Ernest Thompson Seton

From New World Encyclopedia

Ernest Thompson Seton
Ernest Thompson Seton.jpg
BornAugust 14, 1860
South Shields, England
DiedOctober 23, 1946 (aged 86)
Seton Village, New Mexico USA
Occupationauthor, wildlife artist
Known forfounder of the Woodcraft Indians and founding pioneer of the Boy Scouts of America
Awards and Honors
Silver Buffalo Award
John Burroughs Medal

Ernest Thompson Seton (August 14, 1860 - October 23, 1946) was born in England of Scottish parents. He was raised in Canada and became a naturalized United States citizen. Seton was a noted artist, author, scientist and conservationist.

He was founder of the Woodcraft Indians and one of the founding pioneers of the Boy Scouts of America. Not only did he believe in educating and training boys in a practical sense, he developed a code of ethics that would instill in them high standards of human development and service. His ideas were a major influence on Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of worldwide Scouting. His notable books related to Scouting include The Birch Bark Roll and The Boy Scout Handbook. He is responsible for the strong influence of American Indian culture in the BSA.

Seton is also recognized, along with William Bartram, John Audubon, John Burroughs and John Muir, as one of America’s most influential naturalists. He is credited with being the seminal figure in the emergence of the American conservation philosophy in the early twentieth century.

Life and family

He was born Ernest Evan Thompson in South Shields, County Durham (now part of South Tyneside, Tyne and Wear), England of Scottish parents. His family emigrated to Canada in 1866. As a youth, he retreated to the woods to draw and study animals as a way of avoiding his reportedly abusive father. He won an Art scholarship to the Royal Academy in London.[1]

He later rejected his father's name and changed his name to Ernest Thompson Seton. He believed that Seton had been an important name in his paternal line. He developed a fascination with wolves while working as a naturalist for Manitoba. There he became successful as a writer, artist, and naturalist, and moved to New York City to further his career. Seton later lived at Wyndygoul, an estate that he built in Cos Cob, a section of Greenwich, Connecticut. After experiencing vandalism by the local youth, Seton invited them to his estate for a weekend where he shared with them stories of American Indians and of nature.

He formed the Woodcraft Indians in 1902 and invited the local youth to join. The stories became a series of articles written for the Ladies Home Journal and were eventually collected in the The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians in 1906.

He was married twice. The first marriage was to Grace Gallatin in 1896. Their only daughter, Ann, was born in 1904 and died at 85 years old in 1990. Ann, who later changed her first name, became a best-selling author of historical and biographical novels as Anya Seton. According Ann's introduction to the novel Green Darkness, Grace was a practicing Theosophist. Ernest and Grace divorced in 1935, and Ernest soon afterward married Julia M. Buttree. Julia wrote works with Ernest and by herself. They did not have any children, and adopted an infant daughter, Beulah (Dee) Seton (later Dee Seton Barber), in 1938. Dee Seton Barber died at 68 years old in 2006.


Ernest Thompson Seton (left) with Baden-Powell (seated) and fellow Boy Scouts of America pioneer Dan Beard (right)

Seton met Scouting's founder, Lord Baden-Powell, in 1906. Baden-Powell had read Seton's book, The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, and was greatly intrigued by it. The pair met and shared ideas. Baden-Powell went on to found the Scouting movement worldwide, and Seton became vital in the foundation of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and was its first Chief Scout. His Woodcraft Indians (a youth organization), combined with the early attempts at Scouting from the YMCA and other organizations, and Daniel Carter Beard's Sons of Daniel Boone, to form the BSA.[2] The work of Seton and Beard is in large part the basis of the Traditional Scouting movement.[3]

Seton was Chief Scout of the BSA from 1910-1915 and his work is in large part responsible for the American Indian influences within the BSA. However, he had significant personality and philosophical clashes with Beard and James E. West.

In addition to disputes about the content of and Seton's contributions to the Boy Scout Handbook, conflicts also arose about the suffrage activities of his wife, Grace, and his British citizenship. The citizenship issue arose partly because of his high position within BSA, and the federal charter West was attempting to obtain for the BSA required its board members to be American citizens. Seton drafted his written resignation on January 29, 1915, but he did not send it to BSA until May.[4]

Seton was an early pioneer of the modern school of animal fiction writing, his most popular work being Wild Animals I Have Known (1898), which contains the story of his killing of the wolf Lobo. This book is still in print.

In 1931, he became a United States citizen. Seton was associated with the Santa Fe arts and literary community during the mid 1930s and early 1940s, which comprised a group of artists and authors including author and artist Alfred Morang, sculptor and potter Clem Hull, painter Georgia O'Keefe, painter Randall Davey, painter Raymond Jonson, leader of the Transcendental Painters Group, and artist Eliseo Rodriguez.[5]

He died in Seton Village in northern New Mexico at the age of 86. Seton was cremated in Albuquerque. In 1960, in honor of his 100th birthday and the 350th anniversary of Santa Fe, his daughter Dee and his grandson, Seton Cottier (son of Anya), scattered the ashes over Seton Village from an airplane.[6]

The Philmont Scout Ranch houses the Seton Memorial Library and Museum. Seton Castle in Santa Fe, built by Seton as his last residence, housed many of his other items. Seton Castle burned down in 2005; fortunately all the artwork, manuscripts, books, etc., had been removed to storage before renovation was to have begun.[7]


Ernest Thompson Seton was co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America and author of the first Boy Scout Handbook. He also founded the Woodcraft League, an equally influential organization which has had an influence on the lives of young people worldwide. Not only did he believe in educating and training boys in a practical sense, he developed a code of ethics that would instill in them high standards of human development and service.

Both a naturalist and a writer, Seton was committed to educating others about nature and the environmental consciousness and skills of Native Americans. At a time when the nation was urbanizing and industrializing, he provided opportunities for youth to experience life away from the cities.

Envisioning an "an academy of outdoor-life," in 1930 he established a 2,500-acre ranch in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. In addition to his residence, the property contained a museum, library, art gallery and lecture hall. There, Seton Village developed as friends and colleagues settled together with a common vision.

Works by Seton

  • Mammals of Manitoba (1886)
  • Birds of Manitoba, Foster (1891)
  • The Baron and the Wolves or Triumph of the Wolves (1893), wolves eat the carcass of the trapper
  • How to Catch Wolves, Oneida Community (1894)
  • The Pursuit (1994-1895), painting of wolves chasing the Russian trapper baron
  • Studies in the Art Anatomy of Animals, Macmillan (1896)
  • White Swan (1897) painting
  • Wild Animals I Have Known, Scribners (1898)
  • The Trail of the Sandhill Stag, Scribners (1899)
  • Lobo, Rag, and Vixen, Scribners (1899)
  • The Wild Animal Play For Children (Musical), Doubleday & Curtis (1900)
  • The Biography of a Grizzly, Century (1900)
  • Lobo (1900)
  • Ragylug (1900)
  • American Printing House For The Blind, Wild Animals I have Known (NY point system) (1900)
  • Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind Four Books In Braille: Lobo, