WIATAVA: A Heritage of Service

The Order of the Arrow was originally designed as an Honor Camper society for just one camp, and as it spread, it replaced scores of similar organizations serving local council camps. One of these was the Tribe of Gorgonio. The Tribe of Gorgonio had been created around 1926 at the Orange County Council’s Camp Rokili in the San Bernardino Mountains. One of the highlights of the camp’s program had always been a hike up Mt. San Gorgonio. These treks gave the Tribe its name, and remained an important part of its initiation.

Originally, the Tribe of Gorgonio had four ranks: Brave, Warrior, Medicine Man, and Chief. Then around 1931 Scout Executive H. E. “Pop” White stepped in as the Tribe’s sole Chief, and the four ranks became Neophyte, Brave, Warrior, and Medicine Man. Scouts could advance only one rank a year if they were elected by the other Tribe members in camp – and passed increasingly difficult initiations.

After Pop White’s death in December of 1943, the Tribe only survived for one more summer, under the leadership of Medicine Man E. H. “Red” Knaus. In 1945, shortly after Orange County had been split into two councils, Gorgonio Lodge 298 was chartered to the Orange Empire Area Council. While some of the old Tribe of Gorgonio members regretted the Tribe’s passing, others like Bob Boyle, Gorgonio’s first adviser, felt that the new program would be a stronger one. The new lodge was inducted in May of 1945, and Elbert Clarke of Laguna Beach was elected the first chief. Beginning around 1947 the lodge was renamed San Gorgonio Lodge and was first chartered under that name in 1949. The new lodge also had close ties to Camp Rokili. In 1949 they held the first of 24 Fall Pow Wows there. Another important early activity was the annual Indian pageant held between 1952 and 1960.

In 1956 San Gorgonio Lodge held its first Vigil ceremony, and in 1957 the first annual dinner was held. 1956 was also the first year the lodge issued a flap to its members. By the late 1950’s Orange County was growing at a tremendous rate, and San Gorgonio’s membership soared. More and more clans (later called chapters) were added to serve local Arrowmen. This growth also forced the council to replace Rokili with a new, larger camp, Lost Valley Scout Reservation, which opened in 1964. San Gorgonio Lodge continued to serve the Orange Empire Area Council until 1972, when Orange County Council was reformed.

Originally the Northern Orange County Council did not have a lodge of its own. Since both councils were still using Camp Rokili, the north county Scouts were inducted into San Gorgonio Lodge as well. In 1948, when the Lodge formed its first clans, the north county members were grouped together as Anaheim Clan. As early as 1946 the Northern Orange County Council had considered forming its own lodge, but it was not until 1949 that the real work of organizing a lodge began, and on February 21, 1950, Ahwahnee Lodge 430 was granted a charter by the National Office with Don Piantoni as Chief and Red Knaus as Adviser.

In 1954, when the council acquired its own camp near Green Valley Lake, it was also named Ahwahnee. The work of building and staffing the new camp provided a major project for the lodge for many years. Another important emphasis during those years was the Lodge Indian Dance Team. In 1961, Ahwahnee Lodge inducted its first Vigils in a ceremony at Camp Ahwahnee. By 1967, the lodge had grown so large that more responsibility had to be transferred to the chapters to keep it running smoothly. The merger of these two councils that reformed Orange County Council in 1972 meant the eventual merger of the two lodges. For five months a joint committee worked to hammer out the details, hoping to perpetuate the best of both lodges.

December 31, 1972 marked the end of both lodges, and on January 1, 1973, Wiatava Lodge 13 officially began. The lodge number was the lowest available at the time. Wiatava is the Cupeño Indian name for what we now know as Lost Valley. The word is translated into “Valley of the Oaks.” The other names suggested had been Saddleback, Ketemague, Diegueño, Eulauchsitt, and Gabrillaño.

The first official lodge function was the January 13, 1973 banquet, highlighted by the election of Charlie Wisdom as Wiatava’s first Lodge Chief. Spring Ordeals followed at both Lost Valley and Ahwahnee. From 1973 to 1978, the Lodge Pow Wows alternated between the two camps, beginning with Lost Valley in 1973, and on to Ahwahnee in 1978. Since then, all Lodge Pow Wows have been held at Lost Valley. Over the years both Navajo and Pang Lodges have been invited as guests to the Lodge Pow Wow.

Again, Orange County’s growth brought changes to the lodge’s structure. The original chapters in 1973 were Ahwahnee, Amimi, Denali (merged with Ahwahnee in 1976), Koshare, Los Amigos (became Crow in 1979), Maga Taskozu, Santee, Ta Tanka, Tenaja, Tiwahinkpe (became Tsungoni in 1976), and Woapalanne (merged with Tenaja in 1976). 

In 1980, Koshare Chapter was split and the northern half became Modoc Chapter. In 1983, several districts were realigned. Tenaja was split into Tenaja and Anasazi. Parts of Tsungoni went to Koshare and Ta Tanka and what remained was named Apatschin Chapter. Later, Apatschin merged into Ta Tanka. Due to district realignment in 2008, Ahwahnee was absorbed by Crow and Santee. 

Change continues as Wiatava Lodge moves forward, but despite new leaders and new ideas, the traditions of what has been more than nine decades of service remain.