The Ingram Case
Claim: The Baker Hero Fund Silver Medal should be awarded posthumously to Rex Ingram.
On August 10, 1929, a newspaper dispatch from Elizabeth, Tennessee, reported, “Nine boy scouts were saved from drowning in Masses Creek yesterday by Rex Ingram, local scoutmaster, when a cloudburst inundated the scout camp near here. Ingram and four boys were drowned.”
Masses Creek is really a small river which drains a wide area and is full of falls and rapids. In one section it is normally two hundred feet wide and two to four feet deep for about a quarter-mile. The boy scout camp is located in this section of the creek, about seventy-five feet from the north bank on a low, sparsely wooded island. The cabin is fifteen feet high from sill to ridgepole and is still standing. Within fifty feet of the from door three large trees, the lowest branches of which are about twelve feet from the ground, are still standing.
The Elizabeth meteorologist stated that on August 9, nine and a half inches of rain fell between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Three and a half inches of rain had fallen in the preceding twenty-four hours. The water level of Masses Creek rose sixteen feet between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. on August 9 and thereafter began to fall. This was the highest it had risen in the history of the local weather bureau; also, the rainfall was by far the heaviest on record. Local records going back over a thirty-year period showed that during June, July, and August the creek had risen only twice to within six feet of the level reached on August 9, 1929, and had never exceeded a ten-foot rise from its normal height.
Rex Ingram was twenty-five years of age, a native of Elizabeth, and a graduate of the local high school and of the University of Tennessee, where he had played varsity football for three years. He had served as scoutmaster for four years, 1925-29. He was also secretary of the Southern Textile and Rayon Products Company of Elizabeth, of which his father was president and principal stockholder. His scout duties occupied about half his time.
The Baker Hero Fund Commission sent Mr. C. V. O’Connor, a paid investigator, to Elizabeth to interview witnesses.
George Young , fourteen years of age and the oldest boy in the party, said that there was a plank bridge between the island and the north bank of the creek the stream was normally less than knee-deep at this point. When it began to rain heavily, the boys and Ingram went into the cabin and tried to stop leaks and keep themselves and their possessions dry. Later, one of the boys reported that the creek was over the bridge. This was about 6:30 p.m. They then made a fire, ate supper, and prepared to spend the night in the cabin. About 7 p.m. water began to come into the cabin. Mr. Ingram put on his coat and went out. He got the skiff and tied it to nearby tree. As the water continued to rise rapidly, some of the smaller boys became afraid. Ingram put the four smallest in the boat, rowed across, and landed them on the bank. He rowed both ways himself. It took about forty-five minutes because the current tended to carry him downstream into the main channel. When he got back, the water was up to the boy’s shoulders, and they were all frightened. Ingram had them get up on the roof. It was still drizzling, and Ingram feared the boys would catch cold or slip off the roof. He took George and four boys into the skiff; George was taken along to row. Ingram fended off the logs and debris with a long pole. They almost capsized once because of a sunken log. It was nearly dark by this time and still raining. Mr. Lincoln met them when they landed. George was sent to Lincoln’s home to telephone for help.
H.B. Lincoln , owner of the farm across from the camp, is sixty-five years old, afflicted with diabetes and heart trouble. He supplied the camp with eggs, milk, and similar foods. When the rain was nearly over, he went down to the creek and found the first four boys starting toward his house and Ingram about to start back. Ingram seemed tired but self-possessed. Ingram said the rest would be all right in the cabin; Lincoln agreed. He said he had never seen the water so high but expected it to go down soon. Later, Ingram came back with the second b boatload, landing nearly a quarter-mile below the cabin. Ingram was definitely exhausted, but anxious to get back to the other boys. A short time later neighbors and city people came with cars and turned their headlights on the cabin. The water was within a few feet of the ridgepole on which Ingram and the boys were resting. Then two expert boatmen arrived with ropes and equipment and were about to set out for the cabin when the scout skill, with Ingram and the boys in it, was observed in the water. The current seemed swifter than ever and the boat turned around several times. =It struck a log and sank. Ingram could be seen swimming and holding up two boys for a moment, but he soon submerged and was not seen again.
