"Seton Castle...on the last rampart of the Rockies where the Buffalo Wind is blowing."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Updated Seton Web Pages


After about a year of mighty effort, the staff of the Academy for the Love of Learning has published our updated Seton web pages. The new material is an educational supplement to my book on Seton. It is meant for anyone new to the Seton Legacy, but also presents an in-depth consideration of Seton philosophy.

It is divided into three main sections with lots of links so there is plenty to explore.

The “About” region includes sections on Seton Castle plus the Gallery and Archives, the Learning Landscape (exploring our relationship to the land at Seton Village), and a concise Biography.  

The “Learning from Seton” region includes a reprinting of stories from Wild Animals I Have Known plus “Krag, the Kootenay Ram” and “Badlands Billy: The Wolf that Won.”  These are accompanied by helpful comments and study questions that can be used by students and teachers.

The “Lifecraft” region explains Seton’s meaning for this term, and, in addition, gives a contemporary interpretation of Seton’s “Nine Principles” of Woodcraft and the “Fourfold Path.” These concepts were central to Seton’s thinking on education. To give this region more depth we have included comments on the “Learning Field” and other ideas developed by Academy founder Aaron Stern. I can only conclude that Aaron and Ernest would have found one another fellow creatures of the heart.

Finally, we include a brief section of “Other Resources” for those wanting links to other Seton web sites and collections held by other institutions.

You are welcome to browse the highlights and or spend time reading Seton stories and/or exploring the various links elsewhere on the Academy for the Love of Learning web site.

And please do contact us for information on how to become a supporter of the Seton Legacy Project or the Learning Landscape. There are many ways to help from volunteering at the Academy to providing general financial support or underwriting specific projects. Contact me anytime to learn more: davidlwitt@aloveoflearning.org
Lots more blog entries to follow in 2013, including a closer consideration of how the little town of Clayton, New Mexico in Union County became the catalyst for much that Seton would accomplish in his life and an essay on Tecumseh. Look also for an introduction to Seton Village wildflowers  and announcements about upcoming Seton programs at the Academy

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lobo the King Wolf Part IV

No hurrahs for Hollywood, but Seton’s Lobo story inspired two films.  Clash of the Wolves (1925) starred Rin Tin Tin as “Lobo” in his 9th Hollywood feature.  Many years later, Disney released the Legend of Lobo (1962), “A tale of the Old West told in song and story by Rex Allen with the Sons of the Pioneers…Based on a story by Ernest Thompson Seton.”

While the “Lobo” in Clash of the Wolves is not the same one as in Seton’s Currumpaw story, it cannot be ruled out that whatever studio released this picture called its lead character Lobo to take advantage of the name recognition from Seton’s earlier story.  (Rin Tin Tin also portrayed a character named Lobo in a 1929 movie, but I have not seen that one.) The title cards in this silent film give information reminiscent of Seton’s Lobo: “I know that wolf. That’s the famous Lobo.” And: “I’ll give $100 for his hide.” But instead of hunting the wolf, the human protagonist in this one befriends the wounded animal.

This Lobo leads a band of outlaw wolves until he is injured when his foot is pierced by a cactus thorn. (The movie appears to have been shot in a California desert location.) Unable to extract the thorn, Lobo seeks the help of his mate (played by another dog, credited as Nanette in the IMDb notes on the films) in extracting the life-threatening sticker, but no luck there. Knowing that showing signs of weakness leads to death in the wolf world, Lobo attempts to hide his wound, but when it grows worse his fellow wolves drive him out of the pack to die alone. Meanwhile, his mate waits in vain with her puppies for his return.

To Lobo, man is his greatest enemy, from whom he can expect no succor. Against all probability, the wolf is found and brought back to health by a kindly miner who faces problems of his own. Dave Weston (played by Charles Farrell who went on to a role as a minor television actor in the 1950s) is shot by a claim jumper, Borax Horton, who leaves him for dead. Lobo attempts to get help from Dave’s girlfriend May, but both May and Lobo are also threatened by the villainous Horton. Somehow, Lobo manages to get word to his wolf pack which joins him in giving the unfortunate Horton his comeuppance. Dave and May, and Lobo and his mate (Nanette), live happily ever after.

