Prior to the existence of the Order of the Arrow, many Councils across the country had secret organizations, fraternities, orders, and societies whose purpose was very similar to that of the Order of the Arrow’s purpose. One such organization was known as the Ku-Ni-Eh Order. Arthur E. Roberts founded the Ku-Ni-Eh Order in 1922 at Camp Edgar Friedlander, which was located on the Little Miami River near Cincinnati, Ohio. Camp Edgar Friedlander was the summer camp of the Cincinnati Area Council, and Arthur E. Roberts was the Camp Director for many of its early years of operation. Mr. Roberts also served the Cincinnati Area Council as its Scout Executive for many years. During those early years at summer camp, Mr. Roberts saw a need for the development of a brotherhood to honor a select number of Scouts who best exemplified the Scout Oath and Law. After many months of searching, Mr. Roberts found what he considered to be the best ceremony for the induction of candidates into this brotherhood. This ceremony was based on a ritual used by the Kankau, a tribe of the Maidu Indians of Northern California. The Kankau used this ceremony to test their boys in the virtues necessary to become a brave. The word Ku-Ni-Eh means “Order of Manhood” in the Maidu tongue, and thus was chosen as the name for this new brotherhood. The symbol that was selected to represent the Ku-Ni-Eh Order was the “We-hin-ay-pay”, which means Rising Sun. This symbol was taken from a design in the base of a ritual basket of the Maidu Indians.
The Ku-Ni-Eh Order had its own requirements for membership, rules and regulations, and even its own handbook. Its popularity spread throughout the Cincinnati Area Council, and the knowledge of the Ku-Ni-Eh Order’s success spread to many other Councils. Soon, over forty councils had the Ku-Ni-Eh Order as an integral part of their summer camp program. However, the Ku-Ni-Eh Order was never recognized by the Boy Scouts of America as an official organization. The local sponsor of the Ku-Ni-Eh Order was O.C. Rankin of Cynthiana, Kentucky, and he presided over the organization’s activities, as well as the selection of candidates. Candidates for induction into the Ku-Ni-Eh Order were selected by the current Ku-Ni-Eh Order members, unlike the Order of the Arrow where non-members elect candidates.
By the early 1950’s, the Ku-Ni-Eh Order was flourishing in the Blue Grass Council. There were many Ku-Ni-Eh members, and the organization was very active. The center for these activities was located at Camp Offutt, which was the Blue Grass Council’s official Scout camp. Camp Offutt was located on the Kentucky River near Fintville, Kentucky. However, by the early 1950’s most of Kentucky’s non-Order of the Arrow organizations had been replaced by the Order of the Arrow, which was a chartered organization of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and which functioned as an official part of the National Camping Committee. Thus, it was inevitable that the Ku-Ni-Eh Order would also soon be replaced by the Order of the Arrow.
A Blue Grass Council District Executive named Guy Walton “Walt” Ferrell began to actively support the idea of chartering an Order of the Arrow Lodge in the Blue Grass Council. This idea of chartering an Order of the Arrow Lodge created friction between those who wanted the Order of the Arrow, and those who wished to remain members of the Ku-Ni-Eh Order. After many debates, eventually the Order of the Arrow replaced the Ku-Ni-Eh Order, and the wheels were set in motion to charter an Order of the Arrow Lodge in the Blue Grass Council with the submission of an application to the National Office.
In April of 1952, five individuals were selected to attend an Order of the Arrow induction weekend being held at Covered Bridge Reservation near Prospect, Kentucky. These five individuals included Guy Walton “Walt” Ferrell, Henry T. “Hank” Ravencraft, John Rue “Chunk” Beard, William D. “Bill” Hepburn, and Frank D. Lewis. This Order of the Arrow induction weekend was hosted and conducted by the Zit-Kala-Sha Lodge #123 of Louisville, Kentucky. Zit-Kala-Sha Lodge #123 had held similar induction weekends for other newly formed Lodges in the surrounding areas. The purpose of this weekend was three fold:
1. To educate these five individuals on the history of the Order of the Arrow, its structure, and its rules and regulations.
