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Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties

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Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties
Intoduction - by Lloyd Kahn

DANIEL C. BEARD is best known for being one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America*. In 1908, he founded The Boy Pioneers, which served as a pattern for the Boy Scout movement which started in England in 1908. Beard was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1850, during the Civil War. He grew up in a family of artists and worked as a civil engineer and surveyor until he discovered an inherent artistic talent. He abandoned his engineering and surveying career and studied at the Art Students League in New York at night and sketched animals and wildlife by day. In a moment of genius, he wrote The American Boys' Handy Book in 1882, when he was only 32 years old. The book became a classic that has now sold over 300,000 copies. He soon became a much sought after illustrator of books, magazines and comic weeklies. In the early 1890s, he enhanced his reputation by illustrating Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Beard's chief fame, however, came from his pioneering activities as a leader and guide of boys in outdoor life and the ways of nature, and for his series of books on the outdoors. For some 50 years, he wrote and illustrated a string of books on the outdoors, such as The Outdoor Handy Book (1900), Field and Forest Handy Book (1906), Boat Building and Boating (1911), The American Boys' Book of Bugs, Butterflies and Beetles (1915), The American Boys' Book of Wild Animals (1921), Wisdom of the Woods (1927), and Buckskin Book For Men and Boys (1927) – to name a few.

Shelters, Shacks and Shanties came about in the middle of Beard's prolific artistic and educational career, in 1914. It is addressed to "boys of all ages," and instructions and illustrations are provided for a range of shelters, from the simplest and most basic - caves and structures built with nothing but a hatchet - to gradually more elaborate constructions using an axe. Beard intended that the chronology of shelters in the book follow the history of the human race. An added aspect of the book is its value to homesteaders or anyone else with the land or inherent inclination to put a simple roof overhead. Builders will be intrigued and amused by the ingenuity of these structures, put together with nary a Skilsaw, extension cord or 4 x 8" sheet of plywood in sight. Architects would do well to study not just these clearly-drawn plans, but the order of structures, going from the most basic to the more complex. Here are building shapes adapted to site, materials, tools and use; structures framed and covered according to usefulness and practicality rather than intellectual or abstract conceptual design.

Even in the early years of this century, Beard was aware of the need for conservation in the wild. "If it is desired to cut off the limb of a tree, do not disfigure the tree by tearing the bark down; trees are becoming too scarce for us to injure them unnecessarily." So even though readers are encouraged to camp out in the wilds, and to construct shelters appropriate to the time and place, they are also advised to waste nothing, and to respect the natural life and vegetation they have come to enjoy.

A recurring theme in many of Beard's books was the notion of self-sufficiency, and he was absolutely confident in his readers' abilities. Parental supervision not required. In fact, in 1985, Esquire magazine referred to one of Beard's boys' books as a "fat catalog of misbehavior." Here, in the chapter on tree-top houses, he criticizes New York City police for "interfering" with a boy's treehouse on 169th street and goes on to describe another on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn "so commodious" as to be able to accommodate 15 people. He has no qualms about telling readers how to use hatchet and axe (his information on using an axe to fell trees, split logs and make shakes is excellent) and he gives plans for building sod-roofed houses (that could collapse) or overwater camps (that could wash away) with inherent trust in his readers' intelligence and craftsmanship.

There are 332 wonderful pen and ink drawings in Shelters, Shacks and Shanties. Beard realized that in a book of this nature, readers would depend more upon the drawings than the written instructions, and so he made the diagrams as self-explanatory as possible. The book has been reprinted exactly as it appeared in 1914, the only exception being that the original book has been enlarged by 20%.

Daniel Beard was known to everyone connected with the Boy Scouts as "Uncle Dan." In 1940, scout leaders helped him celebrate his 90th birthday by declaring the occasion Boy Scout Day at the New York World's Fair, and some 50,000 scouts participated in the exercises. Beard died one year later, leaving behind a wonderful legacy of literature on camping and the outdoor life, as well as some early, well founded warnings about the disappearing U.S. woods.

- Lloyd Kahn
April, 1992

* In May 2008 we received the following email from Robert Zoog:

Dear Sir:

The two sentences below are misleading, or have incorrect facts...

"In 1908, he founded The Boy Pioneers, which served as a pattern for the Boy Scout movement which started in England in 1908."

The Boy Scout movement was conceived or patterned from several sources and Daniel Carter Beard is one of those sources but not the only source even in the infancy of the Boy Scout movement. Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement in England made use of several sources. Besides "Uncle Dan," Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the youth organization, Woodcraft Indians provided Robert Baden Powell with ideas. Badden-Powell also drew on his military experience and a book he had written prior to 1907, Scouting and Survival Skills. As a test of his ideas, Robert Baden-Powell held a camp for young men on Brownsea Island in August 1907. Shortly after he wrote "Scouting for Boys," and began the Boy Scout movement.

Another gentleman that had a significant influence on the Boy Scoutmovement, although indirect until later was Frederick Russell Burnham a close personal friend of Robert Baden-Powell's and fellow officer in the British Military. It is interesting to note that Mr. Burnham was an American citizen and later became involved in the Boy Scouts of America..

"Beard was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1850, during the Civil War"

Please Note: The last time I checked... the Civil War was from 1861 to1865, not 1850.

Bob Zoog