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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ernest Thompson Seton Stories #8

Sunset photographer, Seton Castle, October 21, 2014

This is the eighth in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1917-1921.


The Preacher of Cedar Mountain

(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)

Quote: “There were women who boldly proclaimed that sex and mind had little bearing on each other; that woman should train herself to be herself, and to stand on her own feet; that when woman had the business training of men, the widow and the unmarried woman – half of all women – would no longer be the easy prey of every kind of sharper.  These new teachers were, of course, made social martyrs, but they sowed the seed and the crop was coming one.  That every woman should prepare herself to stand alone in the world was the first article in their creed.”

This book, Seton’s only attempt at publishing a conventional, character driven novel, reflects political attitudes of the late Progressive Era, including emerging feminism. The “preacher” Jim Hartigan is almost more pagan than Christian, more interested in the spiritual than the doctrinaire. Like Seton animal heroes, Jim overcomes his adversaries by wit and strength. He hates cruelty to animals, admires traditional Indians and is enamored of the shear dynamism of his region: “Hope never dies in the West.”


Sign Talk, A Universal Signal Code, Without Apparatus, for Use in the Army, the Navy, Camping, Hunting, and Daily Life

(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)

Quote: “My attention was first directed to the Sign Language in 1882 when I went to live in Western Manitoba. There I found it used among the various Indian tribes as a common language, whenever they were unable to understand each other’s speech.”

This is a scholarly work once again showing the breath of Seton’s interests. It includes a 200 plus page glossary of the signs.


Woodland Tales

(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)

Quote: “I never forgot the exact timbre of the woodland call; so when at length, long after, I traced it to what is known in books as the ‘Red-shouldered hawk,’ it was a little triumph and a little disappointment. The books made it all so commonplace. They say it has a loud call like ‘kee-o’; but they do not say that it has a bugle note that can stir your very soul if you love the wild things, and voices more than any other thing on wings the glory of flight, the blessedness of being alive.”

This is a compilation of previously published stories combined with new ones. Part fanciful mythological stories of his own creation, part Woodcraft stories, all demonstrate the pleasures of natural history observation and activities. Focus on plants, insects and birds. The book is meant to inspire both children and their guides (their parents or others) to get outside for the purpose of learning and enjoyment.  The seven sections are divided into 107 Tales.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ernest Thompson Seton Stories #7

More magical sunset light, October 21, 2014

This is the seventh in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1913-1916.


Wild Animals At Home

(New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.)

Quote: “Had I asked them to join me killing a man, shooting up the town, or otherwise taking their lives in their hands, I would doubtless have had half a dozen cheerful volunteers; but to carry a box in which was a wild skunk – ‘not for a hundred dollars,’ and the warriors melted into the background.”

This is a work on non-fiction covering many of the same animals featured in Life Histories of Northern Animals, but in a more popular format. All of these creatures were wild citizens of Yellowstone National Park. Seton loved the park because the relative tameness of its animals allowed a close approach and thus a chance to observe and understand them in a way not possible elsewhere. Seton takes the opportunity to editorialize on many subjects from his dislike of high powered hunting weapons to the importance of bats. He continued to ramp up his message of wildlife conservation, including describing himself as an assassin for his complicity in the killing of a moose.


Manual of the Woodcraft Indians, The Fourteenth Birchbark Roll, Containing Their Constitution, Laws, and Deeds, and Much Additional Matter

(New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.)

Quote: “It maintains that true religion fits all days as well as Sunday. That justice and retribution are our certain lot here on earth. That all men are born children of the Great Spirit and may retain their birthright if they have the courage and strength for the fight.”

At the time of publication, Seton was finishing his losing fight for control of the Boy Scouts. He set forward the organizational scheme for his own organization; later in 1915 it was incorporated and renamed The Woodcraft League of America.


Wild Animal Ways

(Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)

Quote: “If he [the raccoon] has a message, we know it not in formal phrase, but this perhaps: He is symbol of the things that certain kindly natures love; and if the nation’s purblind councilors win their evil way, so his hollow tree with himself should met its doom, it means the final conquest of the final corner of our land by the dollar and its devotees. Grant I may long be stricken down before it comes.”

“Coaly-Bay, the Outlaw Horse.” The life history of in Idaho starts with his unkind treatment by his owners. Eventually he escapes joining a wild band: Live free or die!

“Foam, or The Life and Adventures of a Razor-Backed Hog.” A brave and faithful wild pig overcomes all odds during his challenging life, including his friendship with a human girl and a climatic confrontation with a bear. Courage, Seton writes, is “not to be without fear, but to overcome it.”

“Way-Atcha, the Coon-Raccoon of Kilder Creek.” A lost baby raccoon is adopted by a human family after being removed from a trap, mistreated by others, and finally escapes back to the wild life.

“Billy, the Dog That Made Good.” A brave dog saves his master from a grizzly bear caught in a trap.

