In his Forward to Ernest Thompson Seton, Founder of the Woodcraft Movement 1860-1946 (London: The Edwin Mellon Press, 2007), Seton biographer Brian Morris took on the puzzling issue of why Seton has been largely left out of 20th century history.
“Perhaps Seton, by the very diversity of his interests, attempted too much. Perhaps in attempting, in one lifetime, to be a wildlife artist, naturalist, a youth leader and a writer (not to mention his other, less public activities) Seton overstretched himself and failed, in the end, to attain full stature in these respective fields…Seton’s influence was personal and persuasive…in the lives and work of other people…This means that his influence has been diffuse and pervasive rather than concrete, latent rather than explicit. Seton, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries attempted to affect a union between the arts and the sciences, between poetry and fact.”
The thrust of Seton’s lifework was ecological in the sense of being inherently integrative – all aspects of art and nature related to and reflective of one another. To a linear-minded society, this approach was clearly not the guaranteed path to lasting recognition. Still, there is an undercurrent of support. Visitors to the Academy for the Love of Learning in Santa Fe and the Philmont Museum and Seton Memorial Library at Cimarron, sometimes come by to talk about how Seton affected their lives or the lives of older family members, or we hear about how the reading of Lobo story or another of Seton’s stories is still remembered with fondness.
I am in occasional contact with scholars who include Seton in their studies, but I have also wondered about his past appearance in professional journals. Recently a few of few of these have come to my attention. Thanks to Academy for the Love of Learning archives intern Bill Ferguson for helping to find some of them. Citations for several scholarly articles follow in a chronological listing.
Cornell, George L. (Michigan State University) “The Influence of Native Americans on Modern Conservationists.” Environmental Review, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 1985. “That George Bird Grinnell and Ernest Thompson Seton made enormous contributions to the ‘new’ environmental awareness is unquestionable. What must be added is that these contributions were, to some extent, an outgrowth of American Indian philosophy, which both men studied and understood.”
Block, Nelson R. (Publisher and Editor) “Ernest Thompson Seton and the Founding of the Order of the Arrow.” The Journal of Scouting History, No. 1, February 1990. E. Urner Goodman, a Scout executive, founded the Scout honorary organization, the Order of the Arrow, in 1915. “As the Order celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, it is important for us to search for the origins of that sprit and the search must begin with Ernest Thompson Seton.” The Indian lore part of Woodcraft influenced the Order of the Arrow but no records have been found connecting Seton to that organization.
Helstern, Linda Lizut (Southern Illinois University) “Indians, Woodcraft, and the Construction of White Masculinity: The Boyhood of Nick Adams.” The Hemingway Review, Vol. 20, No. 1, Fall 2000. “Altogether, Hemingway owned six individual titles by Ernest Thompson Seton, published between 1909 and 1921, and a set of collected works published in 1927 as The Library of Pioneering and Woodcraft. The total ranks Seton among Hemingway’s favorite writers.” Woodcraft philosophy, particularly sections on Indians and rugged outdoor life, plus the novel Rolf in the Woods, influenced Hemmingway’s Nick Adams stories.
McCallum, Mary Jane (University of Manitoba) “’The Fundamental Things’: Camp Fire Girls and authenticity, 1910-20.” The Canadian Journal of History, April 2005, republished at http://thefreelibrary.com. This article was the winner of the Graduate Essay Prize for 2004. “In 1910 Luther Halsey Gullick, a medical doctor, educator, and nature enthusiast, founded an extraordinary youth movement called Camp Fire Girls.” The author acknowledges Seton’s “endorsement” of this organization (now called Camp Fire USA). She lists its many Woodcraft attributes, but seems unaware of these having come in large measure from Seton. Nor does she acknowledge Grace Seton’s involvement with the organization.
Chalmers, F. Graeme and Andrea A. Dancer (The University of British Columbia) “Crafts, Boys, Ernest Thompson Seton, and the Woodcraft Movement.” Studies in Art Education, A Journal of Issues and Research, 2008, 49(3). Notes on Seton biography and Woodcraft subjects. “Seton’s Woodcraft Indian legacy has revealed much about socially constructed masculinity as well as the notion of art versus craft.”
Horn, Gavin Van (Center for Humans and Nature) “Fire on the Mountain: Ecology Gets its Narrative Totem.” Equinoxonline, 2011. “Aldo Leopold’s essay ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’ was more than a parable about a redemptive personal moment; it was the fruition of a larger effort on Leopold’s part to effectively communicate the fundamentals of a ‘land ethic’.” Leopold, as a boy, read Seton’s work and may have been directly influenced by “Lobo, King Currumpaw.”
Gavin Van Horn writes this regarding Seton’s consciousness raising regarding our perception of wildlife: “His influence on public sympathy toward wild animals at the turn of the twentieth century cannot be overestimated as several scholars have argued.” He cites two books (which will become part of the Seton library). Thomas Dunlap: Saving America’s Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850-1990 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). Ralph H. Lutts, (ed.): The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science and Sentiment (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1998).
Gronauer, Jeffrey A. (Camp Fire Club of America, B&C Regular Member) “The Camp Fire Club of America.” FairChase, Fall 2011. The Camp Fire Club was created by biologist William Hornaday. After incorporation in 1904, “its stated purpose was to ‘combine into a parent and allied clubs, sportsmen of America that, through effective organization, proper support may be given to game protection and forest preservation measures both state and national.’” Hornaday was joined by Seton, Dan Beard and other notables in supporting a variety of early 20th century conservation efforts. (Seton later served as president of the organization.)
We are continuing to work on organizing the papers of Ernest Thompson Seton and related material. These are available for study by researchers and can be accessed at the Academy for the Love of Learning by appointment. Additional sources are listed in Ernest Thompson Seton, The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist (Witt 2010). Please send your recommendations on Seton-related articles that we should include in our library.