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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wolf! Annual Letter to Lobo

Canine drawing by Ernest Thompson Seton, courtesy Academy for the Love of Learning

January 31, 2015 marks the 121th anniversary of the death of Lobo, a wolf trapped by Ernest Thompson Seton along the Corrumpa River in northeastern New Mexico. I have written in my book on Seton and elsewhere in this blog about how he underwent a psychological and spiritual transformation as a result of his encounter with the great wolf Lobo. This encounter became one of the foundational moments leading to today’s environmentalism. Over thirty years after Lobo’s death, Seton wrote this wolf appreciation. Excerpt from Vol. I of Lives of Game Animals (1925), pg. 336-337.

LIFE VII—THE GRAY-WOLF. His True Character—A Challenge

[Excerpt from Vol. I of Lives of Game Animals (1925), pg. 336-337]

“Thus have I offered evidence of the courage, the chivalry, the strength, the playfulness, the love loyalty, the fidelity, the friendliness, the kindliness, the heroism, the goodness of the Wolf—completing my attempt to set before you the faithful and fearless portrait of a creature so long maligned; to piece together the little scraps of truth I have found in countless hunter-tales, like gold raked out of garbage bins; to make you know the wild one’s true character and his way of life as it really is.

Now with all the evidence before me and much more of the same available, and with the story of Lobo in mind (for it is true in the main), can anyone wonder that I love the Gary-wolf and credit him with true nobility of character—with the attributes of a splendid animal hero?”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ernest Thompson Seton Stories #10

Seton Castle, Through the Window Looking East

This is the tenth and final in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1937-1945.


The Biography of an Arctic Fox

(New York: D. Appleton-Century Company)

Quote: “This is the story of the cache, and many they made that harvest time, without clear thought of the motive indeed, but with the persistent urge of opportunity, and the blind helpful instinct that I chose to personify as Mother Carey, the Spirit of Nature, the Keeper of the Wild Things.”

This biography is about fox natural history in day-in-a-life form, no plot, nor does individual character play much of a role. Unlike other animal stories, in this one people play no role until the end until a starving innocent wild creature is killed by dogs after coming too close to human habitation and its smelly trash. Perhaps it was meant as a metaphor for our distressing civilization.

Great Historic Animals, Mainly About Wolves

(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)

Quote: “There is no such danger. Wild Animals, in America at least, let you alone, if you let them alone. I would undertake, if it were made worth while, to walk from Maine to California, and sleep in the woods alone every night, and never need a gun, so far as wild animals are concerned. A gun may be needed for my own species, but I have never yet been in serious danger from a native wild animal.”

“Wosca and Her Valiant Cub.” A tragic beginning, a dedicated mother, and quality time with Buffalo Bill Cody gives a North Dakota wolf an interesting life. Years later he cares for his old mother, but they can’t escape the prairie’s worst killers.

“The Chillingham Bull.” Confronted by a charging bull, Seton stands his ground until the animal leaves.

“Little Marie and the Wolves.” A little girl wanders into the forest and disappears for two months. She becomes wild and snarly like a wolf, but after she is found and reunited with her mother, it appears she will recover.

“The Wolf on the Running-Board.” A wolf-dog hybrid appears out of nowhere while Seton is being driven through the Mojave Desert. Appearing to be well practiced, it jumps onto the running board of the car to catch a ride.

“The Wild Ways of Tame Beasts.” An essay on animal behavior, especially the importance of dog ancestry as well as the use of markings, color, and sense of smell. Other domestic animals and birds are also considered.

“Padraic and the Last of the Irish Wolves.” In the dark decades of the 17th century two men manage to kill the last two wolves in Ireland.

“Rincon, Or the Call in the Night.” A domestic dog mates with a female wolf, bringing the pups back to live at the ranch following the apparent disappearance of the mother.

“The Wolf and the Primal Law.” A young man communes with the wolves, but for some reason moves the buried prey of one of them. When the wolf returns with the pack and they find the prey  missing, the wolves turn on the one who lied to them killing the innocent wolf and leaving the man heartbroken.

“The Story of Carrots.” A brave Airedale rescues his owner and faces down mountain lions.

“Chicaree, an Adventure in the Life of a Red Squirrel.” A little rodent goes to considerable trouble to get a mushroom as a present for his mate.

“The Woman Bear.” A poetic description of a mother’s love for her cubs.

“The Lovers and the Shining One, A Rede by the Singing Woodsman.” The pleasures of watching foraging raccoons in the moonlight.

“The Rat and the Rattlers.” A rat is thrown into a cage with two rattlesnakes. A cornered rat is as dangerous as rumored and kills both of the reptiles.

“Dipo: Sprite of the Desert.” A natural history of Mojave Desert kangaroo-rat.

“Hank and Jeff.” A hunter gives his beloved dog away, but then regrets it. Both man and dog die of grief.

“La Bête, The Beast Wolf of Gevaudan.” Hunters kill a litter of pups in 18th century France. One survives to become a Loup Garou, taking revenge on men, dogs and sheep, killing hundreds of humans before an army is organized to track him down and end his reign of terror.