The plot was improbable, but Rin Tin Tin took his role seriously and brought to it the gravitas his audience had come to expect. Or so I assume; I have not found any contemporary reviews by film critics of his time.

According to the IMDb site, at the peak of Rin Tin Tin’s popularity, “Warners maintained 18 trained stand-ins to reduce any stress on their dog star, while providing him (“Rinty”) with a private chef who prepared daily lunches of tenderloin steak (consumed as live classical music was played to help ease the dog's digestion.)” And: “Trainer Lee Duncan, on the first film he made of the dog: ‘At first the dog did not know he was watching pictures of himself, but when it dawned on him his tail wagged ferociously.’" One can only imagine how proud Rinty must have felt when he learned that Clash of the Wolves had been inspired, at least in some degree, by the popularity of Seton’s story!

In The Legend of Lobo, the unnamed wolf actors (played by actual wolves or wolf-dogs of various ages) go through their Disney paces with faux natural history, lots of cute scenes, some tearful scenes, and even less plot than Clash of the Wolves. At least it featured wolves rather than dogs, but without a compelling actor like Rin Tin Tin, it is mostly a bunch of wolves running around doing wolf things with a voice-over narrator trying to impose some kind of order on pieced together documentary nature footage. The narration is overrun from time to time by the annoying accompaniment of singing cowboys.

Since there is no dialog in this film, we are helped by the wanted posters for Lobo with the price on his head increasing from $100 to $1000. The tale of “The bravest wolf of all” spends half or more of its time on the back story of Lobo’s parents, “El Feroz” the dad and an unnamed mother. Amid several scenes of cute wolf puppies at the den, the narrator interjects the occasional Setonism such as: “All of his life, he (Lobo) would be one to learn from experience, store it up, and remember it.” And: “When the buffalo were wiped out it left cattle as the wolves’ only hope for survival. So El Feroz took what seemed his rightful share.”

As in the original story, the plight of the cattlemen having their livestock destroyed is shown as an important problem while at the same time “a kind of nobelness (sic) in the wolf” is also acknowledged.

The young Lobo goes through various traumas, including getting lost from his parents, surviving a threatening encounter with a mountain lion, trying to support his doomed father caught in a leg trap, and witnessing cowboys shooting his mother after she is caught killing a cow. Seton did not spare his young readers from the experience of tragedy and neither do the film makers.

Contrived scenes of puppy Lobo romping with a baby antelope and the two of them joining a swimming party of baby raccoons probably had limited credibility in 1962 and certainly has none now. The only realistic part came when the young wolf attacks one of the raccoons (ending the scene!). Of greater concern, the director set up actual animal fights, wolf vs. badger, wolf vs. wolf, and showed wolves snared in leg traps. In other places, uncontrived documentary scenes of wolf life were rather interesting.

At the end of the movie, following the random scenes of real or imagined wolf behavior, the producers introduce a story plot: a trapper is brought in to rid the world of Lobo once and for all. He traps Lobo’s mate (in this case a black wolf since presumably a white one was not available) and holds her prisoner in a building at the ranch. Lobo rallies his pack to attack the ranch! They stampede a herd of longhorns who knock over the building thus freeing the female from her entrapment. The wolves happily run off and head out for a new promised land free of humans. The narrator calls it quits at this point. Sadly for the wolves no such paradise exists.

But I would like to give the wolves another chance. I hereby announce that for the next film incarnation of “The King of Currumpaw” I am available to write the screenplay.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lobo the King Wolf Part III

"Lobo stands for Dignity and Love-constancy."
 Ernest Thompson Seton

Wolf Skulls
The high ceilinged, dimly lit, quiet hall in Ottawa sees few visitors. Two wolf skulls gleam a startling white against a black cloth background, laid out on a heavy wood table. Howl-less they have been for the past 115 years since meeting their deaths in the traps of Ernest Thompson Seton. Their final resting place is in the Vertebrate Collection in the specimen storage facility at the Canadian Museum of Nature (Collections des Vertébrés, Musée canadien de la nature).  