“Atalapha, a Winged Brownie.” A year in the life, bat natural history with poetic passages and praise for bat insect predation. The Great Northern Bat is captured by humans who test his flying ability. Nature tests its as well during a long migration. 

“The Wild Geese of Wyndygoul.” Seton’s pinioned mother and father geese cannot join the annual migration; they and their brood spend the winter together.  Another brood comes the following summer; the mother’s flight feathers have grown back. She and her children take off, leaving the anguished father to spend the winter alone.  But his family returns in the spring, setting a pattern for the loving couple’s years together.

“Jinny. The Taming of a Bad Monkey.” Treated with respect and affection by a zoo keeper, an abused monkey goes from vicious to tame before being murdered by an evil man.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ernest Thompson Seton Stories #6

Seton Castle Library Exterior at Sunset, October 21, 2014

This is the sixth in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1910-1912.

Boy Scouts of America, A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-Craft
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company.)
Quote: “The Woodcraft and Scouting movement that I aimed to foster began to take shape in America some ten years ago. Because the idealized Indian of Hiawatha has always stood as the model for outdoor life, woodcraft and scouting, I called its brotherhood the “Woodcraft Indians.” In 1904 I went to England to carry on the work there, and, knowing General R.S.S. Bade-Powell as the chief advocate of scouting in the British Army, invited him to cooperate in making the movement popular.”

This book created a model for all the Boy Scout Handbooks that have followed, making the series one of the largest (other than the Holy Bible) printed in the English language. It incorporated parts of Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys which itself had been greatly influenced by Seton’s Birch Bark Roll series which premiered in Ladies Home Journal in 1902.

Rolf in the Woods, The Adventures of a Boy Scout With Indian Quonab and Little Dog Skookum
(New York: Grosset & Dunlap)
Quote: “I have especially dwelt in detail on the woodland and peace scouting in the hope that I may thus help other boys to follow the hard-climbing trail that leads to the higher uplands.”

This young adult novel is a values-driven story: self-reliance (both in woodcraft and in personal courage), religious tolerance, and love of nature. By being good at these a scout can overcome any obstacle. This also is a story of heroism based on physical ability, personal integrity, and loyalty. It combines elements of Seton’s own early life with James Fenimore Cooper stories.

The Arctic Prairies, A Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles In Search Of The Caribou; Being An Account Of A Voyage To The Region North Of Aylmer Lake
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)
Quote: “In 1907 I set out to journey by canoe down the Athabaska and adjoining waters to the sole remaining forest wilds—the far north-west of Canada—and the yet more desert Arctic Plains, where still, it is said, were to be seen the Caribou in their primitive condition.”

Part travelogue, part natural history, part adventure story, the Arctic equivalent of Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, this was Seton’s only full account of any of his major trips. Accompanied by field biologist Edward A. Preble and First Nations Guides, Seton explored the Northwest Territories above Great Slave Lake over six months. He gave descriptions of the landscape with its human and animal inhabitants. This was the first in-depth account of an area that was at the time almost entirely unknown to outsiders. 

The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.)
Quote: “By Woodcraft I mean outdoor life its broadest sense and the plan has been with me since boyhood. Woodcraft is the first of all the sciences. It was Woodcraft that made man out of brutish material, and Woodcraft in its highest form may save him from decay.

Seton considered this the Eleventh Edition of the Birch Bark Roll; it was the largest of the entire series, combining a large selection of his many interests. It was meant to serve as the guide to outdoor education from ethics to American Indian history to how to organize local groups. It pushed the radical notion that cooperation was of greater moral value than competition. Woodcraft included honoring (or appropriation) if indigenous folkways, practical outdoor skills, games, first aid, herbal healing, general natural history, and forestry. Issued under various titles over the years, it remains in print today. This was the Boy Scout manual as it would have been written without Baden-Powell influence. (There were later revisions not shown on this list.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ernest Thompson Seton Stories #5

Seton Castle, sunset on interior wall, October 21, 2014

This is the fifth in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1908-1909.


The Biography of a Silver Fox

(New York: The Century Company)

Quote: “...so furtive are they, so clever and so unremitting are mother and father, that not more than one man in every hundred thousand as the good luck to see this family group that charms us by its appeal to the eye, and touches our hearts by showing how very near these creatures are to us in their affections and their trials.”

In a broad sense, this quote is the raison ďêtre for all Seton wildlife stories. Part natural history, part drama (fox life is rough), the foxes have both human enemies and human friends. While Seton implies that foxes are important for their own sake, here they are more important for the moral example they hold out to us if only we are wise—and observant—enough to see the lesson.

Life-Histories of Northern Animals: An Account of the Mammals of Manitoba

(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.)

Quote: “Just as surely as we find among the wild animals the germs or beginnings of man’s material make-up, so surely may we find there also the foundations and possibilities of what he has attained to in the world of mind.”

Published in two volumes, this is a massive account about the natural history of 60 species. Theodore Roosevelt sent Seton a letter of commendation for this effort and the Campfire Club of America awarded the publication a gold medal. Most of the animals included are also found elsewhere in North America.