The Robbers Cave Experiment: The Rattler Group

The Rattler Group

Member Names: Mills, Simpson, Martin, Brown, Allen, Newman, Swift, Harrison, Barton, Hill, and Everett.

Subjects were picked up in Oklahoma City at two stops. Since one boy was late at the first stop, the waiting period at the second stop (1/2 hour) permitted the formation of a friendship cluster of 4 boys which was evident on the bus in seating arrangements, a paper-wad game, and the inquiry if “us south-siders” could stay together. Conversation on the bus concerned fathers’ occupations, respective schools and ball teams, possessions, and favored activities.

 At camp, boys were allowed to choose their bunks. The “south-side” boys chose neighboring bunks. At the campfire after supper, the boys selected Brown (the largest boy in the south-side clique and in the entire group) to make out a list of swimming buddies in anticipation of their most preferred activity.

 At breakfast on Day 2, saying grace was proposed and Brown did it. After the boys arranged church services, Simpson (who had been active on the bus) led group singing, although opposed by “south-siders. ” On a trip to Robbers Cave, Brown and Simpson were in the lead.

 After lunch, the boys “discovered” the swimming hole upstream and the campsite. They suggested improvements (such as a rock approach and diving board) and began work on them after a swim. Brown directed activity in the water and at work. Mills organized a rock-moving chain which was effective. The boys decided to stay at the hideout for supper and were furnished hamburger and other bulk ingredients, necessitating interdependent specialized efforts by all, which Simpson directed – cutting the watermelon himself. They discussed further improvements of the area, most of the suggestions for improving the area being directed to Brown.

 The next morning a canoe, which had simply been placed near their cabin, was transported by the boys overland to the upstream hideout, Brown directing the operation and Simpson showing the path (See Figures, Stage 1). The need for a latrine at the hideout was posed by staff. Brown handed the shovel to Simpson, and all helped in turn, the smallest boy finishing. Brown’s tendency to play favorites in the use of the boat and in work led Swift (a “south-sider”) to complain, in effect, “We’re tired of just doing the things he leaves over.”

 Mills hurt his toe but did not mention it until it was discovered at bedtime. This incident marked the beginnings of a norm for being “tough” (not a sissy or cry-baby). Subsequently, injured members did not complain or cry, desiring to continue even the most strenuous activities if staff permitted. Related to this norm of “toughness” was group approval of cursing, which became widespread in the Rattler group. During campfire at Stone Corral, the boys planned an overnight hike further upstream enthusiastically.

 On Day 4 the boys organized transportation of equipment to the reservoir and selected advance scouts. Brown carried a light load. Mills soon took over leading the party, with Simpson and Martin doing more than their share of the work. Mills’ choice of a campsite was accepted even by Brown. Mills directed securing water and preparation of food, with various boys performing specialized tasks. Barton and Hill (low status) tried to climb the dam. Then, Mills organized this activity into a game with definite order of participation and rules for maintaining position. The boys started to pitch tents by pairs; but an approaching storm and an encounter with a rattlesnake posed the difficult problem of rapidly erecting a sturdier single tent, in which all cooperated.

 The next morning the “tough” norm was revealed on the trip home (led by Mills) over hills and rocks with full packs and with only one rest stop. Upon arrival, beds and personal gear were found outside the cabin. Staff explained the cabin had been fumigated (an excuse to see how the boys would re-install themselves). In moving back, Mills chose a bed between Brown and Newman (the 2 top erstwhile “south-siders”); the other 2 south-siders moved to other parts of the cabin. The sub-clique was clearly integrated with the rest of the group. Mills put up a “Home Sweet Home” sign.

 Staff at last yielded to the boys’ pleas for canteen supplies, requesting that they list only 8 items on the grounds that the camp could not afford to have left-overs. Agreement on 8 items was reached, and Mills was selected to announce the results.

 By Day 6 the route to the hideout was standard and preferred to an easier one. Boys planned the activities for the day. Swimming at Camp One (standard name for hideout) was first. Allen, Barton and Hill (low status) were upset to find paper cups at their hideout (probably left by the group), speculating with resentment that “outsiders” had been there. Baseball work-out followed with members accepting decisions of the rest of the group on plays, excepting Mills who changed a decision in his own favor. During the rest period, Mills started tossing pine cones and ended up in a tree being pelted by all others and shouting “Where’s my fellow men?” A boy replied, “Look at our leader!” (The “clown” role often kept him in the center of activity.)

 A group Treasure Hunt was held by staff in which all members had to be present at the reading of each note to receive the reward ($10 to be spent as the group chose). Hardball equipment was chosen, Mills having Martin write what he called “my proposal. ” Mills opened nominations for baseball captain, supporting Simpson (who was selected) and choosing his own position.

 Caps and T-shirts were available through the canteen for purchase at nominal cost. Mills asked if “Tom Hale” (name of the Boy Scout campsite) would be on them. The staff reply was negative. Harrison (middle status) suggested putting “Robbers Cave Robbers” on them. Later Mills proposed stenciling “Tom Hale Rattlers” on the shirts, drew a rattler design, and requested orange and black paint, all of which was approved by the group.

 The next morning the boys stenciled shirts and hats with staff assistants. White material available for crafts was selected by Mills for a flag with the same design. Staff proposed practice at tent pitching. It was undertaken in disorganized fashion. Baseball practice revealed stabilization of playing positions.

 After supper, the group was allowed to wander within hearing distance of the Eagles who were playing on the ball diamond. The immediate reaction was to “run them off” and “challenge them.” After this, Harrison (who had had to surrender the catcher’s position to Hill because of a hurt hand) cried bitterly. Hill and Martin comforted him, and he stopped crying when Mills asked him to read a comic book aloud.

  At baseball work-out the next day, the group noted improvements they had made on the diamond and declared: “Now this is our diamond.” The boys revealed a consciousness of the other group by frequent reference to “our baseball diamond,” “our Upper Camp,” “our Stone Corral.” That afternoon the staff  informed the group that there was another group in camp and that they wanted to challenge the Rattlers. The reaction: “They can’t. We’ll challenge them first… They’ve got a nerve…” Other activities in which they could be challenged were mentioned, including tent pitching. Now that tent pitching appeared a competitive activity, it was enthusiastically supported even by those formerly opposing it. The boys initiated shifts in work positions which produced an amazing change in execution of the task. All members cheered the results.

 At the hideout, Everett (a non-swimmer when camp started) began to swim a little. He was praised by all and for the first time the others called him by his preferred nickname. Simpson yelled, “Come on, dive off the board!” All members in the water formed a large protective circle into which Everett dived after a full 2 minutes of hesitation and reassurance from the others. While he repeated the performance, little Barton, a frightened non-swimmer, plunged forward and started swimming a little too. He was called to the board and he too jumped in. Allen, a swimmer who was afraid to go off the board, now followed. Harrison, on the bank with an injured hand, was assured by the others that when his hand was healed they would all help him “so that we will all be able to swim.” This event, which was completely spontaneous, was most effective in building group solidarity and morale. That evening the boys planned and held an enthusiastic campfire at the Stone Corral. Group skits were organized by Mills, and Brown “shone” in an individual act.