Lobo was one of six wolves happily preying upon defenseless cattle in the closing decade of the 19th century in northeastern New Mexico. Seton named two of them in the original “King of Currumpaw, a Wolf Story.” At the time of their capture, Seton assigned each mammal specimen in his collection a number along with date killed and notes. (He used a separate numbering system for birds.) He began the hunt in mid-October, but did not manage to capture the first wolf until almost two months later. All six caught in leg traps. In order, they were, according to Seton’s field notes:

#653 December 13, 1893, male, 100 lbs. (maybe shot in trap)
#655 December 25, 1893, male, 87 lbs. (shot in trap)
#662 December 29, 1893, female, 75 lbs. (shot in trap)
#672 January 25, 1894, female, 80 lbs. (shot in trap? strangled?) “Blanca”
#675 January 29, 1894, female, 60 lbs. (maybe shot in trap)
#677 January 31, 1894, male, 78 lbs. (died of injuries after release from trap) “Lobo”

Two of Seton’s wolf skulls are at the Canadian Museum of Nature. By tradition, the Museum believed the skulls to be those of Lobo (#677) and Blanca (#672), but if the tags on the Canadian collection skulls are correct, then the Museum has two of the others: #655 and #662.

Seton #662  Museum #3726

National Museum of Canada tag on #662:
Species: Texas Gray Wolf
Locality: New Mexico, Union County, Currumpaw River, about 35 mi. N.W.  of Clayton, N.M.
December 29, (1887: Crossed out) 1893
Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton

(Seton tag: I didn’t get the information copied from this one, but the number 662 was attached.)

More Museum notes: Blanca. Canis lupus monstrabilis. Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton in Union Co. New Mexico on December 29, 1887.

(My notes: Skull, no bullet hole.)

Seton #665  Museum #1875

National Museum of Canada tag on #655:

Species: Canis lupus nubilus Say, Plains Gray Wolf
Locality: United States: New Mexico
Date: 1893  Sex: Female adult
Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton
Second National Museum of Canada tag on #655
Species: Texas Gray Wolf, Canis Lupus monstrabilis Goldman
Locality: U.S.A., Clayton County
Date: 1893?
Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton

(On this one, I made a note that it was #655.)

More Museum notes: Lobo. Canis lupus nubilus. Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton in New Mexico in 1883.  Loaned by J.H. Fleming. From old mounted specimen dismounted in February 1942.

(My note: Skull (with bullet hole) and pelt.)


In an email to me dated September 3, 2009, Dr. Kamal Khidas, Chief Collections Manager at the Canadian Museum of Nature kindly shared with me the “Genetic Analysis of Canadian Museum of Nature Samples” by Professor Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, dated October 8, 2007, on the two New Mexico wolf specimens. For Seton specimen #662 the researchers took their DNA sample from a tooth. For #665 they used foot skin from the pelt. Both specimens had the same “mitochondrial control region haplotype” or DNA sequence. This is “a unique sequence not previously detected in extant or historic Canis lupus. This “haplotype is in the same clade as historic Canis lupus nubilus haplotypes” observed also from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, the “interior continental U.S. gray wolves.” To be clear, nubilus was a different species from the Mexican gray wolf, Canis lupus baileyi. I write was, because as far as I know, nubilus is extinct. For our time the question is, will Canis lupus baileyi follow Canis lupis nubilus into the forever oblivion of extinction?

I recently received a note from the office of New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. One of his staff wrote me that the Senator supports issuing endangered species postage stamps as a way of raising money for international wildlife conservation. Clearly, help cannot come soon enough.


If the wolf specimens in Ottawa really are #662 and #665, then what happened to Lobo (#677) and Blanca (#672)? So far, in my research at least, the record on the disposition of Blanca’s remains is silent. There is, however, a tantalizing clue about Lobo in a letter to Seton from Ms. Caroline Fitz Randolph dated March 13, 1895. Caroline was the daughter of Louis V. Fitz Randolph (who owned the ranch in New Mexico which hosted Seton during his visit) and sister of Virginia Fitz Randolph who Seton met while both were art students in Paris. Seton’s continuing friendship with Virginia led to his meeting her father who sent him to New Mexico where he brought about the death of Lobo and later popularized wildlife conservation. (Seton may have been attracted to Virginia or Caroline or both; if Lobo was the Wolf that Changed America, then an important link in the story was Seton’s relationship to these sisters.) Seton kept the letter from Caroline. It remained at the Castle after his death before being gifted to Library and Archives Canada (along with most of his personal papers) by Dee Seton Barber in 1986.

