Lost and Found

This week our neighbor Harry Puncec tells another tale of almost-forgotten local history. Last year he told us about a long-ago orphanage in Denver, and now we learn about another bygone institution. Did you know there was an organization for young boys in Denver called the Highlander Boys? Although it was built on a military theme, its core principles were about building character. Its precepts were: Be Kind – Live Pure – Speak True – Right Wrong – Defend the Weak – Play the Game Square. It was started in 1912 by George W. Olinger. The Highlander Boys trained with rifles and learned military skills such as getting around up in the mountains. Thus begins our story… 

By Harry Puncec

Have you ever been lost, really lost and scared? Well, I have. The story requires some background that begins with the Highlander Boys, a pseudo military organization for boys that existed in Denver for a few decades in the mid-1900s. My involvement began around 1950 and lasted for a few years. The drill company I was assigned to would meet after school a couple evenings for an hour or so, practice the manual of arms with our replica World War I Springfield bolt-action rifles, and march around the then parking lot behind the old Colorado National Guard armory at Speer Blvd. and Logan St. That building, along with the Highlanders, is long gone and is now the home of Denver’s NBC Channel 9.

What really made the Highlanders fun was the summer encampment outside of Estes Park that lasted a week or two. The whole battalion would camp out in squad tents, eat in a community mess hall, and do military-like things like marching, polishing brass, and inspections. I can’t remember specifically but I’m guessing we also did crafts, took hikes, and stuff like that.

Highlander Boys Camp – Glacier Basin, Estes Park, June 1950

One thing I clearly recall doing was standing guard. First off what you need to know is that you don’t “stand” guard, you are assigned a guard post that you march back and forth over for an hour or two, and that’s where my story begins.

I was assigned to walk a path from a well-marked tree to the camp latrine and back. I remember that end of the path because it really, really stunk. While I was walking my post my orders were something like “don’t let anyone run away.” How I was to prevent that was vague, but I was a kid in a uniform carrying a fake rifle and by golly I was going to do my duty. So I’m walking my post when suddenly an older boy in an officer’s uniform ran across the trail I was on and vanished into the woods. Whoa, we can’t have that, so I took off to follow and catch him. The problem was that he had quickly disappeared and I was confronted by forest with a very limited range of view. There were trees everywhere.

I walked where I thought he might have gone but after a while, a couple minutes or hours I don’t know, two things began to happen. I needed to go back to my post as I was suddenly hungry. The other thing was that I had no idea where I was. Every landmark was gone and all there was were a million identical looking trees. That’s right, I was lost!

The first rule when you are lost in the woods is to stay where you are. Don’t wander off and get yourself even further lost by making the area you’re lost within even larger. I, it should go without saying, wandered off.

I became aware that I seemed to be climbing up a hill and I knew that was bad because the encampment was on flat ground. Then I got my brain storm, of course I should keep on climbing!!! At some point I would see our camp down below and know which direction to go. The problem was the trees. I could see maybe twenty yards no matter how high I climbed. Then I realized I could go on for miles. Now I was truly scared.

God looks after the hopelessly foolish sometimes and this was my time. I suddenly came upon a well-defined heavily trotted path. It was clearly purposeful and would take me back to civilization… eventually. With that I began walking the path toward or away from salvation.

And then lightning hit again. A group of horseback riders appeared on the trail. The rest of the story can be quickly told. The guide knew where we were and where the camp was, and he walked me through the woods in a different direction than I expected. Soon we entered the camp area and he wished his tearful charge – yes, me – good luck as he turned to rejoin his party.

The end was a thundering anticlimax. I quickly learned that nobody had noticed I was gone.

In case you missed it, Harry’s story about the Orphanage is here. You can also find his other stories by clicking on his name at the top of the page.

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