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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Buffalo Wind and Seton

October 23, 2013, 67th Anniversary of Seton’s Death

In his short mystical essay, The Buffalo Wind (1938), Seton considered his own passing:

The swift years have gone – the urge becomes a lash. I am going now – I am going with all my strength. So have I sought a homeland under the white Snow Peaks – where Trail meets Trail – and far away, flashing and bright, the Red Man’s River seeks the open sea.

Seton arrived at this level of understanding only after experiencing several spiritual storms during his lifetime. In each case, he gained insight about the esoteric part of nature. The main section of my book Ernest Thompson Seton, the Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist concluded with a consideration of these experiences. In some cases he heard voices, but in one case he did not. He wrote:

A friend loaned me a book, The Shades of Shasta, much of good picture and much of sordid meanness in it. But always when the writer told of Shasta, it was noble. In the end, the Indians of Shasta were massacred – massacred by the Christians – all their love and dreams of the Great Mountain were forgotten. And the writer stood alone on the high shoulder, to look before leaving it all. There was no human sound – the quail whistled in the grass, and the wind moaned in the cedars and the grass, and moaned farewell. My eyes blurred. I knew that he had heard it. The book dropped from my hand, for “The Buffalo Wind is blowing!”

The account of the Shasta Indian’s tragic tale triggered a spiritual storm in Seton, an important moment of existential insight. In this case, however, Seton’s words have given rise to a literary mystery. We have not found a book with the title, The Shades of Shasta.

Intrigued by this, Seton researcher Bob Hare found a different book: Unwritten History: Life Amongst the Modocs by Joaquin Miller, published by the American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut, 1874 and dedicated “To the Red Men of America.” Miller gave an account of his times among the remnant Modoc people. He titled his first chapter, “Shadows of Shasta.” Here are a couple of relevant quotes from Miller; note how close Seton came to remembering the original:

Captain Wright proposed to meet the chiefs in council, for the purpose of making a lasting and permanent treaty. The Indians consented, and the leaders came in. “Go back” said Wright, “and bring in all your people; we will have a council, and celebrate our peace.” The Indians came in great numbers, laid down their arms, and then at a sign Wright and his men fell upon them, and murdered them without mercy. Captain Wright boasted on his return that he had made a permanent treaty with at least a thousand Indians...The mountain streams went foaming down among the boulders between the leaning walls of yew and cedar trees towards Sacramento. The partridge whistled and called his flock together when the sun went down; the brown pheasants rustled as they ran in strings through the long brown grass, but nothing else was heard.

Miller finally met up with a few survivors, although none of those known to him from earlier years were still alive. He quoted one of them:

All along the shores stood deserted lodges, and the grass grew rank and tall around them. They had been depopulated for years... “Once,” [said one of the few survivors] “we were so many we could not all upon this hill; now we are all in one little cawel,”* and here he made a solemn sweep with her arm, which was very grand.

Seton likely read Life Amongst the Modocs decades before writing the Buffalo Wind essay just before his 78th birthday. The power of the experience created by Miller’s words had not diminished. The 1874 book is in digitalized format at www.openlibrary.org.

*I could not find a definition for this word.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Utah Rock Vandals Should Read Woodcraft Conservation Statement

Two Boy Scout troop leaders were in the news this week and last for vandalizing a geological formation in Utah. Destruction of our natural and national heritage is of course contrary to the most basic principles of Scouting and Woodcraft. This reckless and stupid behavior was rightly denounced by BSA. One can easily imagine how appalled Seton would have been to hear that the core value of conservation was so flagrantly violated. He was no fan of ignorance. Seton did not mention ancient rocks, but no doubt would have if he could have predicted the behavior of the Utah yahoos. These jokers need a remedial class in common sense.

Here is a short Seton statement on conservation from the Birch Bark Roll (1930). I’ll put it in red so as to get the attention of the uninitiated!

“In my young days some 50 odd years ago, trees were considered the greatest plague of the settler, and every means of destroying them was employed with vigor. The man who cut down a tree on his neighbor’s land was supposed to be doing him a benefit.

Now what a change we see! Forest destruction has gone so fast and so far that we have been suddenly confronted with the probability of a woodless waste where once were the American forests famous the world over; with a desolated deliberately desolated, fatherland.

We know these things today, and wise leaders are everywhere at work inculcating the methods of true conservation.

With these leaders, the Woodcraft League co-operates, and to this end, we have in this issue of the Birch Bark Roll carefully avoided any line of activity that seems likely to lead to destruction of any of Mother Nature’s blessings.

Collections of butterflies and birds we no longer encourage, baskets made of materials where their use would be a menace to our forest resources are not now listed for honors. On the other hand, the placing of bird boxes, the planting of trees, and dissemination of wild flowers and the destruction of tent caterpillars, etc., are cited as honorable Woodcraft activities.

Feel free to pass on this conservation message to anyone you feel is in need of it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Seton on Hunting with Guns and Arrows

Through an entry into his Totem Board newsletter, Ernest Thompson Seton found a way to express his ideas about hunting in a review of a book by Adolph Shane, perhaps published in the 1940s. The book: Archery Tackle, How to Make and How to Use It, Manual Arts Press, Peoria, Illinois. I believe it is important because in his published articles Seton developed from a 19th century trapping and hunting advocate to a 20th century trapping opponent and a qualified hunting advocate. He had two concerns: causing death and suffering to “harmless” wild animals, and fairness. That is, hunting should come closer to being a fair contest between the hunter and the hunted. I quote it here because it may be Seton’s final published word on the subject.

The review:

It is now over forty years since the present reviewer set about a revival of archery.

The modern gun which displaced the bow, is a chemical explosive, and is just as deadly if the touch be given by a baby as by a giant. The bow, on the other hand, shoots the arrow with the exact force of the archer. As guns have become more deadly and destructive, the game have begun to disappear, and the logical conclusion was, ‘Why not use poison gas, and kill it all at once if destruction is the aim?’ Alas, we came very near to this, and thoughtful men called a halt, and asked the question, ‘What are you after, sport or destruction?’ This question answers itself, and the rejoinder is evident. The bow gives a maximum of sport with a minimum of destruction. Explosive weapons, more deadly every year, will wipe out all the game in a decade.

These are the thoughts back of the bow revival. For this reason we rejoice in the practical, sensible, clear exposition of archery by an expert archer, Adolph Shane. Equipped only with this handy volume, each and every man and boy can become an archer, make his own tackle and enter a little kingdom of his own.

Ernest Thompson Seton