Here are relevant excerpts from Caroline’s letter:

My dear Mr. Thompson

At last the head of your victim has come, am very proud of it and delighted am I. It is the very best thing of the kind that I have ever seen, and I am already attached to it as the glory of my modest possessions….

Mother[?] says that she can’t bear to meet Lobo’s eye – she fancies that he has a “Mr. Hyde” sort of sneer, a look as though he might be the evil side of a human [ ? ], but for me, I love Lobo. He fascinates and attracts me, and his quaint [ ? ] and [ ? ] charms and satisfy me afresh every time I glance at him. I shall consult Julie [ ? ] before having his mounted and protected. But have a notion of my own that I should like him in a [ ? ] band of plain ebony with a tiny sample rim of gold inside – to signify le rir est mort. Does that sound right and fitting, oh mighty conquerer?

I have said a great deal, but somehow seem to have fallen short of telling you how good you are to me to send me Lobo, and how warmly I appreciate your kindness. I’ve not written [The letter ends at this point, although it must have continued on another, now lost page.]

Caroline wrote on letterhead showing their address as Front Street & Farragut Road, Plainfield, New Jersey. Perhaps the skull of Lobo still resides somewhere in Plainfield. If anyone can find out, I would like to know.

Please send this on to others who might be interested in Seton or wolves.
Text copyright 2012 David L. Witt

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lobo the King Wolf Part II

“I have been bitterly denounced, first, for killing Lobo; second, and chiefly, for telling of it, to the distress of many tender hearts. To this I reply: In what frame of mind are my hearers left with regard to the animal? Are their sympathies quickened toward the man who killed him, or toward the noble creature who, superior to every trial, died as he had lived, dignified, fearless, and steadfast?”
Ernest Thompson Seton

Wolf drawings by ETS
Seton’s published account of the Lobo story came out in the November 1894 issue of Scribner’sMagazine – ten months after the wolf’s death. Repackaged with other stories late in 1898, his book Wild Animals I Have Known became an immediate best seller. The book has remained in print to this day. The story of Lobo and Blanca was featured in the 2008 BBC/PBS Nature documentary “The Wolf That Changed America.”
 But what of Seton’s personal story? On the day of Lobo’s death Seton made ready to leave New Mexico, a sudden and unexpected change of plans. Somehow, having touched Lobo and looked into his eyes, the wolf hunter could not bring himself to hunt another wolf. Ever.
I have told of Seton’s personal transformation from wildlife killer to wildlife protector in Ernest Thompson Seton, The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist so need not repeat all of it here. Yet it is important to point out that if one were to read the Lobo story while knowing nothing else of Seton, its complete meaning would be missed. Readers of the late 19th and early 20th century were able to follow the progress of his personal development through what he wrote. Seton became ever more adamant about the need to protect wild nature, so much so that he became, along with John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, one of the godfathers of today’s environmentalism.
Another way to put this is that the three month period covered in the Lobo story is but one part – although probably the most important – in a longer journey made from his time growing up on the Canadian frontier to his final years teaching the principles of Lifecraft in Santa Fe. The man who hunted Lobo and Blanca later came to bitterly denounce the wanton and senseless destructions of our wild relatives.
 The importance of this relatively short period to the longer struggle of developing a consciousness about animals has a literary antecedent, another, much earlier tragedy.
 You may recall that the Iliad of Homer describes a scant two weeks of the ten year Achaean siege of Ilium – or two weeks of twenty years if one includes the subsequent travels of Odysseus. (The Achaeans were Hellenistic peoples of the heroic Mycenaean period when the gods of Olympus were believed to have taken an active role in the lives of men at the siege of Troy and elsewhere. Subsequently, following the mysterious fall of Mycenae, the gods retreated and these peoples became recognizable in history as Greeks.) Two warriors, Achilles and Hector, representing their respective armies, are pitted against one another. They have (at the start at least) no special antipathy for one another, nor do they have any reason to be at each other’s throats except that terrible circumstances have brought them together. Achilles is fated to win their deadly competition because of his special advantages, but this does not change the pathos of the humiliating and ultimately pointless death of Hector. Under the circumstances, there is no honor in the way Achilles kills Hector, although Achilles is otherwise an honorable man by the standards of his time.  

