|2012 remains of the old Campfire Girls camp site on Wagner Creek Road|
She Who Watches Over Us
by Jan Wright
Mid July was the time of year that Talent Campfire Girls looked forward to with excitement. Starting in the late 1940s through the 1970s the girls would pack up their bedrolls, flashlights, Bibles, and peddle pushers to experience the great out doors with leaders Mae Lowe and Alice Burnette. Thanks to the Talent Federated Women's Club, Camp Ya-ie-wah-noh (meaning “She Who Watches Over Us”) was developed at Wagner Creek Forks a few miles south of town. The site was just far enough away to leave your cares behind and close enough that families could visit while camp was in session.
The camping excursions started with only the local Campfire Girls, but when word got out how much fun and freedom a girl could have, girls from all around came to Wagner Creek for a chance to spend a week or more roughing it in the woods. It was common for boys to explore nature and roam the trails outside of town, but in rural places like Talent, girls too were encouraged to be independent and rugged. Though they had chores to do in camp, the girls were allowed to choose from the many planned activities such as skits, crafts, swimming, nature lore, and of course, the “big hike.”
Leader Alice Burnette said “We weren't up there to tell them how they should act or what they should eat or how they should do.”
Though the girls were not forced to do anything, they had to do something or Kangaroo court was held for non-participation. The core values of work, health, and love (We-He-Lo) were observed. The older girls helped the younger ones and all had responsibilities such as cooking in the Bean Hole (a lined cooking pit for beans or stew), gathering firewood, doing dishes, and cleaning up around camp.
The Big Hike was an overnight trip for the older girls. They make their own backpacks out of sleeping bags, cooked over an open fire, and ate wild strawberries if they could find them. When they returned to camp by flashlight the next evening, the girls who stayed behind could hear them coming.
Caroline Beeson, a veteran of the camp said, “It was always exciting when the girls at camp would hear our singing as we approached and we would enter camp as if we were heroes!”
Young Bluebirds who were too young to go on the big hike went to see the Doodlebug Farm in a nearby barn. Loggers going up and down Wagner Creek in their big trucks knew when the girls were in session and would honk their horns or even give a girl a ride back to camp if her blisters made it too painful to walk.
Cathy Weber, another former Campfire Girl from Talent remembers, “I was allowed to go to the camp when I was only four years old. I slept in the Hogan (the shelter) with the other youngsters and wet on everyone's sleeping bag!” Cathy later became a camp councilor and claims the largest collection of Campfire memorabilia in the country.
After operating for 29 years, the camp was closed in 1978. The Jackson County property was later turned over to the BLM. In 1996 the Talent Middle School developed an interpretive trail for the site that focuses on the watershed and natural environment. Recently, Boy Scout Kyle Eller, organized work parties to clean up the trail and build a bench as his Eagle Scout project. Though the bridge over Wagner Creek has been damaged by a falling tree, the land is ready for visitors.
Talent Historical Society has planned a picnic on the old site for anyone who would like to attend on July 22nd and is forging a new relationship with the BLM recreation staffer, Nick Schade, to foster awareness about its history. Please contact Talent Historical Society at 541-512-8838 to add information and photos to the files about the camp for future generations to enjoy.