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Harry Bartelt and “On My Honor”

There is a photograph of Harry Bartelt hanging in one of the oldest buildings in Northern Star Council's oldest Scout Camp.  The picture pays tribute to him as one of the early pioneers of Scouting, and as a man who made a deep impression on all who knew him. 

Harry grew up in Scouting and became an Eagle Scout.  He went to work for the St. Paul-based Council in 1924 as a part time executive, and within a short time was named Assistant Scout Executive - a position he held through the 1920's.  He was the Camp Director at Square Lake Scout Camp in 1925 and for several summers after.  In 1929 he was the first Camp Director at River Camp, which was designed as an "advanced camper" program, including higher attendance standards such as First Class rank (in part because swimming in the river was more hazardous than swimming at "Lake Camp" - or Square Lake Camp.)

In those years there were four camp sessions per summer of 12-14 days each.

Harry was well known as a great cook, and as an accomplished song leader.  His career eventually led him to become the Scout Executive of the North Star Council in Duluth - where he gained a statewide reputation for articles in Minnesota DNR publications, and for clearing the old “Grand Portage” voyageur trail that had been lost for many years.  In the summers of 1946 and 1947, Harry directed large teams of Scouts and adults in this work – and they camped on the old site of Fort Charlotte.

Harry's musical talents helped him to write many Scouting songs, including the official Region Ten song - but it was only after many years of trying to put the Scout Oath to music (attempted by many before him) that he made a truly lasting mark. 

As Harry said himself, "The attempts to write a song that had within it the spirit of the Scout Oath were carried on by me over a period of many years. Although I possessed great interest and enthusiasm for music, I lacked experience and good training in composition.  The reason for the effort in the first place was the hope that the Scout Oath might be sung instead of being verbally repeated.  It seemed to me that on certain occasions a musical Scout Oath might be especially effective.

After many trials at the piano, only frustrations were the result.  The exact words as they appeared in the Oath just simply would not fit into lyrics.  After being inspired at a particularly effective Court of Honor ceremony, another session at the piano resulted.  This time, for an entirely unknown reason, a change took place, not only in the sequence of words but the wording itself.”

How was the song first introduced?  In 1947, at the 8th National Scout Executives Conference, 3,000 professional leaders watched as a spotlight played on a slowly rising orchestral platform.  It illuminated bright red caps of some forty men who proudly wore white t-shirts emblazoned with a blackbearded Paul Bunyan (the mascot of Region Ten).  Several men were swinging axes and slashing chips from logs, and in the background were evergreen trees.  They sang the song through once, and then hummed it as the actual Oath was repeated.  It was a tremendous hit.

Bartelt continues “Since that conference the use of the song spiraled beyond belief.  It has been used at International and National Jamborees, in fact, I received a copy of the Japanese Boy Scout songbook, and found On My Honor included, the only song printed in English.”

After retiring from the BSA, Harry moved to the Lake Minnetonka area, where he remained a volunteer for many years.

There never has been an official Boy Scout song – but Harry Bartelt - a Scouter from our Council wrote a song that has come closest to reflecting the spirit of Scouting, in the eyes of many.

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