 The great warrior wolf Lobo wants nothing of this war with the invincible Seton, who for his part, holds no antipathy for Lobo; their conflict is for Seton just a job he has traveled to from a far away land. In the Lobo story, Seton gives us a hint that his attitude towards wolves in general (and about Lobo in particular) is already beginning to change – but that is all we see here, just a beginning of a change in consciousness. It is in the 1901 Lives of the Hunted that Seton seems to recognize the shallowness of his victory. (See quote above.) In 1905, he tells of witnessing another wolf hunt, but one in which he refuses to participate, “Badlands Billy: The Wolf that Won,” in Animal Heroes. If we can extend the Iliad analogy for a moment, Seton, Odysseus-like, continues his journey home (to a new level of consciousness) through a journey of many more years.
It is only by knowing this sequel that we can understand the meaning of Seton’s life. The death of Lobo changed first Seton and then the world. I am tempted to write that maybe, knowing the outcome of Seton’s journey, we can begin to forgive him for his murder of Lobo. Or maybe not. Seton did not ask our forgiveness for his heinous act against the wolf. But without Lobo, there would have been no Seton Legacy. Seton learned important lessons about himself and about wildlife from his three months in New Mexico. One could read the balance of his life as a kind of atonement.
I hope that in another 3000 years, just as for us now when the Achaeans are better known in legend than in fact, when our civilization is for the people of that time more mythical than real, that the story of Lobo and Blanca will live on as the greatest nature story of the era when still the howl of the wolf could be heard in the West and was its most beautiful sound.
Please send this on to others who might be interested in Seton or wolves.

Text copyright 2012 David L. Witt


Friday, November 2, 2012

Lobo, The King Wolf Part I

“Lobo lived his wild romantic life from 1889 to 1894 in the Currumpaw region, as the ranchmen know too well, and died, precisely as related, on January 31, 1894. The fact that these stories are true is the reason why all are tragic. The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end.”
              Ernest Thompson Seton

Lobo, photograph by ETS
So Seton begins his introduction to “Lobo, the King of Currumpaw,” in his 1898 book, Wild Animals I Have Known. First published in the November 1894 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, Lobo led Seton to huge literary and commercial success when the book came out. As we approach the 114th anniversary of its publication, the book has sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies through many editions to our own day. While all the stories in the book became popular, the lead story about the wolves became the best known. In the story, a clever hunter (Seton) pursues the brave and noble Lobo to his death. I will present an in-depth consideration of the story in Part II; here, in Part I, is a synopsis of this great American story.

The setting: northeastern New Mexico, October 1893 – February 1894 in the area now known as Union County. (It separated from Colfax County in January 1894.) This semi-arid region of broad tablelands is cut by deep arroyos. Rising from the flanks of two volcanoes, Sierra Grande and Capulin (a National Monument), the Corrumpa Creek (an intermittent stream) strikes eastward across dozens of miles toward the town of Clayton. It was in this area that Seton hunted the wolves. Although written with some embellishment, Seton’s account of his encounter with Lobo is close to the actual events as he recorded them in his journal at the time.

Lobo, Part 1: A large gray wolf, leader of a small pack, preyed upon cattle introduced into the Currumpaw Valley by ranchers (in the mid to late 19th century). The “Mexicans” called him “Old Lobo” or the “King.” Lobo gained a reputation as the largest, smartest, and loudest of his kindred. The pack consisted of an additional five wolves including a white-coated female, Blanca.

These animals were occasionally spotted – from a distance – by cowboys and shepherds. The wolf pack took a terrible toll on herds and flocks. The problem was made worse by the wolves’ habit of eating only animals they freshly killed.  All attempts to hunt or poison the wolves met with failure. A thousand dollar reward offered for Lobo’s hide brought in bounty hunters. But the hunters wore out their horses and mourned the loss of large wolf-hounds killed by the larger wolves. The killing of sheep and cattle by wolves continued unabated. From the rancher standpoint, all seemed hopeless.

