J. F. "Buck" Burshears
J.F. "Buck" Burshears was an author, businessman, railway contractor, and social worker; but he is most noted for founding the Koshare Indian Dancers in 1933. He served as the troop's Scoutmaster for over half a century. His poem "A Scoutmaster's Prayer" has been an inspiration to scouters throughout the world; it is said to have been "...a poem that has become a clear statement of his life's guiding theme."
One year after Frank Henderson Burshears and Laura Bingham married, Laura gave birth to a set of twins in Swink, Colorado. Frank and Laura's daughter Margret lived only three weeks after her birth and their son James became the only child. The Burshears family continued to live in Swink until 1919. From 1916 thru 1919, James attended elementary school in Swink. When the Burshears moved to nearby La Junta in 1919, James continued his education in the La Junta School system.
In the Spring of 1922, Buck transferred to Troop 4 since most of his friends were in that troop. The boys of Troop 4 attended summer camp at Camp Burch that year for two weeks and Buck received his First Class rank during that time. At the camp a Scout Executive from Colorado Springs gave instructions in Archery to the boys of Troop 4. The troop came home and immediately began making bows and arrows. Buck competed, for several years afterward, in many archery tournaments throughout the state.
Troop 4 continued to attend summer camp each summer at Camp Burch thru 1925. During this time Buck became the Camp Bugler and in 1924 he would stay at the Camp all summer. Also in that year Buck had qualified for the Eagle Badge but he did not received the badge until 1925 when the Scout Executive in La Junta got it cleared. At fifteen, Buck was senior patrole leader of the troop and that year the troop's Scoutmaster, Ralph Ireland, was transfered to Amarillo. Buck assumed the role of Scoutmaster and took over leadership of the troop. He completed three of the first Scout Leader training courses given in La Junta before he graduated from high school.
In 1926, the Arkansas Valley Boy Scout Council fell apart due to lack of financing and merged with the Spanish Peaks Council headquartered in Trinidad. Troop 4 became Troop 30 when the councils merged. The Council's Scout Camp became San Isabel and Buck spent the first five weeks of each summer from 1926 thru 1929 at the camp. At the camp he served as the Red Cross Life Saving examiner, Assistant Camp Director and he intructed the nature lore and handicraft merit badges.
In addition to his leadership in the scout troop, Buck stayed active as the President of the La Junta Archery Association and he participated in school athletics. For three years he participated in football, basketball and track. In 1929, Buck graduated from La Junta High School. He continued his education in Colorado Springs at Colorado College. From more than one hundred miles away from La Junta, Buck continued to run Troop 30 from Colorado Springs. He would often travel down to La Junta on the weekends or the boys of the troop would visit him in Colorado Springs. College, archery tournaments, and the scout troop consumed much of his time, but Buck some how managed to find time to letter in track at Colorado College for two years.
As a boy, growing up in Southeastern Colorado, Buck was surrounded by many remnants of the West. Naturally, Buck was interested in the American West at a young age. One of the most inspiring people he came in contact with, as a boy, was Charles Wonderly who owned an antique store in downtown La Junta. Wonderly displayed a wonderful collection of guns used by the pioneers and Native Americans. As a teenager, Buck would often visit Wonderly at his shop to hear most remarkable stories. In addition, Wonderly had his own illustrious tales, having contact with such notable figures as Buffalo Bill Cody. Buck's interest of the West grew with each visit to Wonderly's shop.
Buck's interest of Scouts performing Native American dances came while attending college when he became aquainted with Lester Griswold, a Scout Leader of Troop 10 in Colorado Springs. In addition, Griswold was an author of nine different versions of a handicraft book and put together a program of Native American Dancing for the troop's project. Buck had attended the Scout meetings of that troop and made an amazing discovery when he saw Griswold's program. He had noticed that when the kids, with the Scout Troop, would get ready for their Troop 10 of Colorado Springsperformance it became a great gathering. More kids were showing up that never had come to the Scout meetings, but those kids came in with trunks of costumes for the show. Buck realized that Indian lore had the possibility of holding the boys' interest in Scouting longer. Buck set up a show in La Junta and brought Griswold's Scouts down to see if it would prove to be a lasting inspiration to the kids of Buck's Scout Troop.
Another inspiration came to Buck one Sunday evening when he returned to Colorado Springs from La Junta. That night he joined several of his fraternity brothers and went downtown to hear the Vienna Boys' Chior. He had never heard of the Vienna Boys' Choir, but found it was the oldest boys' choir in the world. When Buck saw the kids stand up on the stage and do the concert he could not believe that nine, ten, eleven, and twelve year old boys could put on the program they did. Again Buck got inspired and thought if they could take a bunch of kids and do that, why maybe he could do it with a bunch of kids in La Junta.
As more and more of Buck's Scouts got inspired by the Native American culture he would often take them to visit with Troop 10 in Colorado Springs and with Ralph Hubbard who spent many years on reservations among the Native Americans. Buck had also inspired his kids to visit Taos, New Mexico. The kids would refer to the place as the Holly Land. Buck had first visited Taos when his father was working as a railway contractor between Dodge City, Kansas and Bolin, New Mexico. Buck and his mother had gone down to visit him and on the way Buck discovered the Taos Art Community and the Native Americans of Taos Pueblo. The art created by the artist colony combined with the traditions of the Native Americans to make this community a magical place for Buck and the kids. The community also became a wonderful research tool in the kid's pursuit of knowledge of the first Americans.
Many have considered Buck as one of the best Scoutmasters in the history of American Scouting. From 1932 to 1987, he served as the only Scoutmaster to his troop for fifty-five years.
Buck started as leader of Scout Troop 30 when he was 15 years old, but would not officially become Scoutmaster of the troop until 1932. When the Depression hit rock bottom in that year the Spanish Peaks Council merged with other councils in Southeastern Colorado to form the Rocky Mountian Council. Troop 30 now became Troop 230 and Buck became Scoutmaster. During that year he continued his senior year in college while driving down each weekend to meet with the troop. Upon graduation from Colorado College, Buck did not immediately return to La Junta to live.
He continued his education at St. Louis University in 1934-1935 to take special courses in Sociology. During that time he also was employed as a Social worker in Montezuma County in the four corners area. His troop meet regularly in backyards throughout La Junta. When Buck was in town the troop made use of a remodeled chicken coop in Buck's backyard as their meeting room. The Koshare Club officially began in 1933 and Buck ran the Koshares from hundreds of miles away. It was not until 1935 that Buck moved back to La Junta to partner with his father as a railway contractor to the AT & SF Railway.
For the members of the Koshares this was a most important moment. Buck could have succeeded in Scouts anywere in the country. He helped with programs througout the state, but he was some how drawn to his troop in La Junta. If not for the business partnership with his father the Koshare story would have turned out very different than it did. From 1935, Buck would dedicate most of his time to the boys of the Koshare organization.
For his distinguished service to boyhood the Rocky Mountain Council awarded the twenty eight year-old Buck the Silver Beaver on January 17, 1938.
A Man Called Buck essay written by Koshare R. L. Champion in 1977