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Camp Big Timber

Founded in 1926 Camp Big Timber is a 60 acre local scout camp located just west of Randall road on Big Timber road in Elgin ILToday Camp Big Timber hosts various year round scouting activities and events which include the annual Haunted Hike in October.

History of Camp Big Timber (photos)

The Kiwanis Lodge, named for Kiwanis International, is a central gathering, dining and program area. More than just an expanded dining hall, the re-imagined “heart of camp” building will meet the needs of today’s families, adult volunteers and communities. The new Kiwanis Lodge will include dining for 200+, overnight camping, additional meeting and program spaces and modern audio-visual technology. It will also have broad sheltering porches and an outdoor gathering/event space complete with a large fire ring to maximize indoor and outdoor engagement.

Hiawatha Pageant (from (photos)

Listed among the achievements in the All America City presentation was an account of the annual Song of Hiawatha pageant and its director, Carl Parlasca. If the judges took into consideration the character of Elgin' s citizenry, no better example of an American could be found than Injun Par.

In early presentations around the campfire, there were only a few episodes, and the narrator's voice came through a megaphone. Later came an amphitheater seating two thousand, complex lighting effects, a cast and crew of more than two hundred, and a microphone, but the measured pace of the opening words of Longfellow's poem remained the same:

Should you ask me, whence these stories? 
Whence these legends and traditions ... 
I should answer, I should tell you ... 
From the land of the 0jibways, 
From the land of the Dacotahs ...

Carl Parlasca became a legend himself, and for more than half a century, the Song of Hiawatha pageant was an Elgin tradition. Son of German immigrants-his father was one of the city's first mail carriers-he was born at Big Piney, Wyoming, during one of his parents' hunting trips. He grew up in Elgin spellbound by stories of the American West and of the Indians who once freely roamed its plains and hills, remembering with delight the visit of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in 1896.
While employed as a bookkeeper for the Borden condenser, he became a Boy Scout leader and in 1920 accepted a position as camp director for the Boy Scout Council's summer camp located on Lake Bohner, near Burlington, Wisconsin. With him as camp cook went Mrs. Par, the former E. Maude Cunningham, whom he had married in 1904. He became the local Scout executive in 1922, introducing the Indian and Western lore he acquired on trips to reservations. The sessions at Lake Bohner ended in 1923, and during the next two summers, the Scouts were located at Idlewild, along the west bank of the Fox between Carpentersville and Algonquin. Camp Big Timber, north and west of Elgin, was opened in 1926 with the same log cabin used at Idlewild.

Par began teaching the Scouts the intricate and symbolic dances he had learned from Eddie Little Chief, a Rosebud Sioux. They became close friends, and Par later danced with him in the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Circus. He also was associated with Ralph Hubbard of Medora, North Dakota, one of the leading white interpreters of Indian choreography.

Elgin's first Hiawatha pageant was produced by Mina Lee Brady, a dramatics teacher, on the lower lagoon at Lords Park in 1916. Although he had been enactment that turned Par's thoughts toward one of her students, it wasn't this Longfellow's epic, but a Chicago performance in the mid-'20s of "The Indian Play of Hiawatha." Francis M. Cayou, an Omaha Indian, was the director, and the actors were Ojibway Indians.

A rudimentary Song of Hiawatha began in 1927 as simply one of the activities for the Big Timber campers. The poem's magic, arising from the natural setting and Par's showmanship, caught on. Scouts began preferring to attend the "Hiawatha" period, entranced with playing the roles of red men. Soon parents and other visitors were dropping in to watch, and the pageant grew. The 50th production in 1976 drew more than nine thousand spectators, many of them from out of state.

Par retired from Scouting in 1948, but he continued as director and narrator of the Song of Hiawatha. He was a strict disciplinarian and demanding teacher at rehearsals, insisting that costumes be authentic in detail, and yet his knack for working with young people was to influence hundreds of lives. Helping Par at Big Timber was Mrs. Par, his companion during long stays with Indian friends. She was a home economist and an early leader in the Girl Scout movement. Mrs. Par, who played the role of Old Nakomis until her death in 1954, was the only woman to perform in the pageant until the Kwo-Ne-She (Dragon Fly) girl dancers were added in 1948.

Although admission was charged beginning in 1935, the purpose of the pageant was to acquaint the audience with Indian lore, not to make money. Participants donated their time and were motivated by the joy of performing and their devotion to Par. Except for Indians who were present as participants or advisers on authenticity, it was a home talent show. As the years went by, there were happy reunions of former participants who returned to see Par and old friends. The 1974 cast included twenty-seven offspring of former dancers and a number of third generation members.

Recognition of years of work in behalf of Indians and his understanding of Indian cultures and problems led to Par's adoption as a tribal brother. He became High Eagle of the Brule tribe of the Sioux, Fast Buffalo to the Blackfeet, and Sailing Home Once In A While among the Qjibway. He was an honorary chief of the Koshares and the recipient of a special citation from the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Parlascas amassed an extensive collection of Indian costumes, artifacts and books on the history and customs of various tribes. These have been placed on permanent display at the Gail Borden Library as a memorial to them.

The Big Timber Dancers appeared at the Scout National Jamboree in 1937 at Washington, D.C. Par was in charge of the Indian dancers at the World Jamboree of Scouts at Moissons, France, in 1947. Later, the boys and Kwo-Ne-Shes appeared at many fairs and festivals, including the Orange Bowl parade in 1963. The Mid-Winter Ceremonial, first presented in 1948, became an annual off-season event. Introduced by Par's sonorous greeting, "We have come to dance in your Lodge, to be near you, to cheer you, to bring you Good Medicine," it featured a series of dances. Some of these were native to the Southwest, the Land of Room Enough and Time Enough.

It took up to three years of study and practice to develop a Big Timber dancer. Boys enrolled when they attained the age of twelve; girls started when they were high school sophomores. Once, there were dozens who tried out at auditions; in the final years, young people no longer had the dedication to put in the endless hours of practice each week from September to June. Veterans who had assumed family obligations were not being replaced. It was difficult to conceive of the pageant without Par, and he was aging.

Wearing his familiar Stetson, Par narrated the final performance in 1979. Eight months after Hiawatha last glided away into the fiery sunset, he died at the age of 97. The beat of tomtoms and tinkle of ankle bells are stilled, and canoes no longer drift in silence past the tepees of old Nokomis and lago, the Great Boaster. The voice of Injun Par, Elgin's Nawadaha, who "sang of Hiawatha, sang the song of Hiawatha," is heard no more.
Greg Ehmann,
Oct 22, 2013, 6:21 PM