Part 2: The narrator of the story (Seton), formerly a wolf hunter (in Canada) had for some time made his living at a “stool and desk” (as a commercial artist specializing in wildlife illustration) when an acquaintance, a ranch owner on the Currumpaw, invited him to New Mexico. Seton agreed to hunt the wolf pack.

He hunted, however, not with a gun, since the wolves were out only at night, but by scattering poisoned meat and later, poisoned meat baiting metal leg traps. Although he made every effort to hide any hint of human scent from the traps, Lobo seemed to taunt him, gathering up baits and scattering “filth” over them. Lobo kicked rocks onto hidden traps, springing them. When Seton hid traps in devious patterns Lobo backed out them unharmed. Nothing worked.

Part 3: After weeks of unrewarded effort, during which Seton kept up his acute observation of wolf habits, he at last noticed something important. While the wolf pack generally stayed behind Lobo, he discovered that Blanca sometimes ran heedlessly ahead. Seton changed tactics. Rather than continue his fruitless efforts to trap Lobo, he instead turned his efforts toward Blanca.

Seton set traps with his usual cunning, concealing them in the usual way so that Lobo would find and disable them as was his habit. He set out six steel leg traps near a freshly killed cow. He removed the head and tossed it casually aside. There he planted a devious booby-trap. He buried two traps under the dirt by the head, knowing that wolves would not eat it, and knowing that Lobo would not approach, but betting that one of the others might investigate while Lobo busied himself disabling the other traps.

Seton returned the following morning to see if this trick worked. The head was gone along with one of the traps, dragged away by a strong but trapped wolf. He followed the trail catching up within a mile to find Blanca still in the trap and hopelessly dragging the heavy steer head behind her. Despite her terrible situation, Blanca turned to fight with the last of her strength, howling for Lobo, who howled in return, but could do nothing against men with guns. Seton killed her in a manner he came to regret.

He returned to the ranch with her body. All night the cañons reverberated with the plaintive cries of the bereft Lobo. “It was sadder than I could possibly have believed.” Lobo prowled about the ranch in the dark.

Seton came up with another trick to use against Lobo. On horseback, he dragged her body through a field to set out a chaotic pattern that Lobo would attempt to follow if he returned. Counting on Lobo’s love and loyalty for his mate, he set out even more traps. Surely the heartbroken wolf would come looking for Blanca in a reckless state of mind.

And so it came to pass.

Two days later Seton found Lobo caught in three of four traps. Like Blanca, he made ready to fight upon his antagonist’s approach, even biting through and severing a lasso thrown over his neck. Seton aimed at the animal with his rifle but at the last possible instant, held back, somehow unable to carry through.

Seton and a cowboy threw a stick and heavy cord to the wolf who bit into the stick and became entangled in the cord; they drew the cord tight to close his massive jaw. Unable to bite, Lobo ceased all resistance. They threw the wolf over a saddled horse and returned with him to the ranch. Now a prisoner, Lobo silently watched his passing kingdom.

At the ranch, they secured Lobo with a collar and strong chain, removing the stick and cord from his mouth. Seton offered the wolf water and meat, which Lobo ignored. The hunter examined the wolf closely, looking into Lobo’s eyes and reaching out and touching him. But the wolf did no more than stare out onto the prairie where he and Blanca had roamed free.

During the night Lobo died, the spirit gone out of him. He could not tolerate the loss of strength, the loss of his freedom, and the loss of his beloved mate. Seton placed his body next to the remains of Blanca, reuniting them.

Here ends the life story of Lobo, the King of Currumpaw, but, as we shall see in Part II, the legacy of this wolf proved all the greater with his death. Although he never admitted it, Seton spent the remainder of his long life atoning for what he had done. It will not be giving too much away to write that he never killed another wolf.

Monday, October 22, 2012

St. Paul the Apostle

In her memoir, By a Thousand Fires, Nature Notes and Extracts from the Life and Unpublished Journals of Ernest Thompson Seton, Julia M. Seton writes of her husband that although he was “of a most genial disposition, with the utmost kindliness and tolerance toward life in general” he held two great antipathies – for his own father Joseph and for George Armstrong Custer. To this list Seton biographers H. Allen Anderson and Betty Keller added St. Paul the Apostle, although without attribution that I could find. Apparently, the supposed anti-feminist attitude of St. Paul cascaded down through the centuries to make life a misery for Joseph’s wife Alice within their marriage. Seton’s parents were religious fundamentalists, followers of Calvinism.