J.H. Sloan , banker, president of the local Boy Scout organization, said that Ingram was the regularly elected scoutmaster, and received no pay on his own request; that Ingram had asked for the position; that the board had recommended abandoning the camp because of its dangerous and unhealthy location, but that Ingram said he would resign if it were abandoned. Sloan said that he had warned Ingram of his responsibility in all situations; that in his opinion Ingram had not shown good judgment in remaining at camp so long after the creek rose; that his action in taking the boys across showed bravery, but poor judgment under the circumstances; Sloan admitted he had been beaten in a lawsuit with Ingram’s father.
The local scout regulations as found in the secretary’s minutes were typewritten. Under the duties of scoutmaster this sentence was found, “It shall be the duty of the scoutmaster to safeguard the boys under all ordinary circumstances.” The last two words had apparently been written over an erasure. The secretary was Arnold Thies, chief accountant of the Southern Textile and Rayon Products Company. He denied having tampered with this statement and produced the penciled minutes, as of June 1, 1925, showing the sentence as originally typed. Both the penciled and the typed pages were borrowed by the investigator. A documentary expert employed by the Baker Hero Fund Commission later testified that the original words on the typed copy before erasure were “circumstances whatever.”
L.A. White , athletic director of the local high school, expert canoeist, swimmer, and life-saving expert, said he had known Ingram since he started in high school. He said Ingram was of powerful physique, rugged, heavy, and fearless; that he was idolized by the boys because of his athletic prowess; that he was not a good swimmer and knew little of boats or rowing; that he was vain, proud, and headstrong. White said that Ingram had not been in training since he had been scoutmaster; that he was impatient and not resourceful and, in his opinion, ought never to have been scoutmaster; that he had not taught the boys to swim; that in his opinion, Ingram, if exhausted as reported, should have known better than to try to take the last load across and should have tied the boys to tree limbs, or put them in the skiff and tied it to a tree. White felt, however, that under the circumstances, Ingram had shown considerable bravery, though the situation could have been avoided by a scoutmaster possessing ordinary foresight and good judgment.
Bart Kyle , the elder of the Kyle brothers, who appeared with ropes and equipment, was questioned next. (The Kyle brothers are fishermen, expert swimmers and boatmen, and owners of a grappling outfit. They are often employed throughout the state to recover bodies lost by drowning.) Bart Kyle said that he and his brother were starting out in a boat to get the boys when Ingram’s boat capsized; that they were unable to reach the boys before they were carried away; that they went over to the cabin and found the current very swift all over the island and many trees and limbs floating in the water; that the island was composed of sand and gravel. He said that in his opinion the creek was so high that it might have changed its main course and flowed right through the island at any time; staying on the island under these circumstances would have seemed as risky as trying to get to the bank. His younger brother corroborated this testimony.
Regulations of the Baker Hero Fund Commission limit the scope of awards in this manner:
- To acts in which conclusive evidence may be obtained showing that a person performing the act voluntarily risked his won life in saving or attempting to save the life of a fellow human being, or who voluntarily sacrificed himself in a heroic manner for the benefit of others.
- Such acts must have been performed by persons whose duties in following their regular vocations do not necessarily require them to perform such acts.
- Three classes of awards – a bronze, silver, and gold medals – are established. A silver medal is awarded only to those who can be shown to have realized the risk involved before taking action.
The Rex Ingram case is about a local scout master and is basically in charge of the boys as well as the camp where they stay. In the event that happened, it is remarkable that the scout expert and a few young boys really suffocated as a consequence of the flooding of the stream. He had however managed to save nine of the boys before he finally was unable to save the rest of the boys in the camp. He was seen as a hero but I am……