Skunks in the Temple

Skunks in the Temple December 31, 2009

Despite prohibition in the YMMIA handbook against the scout handclasp, swearing oaths, and the elaboration of rank advancement with ritual, the scout committee of the Pleasant Grove, Utah third ward instituted the Order of the Skunk Skull in 1937. Minutes from the first meeting record the number of attendants at 22 and list the names of some 18 scouts who took the oath of secrecy and drank “poison water from [the] ear of [a] deer.” There is a photograph of the meeting as well, showing the attendants dressed as Native Americans; one of them holds a cup fashioned from a deer’s ear mounted to a piece of wood with an antler for a handle.

Continuing to meet in a cave in the near-by mountains, the order celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1987. Originally, scouts were initiated upon achieving the rank of eagle.  But over the years, membership was offered to others, especially dignitaries, regardless of when or if they had become eagle scouts.  The 70th anniversary meeting was actually held in an LDS church if for no other reason than that there were too many attendants to fit in the cave. A few of the first skunks, still living, came, insisting on the use of the old scout handclasp, while among the candidates for initiation were the city mayor, two state representatives, several members of local bishoprics and stake presidencies, and a general young men’s board member.          

In his book Sports in Zion, Richard Ian Kimball suggests that behind the proscription of this type of scouting was the fear “that an association with Scouting ceremonies might diminish the impact of the holy activities within the temple.” Whatever the reason, no doubt a skunk would maintain that initiation in the order actually has the opposite effect.  Most fascinating to me is that the Order of the Skunk Skull operates within Mormonism and at a rather high level, notwithstanding official injunction. It would be interesting to learn the histories of however many other scout groups there are of this kind.

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