all, we have been twelve days on a trail we will cherish forever”:
Mix this up with outdoor cooking,
And miles and miles of joyful riding.
And the smells of pine and fir trees,
And the chores of trail and camplife.
Flavor with friendship and brand new tales,
Told over the campfire nights on the trail;
And you’ll find you’ve done something
You’ll talk of for years!
– Smoke Signals, August 15, 1945
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a boy who—presented with glorious, untrammeled views, gushing hot springs, and his own horse on which he beheld it all—wouldn’t talk of the cherished experience for years. Manny wanted his boys, through the pack trip experience, to leave feeling like confident trailblazers and frontiersmen: “In all the pack trips,” wrote Shelton, Manny “never yet found a disappointed camper!”
Sierra Summers will be published in the fall of 2017. It is written by Chuck “Woody” Radke.