But – if Seton really had it out for St. Paul, it was a tragic misunderstanding – the two of them would have gotten along famously. Modern scholarship has distinguished between what Paul actually felt (an equality of men and women in Christ) and what was written by others but falsely attributed to him, the subjugation of women with which Seton took issue.

There is also this. Paul outlined one of the fundamental issues facing all civilized societies, the quest for peace (as in order within a society) through two opposing philosophies. One of these, modeled in Paul’s time by the Roman Empire, was the desire for peace through victory. The opposing Paulist position (based on ancient Jewish thought and the teachings of Jesus), was the desire for peace through justice. The latter approach was the ideal proposed by Seton’s Lifecraft philosophy.

One of the leading contemporary Christian scholars, John Dominic Crossan, discusses the role of women in the early Church and sets forth the important achieving peace through justice argument in his book, In Search of Paul, How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom (HarperSanFrancisco 2004). I might have missed this book but for the kind guidance of Matthew Fox who is a prolific author, proponent of the philosophy of Creation Spirituality and visiting scholar at the Academy for the Love of Learning.

 Crossan writes, page 348:
…the only hierarchy Paul accepts is the primacy of those who best build up the community, and that can only be done by those who love, that is, those who share fully and completely what they have received as not their own to have, to use, or to boast about.

Compare this to Seton, page 1, Gospel of the Redman (Seton Village Press, 1937):
The culture and civilization of the Whiteman are essentially material; his measure of success is ‘How much property have I acquired for myself?’  The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, ‘How much service have I rendered to my people?’ 

In the Fourfold Path, Seton wrote about the service an individual owes the community (of humankind and wild-nature). One of these is the Service of Love where the heartfelt intention of kindness begins with those with whom we may be in closest contact and extends to all other persons and all other living things. Helpfulness grows from the work we do, from freely sharing what we have available for the benefit of others. Another way to put this is that in Seton’s understanding of traditional Native American society, an individual’s status was measured by how much he or she served the larger community. Seton’s error in this was attempting to suggest that such a system of ethics was particular to the indigenous peoples of North America. Buddhism as well as the Christianity of Jesus and Paul (to take but two obvious examples) show that the Service Way is of course a universal human trait, not one defined or limited by race. (The Fourfold Path is discussed further in the Seton pages at the Academy for the Love of Learning web site, due for publication late in 2012.)

Lifecraft then, is a manifestation of Paul’s peace through justice. Seton summarized his views in Gospel of the Redman. He listed as virtues: Religious tolerance. Wise and organized use of natural resources for the common good. Equalitarianism within society. Non-violent disciplining of children. Spiritual values favored over material values. Against abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and by implication, recreational drugs. Non-restrictive divorce laws. An attitude of anti-militarism.  

While this prescriptive path is not identical to that of St. Paul the Apostle, Lifecraft, with its emphasis on justice rather than victory, at least finds Seton and Paul in agreement on important deep fundamentals. Far from deserving listing on Seton’s enemies list, Paul and Seton could well have been on one another’s friends list.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Geography Lesson

Seton Institute and Grounds © 2012 Academy for the Love of Learning

October 8, 2012. Perfect autumn day, clear sky, light breeze out of the Southwest, temperature around 70°F (21°C) near summit of a hill Seton called Little Sister Mountain, a prominent point SE of the Castle and nearly 500 feet (152.5 meters) higher. The ruins of Seton Castle must be visible from here (since the peak is visible from the Castle), but I simply cannot make it out. I forgot to bring binoculars or compass. At least I remembered to show up for my appointment with two Seton Village neighbors, Marita Prandoni (who lives not far south of the Castle) and who works for the Academy, and Jerry Zollars who lives right by the Castle. Jerry has made extensive studies of Seton’s second New Mexico period (1920s-1946), reading all of Seton’s journals from that period.

I asked the two of them to help me identify place names from Seton’s 1937 map of his 2500 acre property on the DeVargas Land Grant. A number of high spots near the Castle – such as Sunset Hill, Raven Rocks, and the Hill of Memories, now support houses.

