Sugarloaf obelisk centennial on tap
MARQUETTE — Just north of Marquette, high on top of Sugarloaf Mountain guarding Lake Superior’s Partridge Bay, stands a stone monument. Despite being seen by the increasing numbers of tourists, the monument’s story is virtually forgotten.
Yet for a century it has honored a boy who at age 15 blazed a trail for the youth of Marquette and America, helping to set in motion the wheels of the first Boy Scout troop in the United States- a boy who in 1917 found himself a soldier at the age of 22. The monument was a tribute from his young scouting friends and dedicated to the only member of their tightly knit group who failed to return. The name on the inscription simply read — BART.
The events really began with Perry Hatch, who formed what was probably the first Boy Scout troop anywhere in North America. Organized through the First Methodist Church in Marquette, they took their first camping trip in June 1909, a full eight months before the first “official recognized” troop of American scouts.
“I was with boys who were familiar with me,” Perry Hatch recalled of those first years, “and I took them out in the woods in 1909 and 1910, before organization and legal form over there in the east was ever heard of here. But just as soon as it was heard of, we organized Troop One in Marquette.” By then it was June 15, 1914.
One of the scouts was Alanson Bartlett “Bart” King. Born in 1894, he was the only boy in a family with three sisters, Doris, Miriam, and Helen. He was strikingly handsome with a daredevil’s nerve, a combination not altogether unattractive to the girls he knew, and he displayed a powerful vocabulary that made him a tough high school debater who seldom lost.
Only twenty years old and already armed with a Life Certificate in Education from Northern State Normal School (now Northern Michigan University), he took a job teaching in Thompson, a rough U.P. logging town routinely avoided by most college graduates (and a substantial number of others as well). He swept the floor, split wood and stoked the fire in his one-room school and taught his students the same respect for work, knowledge, and each other that he had learned as a member and assistant scoutmaster of Troop One. The kids adored him.
But in 1917, three years after beginning his career, the changing winds of the world war swept across America. All of the original members of Boy Scout Troop One enlisted. So, of course, did Bart King.
Winter’s icy grip had weakened by April 20 as he boarded the train for Houghton, to be sworn in as a private in the 107th Engineers of the 32nd Division. After completing basic training in Waco, Texas, where he earned the highest marksmanship rating in the entire division (something he must have wondered about as a member of an engineering unit), he was promoted to master sergeant. It was the only promotion he ever accepted, despite twice being offered the rank of second lieutenant which he promptly twice refused, wishing instead to remain with the friends of his company.
In Texas he met Olga Huddleston, the commanding general’s daughter, fell in love and decided to be married upon his return from Europe. The next day Bart left for France. It was the last time Olga ever saw him.
In July 1918, Bart’s division was ordered to the front near Chateau-Thierry in response to a German assault. His assignment was to reconnoiter the enemy’s position and report the information to his captain. [A swell job for an engineer]. It was also the first time in his life he’d been shot at. His commanding officer later wrote: “Bart showed his mettle and won for himself the respect and confidence of those under his command.”
With the biggest Allied offensive of the war about to begin near Soissons, he volunteered to direct a convoy of eleven trucks loaded with supplies through a five-mile corridor of firmly entrenched enemy guns. Almost immediately they found themselves savagely pounded by heavy artillery that hit two of the rigs. As machine guns smoked and shells rained everywhere, they frantically lashed the badly scorched vehicles together. With several men horribly wounded, two already dead and every truck riddled with bullet and shrapnel holes, they finally rumbled onto Allied soil.
Sometime later three soldiers in the unit were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Bart King nominated for France’s Croix de Guerre (The War Cross). He was never aware of the recommendation and didn’t live to see it presented.
In September, with the tide of battle turned and Allied forces pushing inexorably eastward, Bart’s unit was moved to the Argonne region where they built bridges to carry the French, British, and American armies to Germany itself. Week after week, the engineering units from several divisions labored first in rain then snow, with insufficient food and virtually no sleep. Bart and the others continued to work despite the deplorable conditions, constant enemy attacks and terrible illness — Bart’s illness.
Then late in the grey, damp afternoon of October 7, 1918, just thirty-five days before the end of the war, Bart King died of pneumonia. He was just 24. He was quietly buried in a small cemetery at the edge of the Argonne Forest near the town of Fridos on the river Aire.
Three years later, they brought him home to be buried in Marquette’s Park Cemetery. As the only member who failed to return, the other members of Troop One decided to honor his sacrifice. “While standing on the beach at Little Presque Isle, we could think of only one place to build the monument for Bart,” Perry Hatch wrote of their decision, “It was the place he like the best – Sugarloaf.”
To learn more about the obelisk built in 1921 by Troop One, join the Marquette Regional History Center and the Boy Scouts at Sugarloaf Mountain on Wednesday, Sept. 22. Start your hike at our information table at the new south parking lot. Join us at 6 p.m. at the top of Sugarloaf for a short presentation on the history of this centennial monument. This event is free and open to the public but donations are always appreciated.