“Courtaud, The King Wolf of France.” War torn France is terrorized by man-eating wolves. The wolves lay siege to Paris but are eventually defeated.

“The Leopard Lover.” Inspired by the Balzac story “Passion in the Desert,” a lost soldier is befriended in the wilderness by a great cat. The cat’s devotion grows into cruel jealousy and he must kill her to escape.

“Who Were the Heroes?” Seton presents a defense of Darwin’s Origin of Species in three parts.


The Buffalo Wind

(Santa Fe: The Seton Village Press.)

Quote: “I heard the Voices, and I heard the Strain again. It sang or moaned: “The Buffalo Wind! The Buffalo Wind!”

An essay published for Seton’s 78th birthday by the Seton Village Press, Seton describes several ecstatic experiences that guided (or forced) his life path. This is Seton’s only direct statement about his deep spiritual life, albeit a very short one.


Trail on an Artist Naturalist, the Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton

(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)

Quote: “The way had been legally cleared, so that, when I came West, she came too. She is now Mrs. Ernest Thompson Seton, the chatelaine of Seton Castle, in Seton Village, on the last rampart of the Rockies, in the land where still the Indian lives unchanged, and where the Buffalo Wind is blowing; where the Rio Grande rolls as it always has, through unchanged mountains and realms of snow, to its rest in the far-off sea.”

This is a romanticized account of a romantic life. Seton made no attempt to cover everything he did, nor was he particularly concerned about accuracy and truthfulness. There are few great reckonings or much in the way of personal insights. Seton instead concentrates on telling good yarns about selected episodes from his life, especially from his younger years. Included are sections on Lobo, the Arctic Prairies and the origins of the Boy Scouts.


Santana, the Hero Dog of France

(Los Angeles: The Phoenix Press)

Quote: “Countless generations of household life have developed in the dog love and loyalty to those of his home. As a result, the trustworthiness of the dog is not simply good, or variant, or measurable—it is perfect. It is the standard of all loyalty. The dog is the symbol of absolute fidelity. There is none other to compare with it.”

This single short story is a departure from earlier ones for focusing on an animal’s happy life. The bond between Santana is spiritual and psychic, a deep love that transcends even death after the two of them gives their lives to stop the German advance on Paris during the bleak days of World War I.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ernest Thompson Seton Stories #9

Seton Castle Bell, October 21, 2014

This is the ninth in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1922-1936.


Bannertail, The Story of a Graysquirrel

(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)

Quote: “And foolish man, who slays the Graysquirrel in his reckless lust for killing, is also destroying the precious hickory-trees, whose timber is a mainstay of the nation-feeding agriculture of the world. He is like the fool on a tree o’erhanging

the abyss, who saws the very limb on which depends his life.”

The usual start: the pointless murder of his family. The orphan Bannertail is raised by a friendly housecat. Thereafter follows natural history accounts about the travails and triumphs of the arboreal rodent. In this story Seton has changed emphasis, making his animal hero act less from its own decision making ability and more from instinct. This was a distinct retreat (in the face of much criticism) from his earlier position of giving more credit to the learning ability of animals. 


Ernest Thompson Seton, A Biographical Sketch Done By Various Hands, To Which Is Attached A Complete Bibliography Of The Works Of This Author

(Doubleday, Page & Co. printed at the Country Life Press)

Quote: “Those who have known his longest tell that from his earliest days he has been possessed of a craze to be with the things of wild life, living it with the animals, as far as possible.”

Put together by unattributed writers, in its 47 pages this pamphlet starts with a few stories about the author before listing the scores of books and articles Seton wrote and published between 1880 and 1924. The range of subjects he considered reads like an encyclopedia. This remarkable output slowed after 1918 when he gave increasing focus to Lives of Game Animals originally titled Game Animals and the Lives They Live.


Lives of Game Animals

(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)

Quote: “These Hundred Lives, then, are my attempt at fitting the parts of the mosaic that have come to hand. They will, I hope, prove a starting point for other workers in the field; those with larger gifts and opportunity. At any rate, I have had the joy of making the attempt.”

Seton’s four volume magnum opus about one hundred North American large mammal species. Part natural history, part lyrical essay, a showcase for scientific and editorializing drawings, this is Seton’s most unique work. It is more a work of natural history than scientific field biology, but in so doing is meant to capture both the character and meaning of the animal, something missed in much contemporary writing.


The Gospel of the Redman, An Indian Bible

“Compiled by Ernest Thompson Seton and Julia M. Seton”

(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)

Quote: “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?’  His mode of life, his thought, his every act are given spiritual significance, approached and coloured with complete realization of the spirit world.”

The Seton’s included two main themes in this little book. The first is an idealized view of traditional Native American/First Nations tribal socialism. The second is a denunciation of greed and “money madness” in Western civilization. Highly race conscious and occasionally (if unintentionally) patronizing, it was intended as a message to the “Whiteman” to change his ways before it is too late.