One particularly mysterious place is the “Piasa” cliff with its strange painted creature, part insect part something else with antlers. First painted by Seton, it was later maintained by his family, holding up rather well. It is based on a (now lost) rock painting from a cliff along the Mississippi River in Illinois first described in the 17th century. Apparently Seton was aware of a replica of it that existed in his time. What meaning it held for him, if any, is unknown, although I suspect its appearance on a cliff along Seton Village Road was purely whimsical. Due to tree growth along the arroyo, it is not easily spotted. The history of Piasa was discovered by my longtime research associate, Bob Hare. For more on his other discoveries in nature, history, art, and philosophy, see Wilderness Adventures with Bob Hare.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Seton Stories

A relative of Krag, Bighorn Ram, Pecos Wilderness, 2010
Copyright David L. Witt

On three different occasions this year, Seton stories have once more been told at Seton Castle: “Krag, The Kootenay Ram” in April, “Lobo, the King of Currumpaw” in September, and a selection of several stories during the celebration of his 152nd birthday in August. As curator of the Seton Legacy Project at the Academy for the Love of Learning, I have presented some of these. Other readers have included famed New Mexico storyteller Joe Hayes, and Acushla Bastible, actress and co-founder of Lifesongs (an Intergenerational Community Celebration of the Human Journey Through Music, Dance, and Story).

Acushla Bastible reading Lobo, The King of Currumpaw
at Seton Castle beneath the rising full moon, September 30, 2012
Especially thrilling was hearing Seton’s voice from a digitized recording made over a hundred years ago explaining the meaning of howls in “The Hunting Wolves.” How to describe that voice? Recorded when Seton was at the height of his popularity as a star lecturer, it sounds to my ear, rather antique with clear influences of both clipped British and droll Canadian. Even allowing for whatever distortion may have been built in by recording techniques of that time, it is clear that people simply do not today talk in the same way as they did then.

I don’t know when a recording of Seton’s voice was last played at the Castle nor when he himself may have given his final presentation of the “Lobo” story, but hearing the passionate sound of it echoing off the masonry walls and through the rooms of Seton Castle, punctuated with his wolf calls, was an important milestone for the Seton Legacy Project.

Digitized versions of several Seton stories were made available to us by Ron Edmonds who has created a web presence for Seton at Blue Sky, The Ernest Thompson Seton Pages. Another Seton researcher, Mary Elizabeth Bradley (who met Seton at the Castle) has gifted to the Academy a copy of the original 1906 RCA recording.  This record, along with original artwork and artifacts, may be seen at the Academy’s Seton Gallery.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Academy for the Love of Learning and the Seton Legacy Project

In the winter of 1893, in the broken hill country of northeastern New Mexico, a drama played out between a pack of gray wolves and a Canadian wolf hunter named Ernest Thompson Seton. The wolves lost in the struggle, but in an unexpected way they prevailed by changing the spirit of the man. Seton experienced a personal transformation, putting the best of what he learned to work in the world.

Ernest Thompson Seton, 1890
Library and Archives Canada
Seton became one of the first great proponents of wildlife conservation. He invented the literary genre of the realistic animal story. He established important principles for the sciences of animal behavior and ecology. As a master illustrator and best-selling author he reached an international audience of millions. His passion for self-reliance ethics and outdoor youth education led him to co-found the worldwide Boy Scout movement.

 Seton’s insights sparked a revolution in our perceptions of animals and wild nature, provided a model for environmentalism, and inspired generations of youth and adults to take to the outdoors for recreation, adventure, and solace.

The Seton Legacy Project promotes and makes known the life work of conservationist and educator Ernest Thompson Seton through exhibitions, publications and public presentations. The Academy for the Love of Learning has established the Seton Gallery and Archives for the display and study of Seton’s art, writings and philosophy. 

You are cordially invited to explore the history and meaning of Seton’s work through this series of essays and through programs at Seton Castle and the Seton Gallery. My book, Ernest Thompson Seton, the Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist (Gibbs Smith, 2010) is available through online booksellers or your local book retailer.

Please visit the Academy for the Love of Learning to to find out more about our programs. Coming soon: Updated web pages with Seton biography, writings, and Lifecraft philosophy.