2. To officially induct these five individuals into the Order of the Arrow.
3. To train these five individuals to conduct an Order of the Arrow induction weekend back in their own Council.
Due to the enormous efforts of countless individuals, the Order of the Arrow was officially chartered in the Blue Grass Council on July 28,1952 as the Kawida Lodge #480. Even the selection of the Lodge name has a colorful history. In trying to hold on to the past, the Blue Grass Council respectfully submitted the name of the “Ku-Ni-Eh” Lodge to the national office. To the Council’s surprise, they were informed that the name “Ku-Ni-Eh” had already been issued to Lodge #462 of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Old Ku Ni-Eh Order members looked to their Ku-Ni-Eh handbook for guidance. In the back of the handbook there is a list of the five “Chief Braves” of the tribe of the Ku-Ni-Eh, and one of those braves was named “Kawida”, also known as the “wise” brave. Thus, the name Kawida was selected by the Blue Grass Council to be the name of the new Lodge, and it was approved by the national office. The Lodge chose the mythical thunderbird as their new totem, and they selected the call of their Lodge to be that of the owl. Kawida Lodge #480 conducted its first Ordeal induction weekend on June 7, 1952 at Camp Offutt near Fintville, Kentucky. One adult and one or two youth members (depending on troop size) from each Troop in the Council were selected to be charter members, and to undergo the test of the Ordeal. The five members of the original induction team presided over the weekend with the help and support from members of the Zit-Kala-Sha Lodge #123 of Louisville, Kentucky. Many camp projects were completed during that first Ordeal weekend, and some of the more notable projects included the building of a new health lodge, improvements on the trading post and handicraft area, the raising of a new flag pole, and the building of a swimming crib to be used on the Kentucky River. The first Ordeal weekend concluded with the repeating of the Obligation, and the presentation of the Ordeal sashes. This tradition, which had its beginnings that June weekend in 1952, has continued uninterrupted for nearly six decades, with the induction of literally thousands of Kawida Lodge members.
Over the course of its evolution, the Blue Grass Council has absorbed several other Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Kentucky councils. This evolution has also given rise to two Order of the Arrow Lodge mergers from these absorbed councils. The Mischa Mokwa Lodge #435 merged with Kawida Lodge #480 in 1963 when the Blue Grass Council absorbed its supporting Council, the Cumberland Council of Middlesboro, Kentucky. To permanently signify this merger, the seven stars of Ursa Minor (the little dipper), which was a part of Mischa Mokwa’s Lodge totem, was added to the chest of Kawida Lodge’s totem, the thunderbird. A similar event occurred in 1979 when the Blue Grass Council absorbed the Lonesome Pine Council of Pikeville, Kentucky. During this same year, the Tomahaken Lodge #241 merged with Kawida Lodge #480, and thus to permanently signify this merger, the tomahawk which was a part of Tomahaken’s Lodge totem, was also added to the chest of the thunderbird.
In 2009, Bracken, Mason, Roberston, Lewis, and Fleming counties from the Simon Kenton Council of Columbus, OH joined the Blue Grass Council and our Lodge. This was not a Lodge merger, but the LEC voted that all future patches with the thunderbird shall have the tail feathers a different color than the wing feathers. Today, the Blue Grass Council and Kawida Lodge proudly service the fifty-five county area of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Kentucky.
Kawida Lodge #480 has evolved greatly from its early humble beginnings as a pre-Order of the Arrow society, to the great and honored Lodge that it is today. Kawida Lodge has never wavered from its original purpose and intent since being granted its official charter back in 1952. The Lodge has always promoted the ideals of Scouting, worked hard to strengthen the camping spirit, and given service cheerfully in the spirit of brotherhood. Kawida Lodge #480 has proudly and diligently perpetuated the message that was set forth by the founding fathers of our great and honored order, and the Lodge stands committed to continuing on this same path of success for coming decades.