By Cole Gabriel
A unique artifact was re-discovered just in time for the centennial anniversary of the Order of the Arrow. After being lost for nearly fifty years, the case that held the original national chief bonnet has been found. In addition to its rich history from carrying the bonnet that was passed down to each national chief for decades, the box also contained business card-sized notes from each national chief that served between 1940 and 1965 as well as the original letter gifting the bonnet from Anicus Lodge to the Order of the Arrow. This incredible find will be showcased at the 2015 National Order of the Arrow Conference in the Goodman Edson Observatory (GEO), the Order’s centennial museum.
In 1938, Shawnee Lodge hosted the twelfth National Lodge Meeting at Irondale Scout Reservation, and Joseph Brunton Jr. (former Anicus Lodge chief and future chief Scout executive) was elected to the office of national lodge chief. Brunton was the first to wear the bonnet, which was officially presented to the Order of the Arrow at the 25th anniversary meeting at Camp Twin Echo in 1940. At that meeting, the bonnet was ceremoniously passed to the next national chief, a tradition that has continued to this day.
The bonnet was made of golden eagle feathers and was contained in a leather crate, engraved “Order of the Arrow, WWW, National Chief.” Unfortunately, contaminants within it took a toll on the bonnet, which by 1965 was in need of repair. The National Order of the Arrow Committee sought out Rhese Hoylman Jr., a Vigil Honor member of Ta Tsu Hwa Lodge and esteemed teacher of bonnet making, to repair the national chief bonnet. Hoylman agreed and began the laborious process of rebuilding the bonnet–to be finished before the 1967 NOAC. The reconstruction procedure involved removing, numbering and straightening each feather before putting them back in the correct order and numerous other tasks.
After the lengthy repairs were completed, the bonnet was returned to the National Order of the Arrow Committee in a new and improved container. However, Hoylman did not return the portfolio. Instead, the national chief bonnet was stored in the national BSA office in Irving, Texas. Unfortunately, there was a tragic fire in the office on November 6th, 1980, caused by a security guard who had lit a small fire with the intent to become a “hero,” but the fire got out of his control. The fire destroyed much of the BSA’s and the Order of the Arrow’s memorabilia, including the national chief’s bonnet. Two new bonnets were constructed for the national chief and national vice chief, which were revealed in 1981.
Rhese Hoylman Jr. passed away in 2004, and his son, Rhese Hoylman III, subsequently found the old national chief bonnet portfolio. After due diligence, Rhese identified a member of the history and preservation subcommittee of the national committee and returned this treasure to the OA. Both of them were glad to find a home for it. It was suspected from those that knew of this bonnet portfolios existence that it was destroyed in the 1980 fire, it was an incredible surprise and coincidence to surface in time for the centennial NOAC. At NOAC 2015, Rhese Hoylman III will be part of the GEO staff and will be delighted to tell more of the story on this long-lost, well-preserved relic.
By Cole Gabriel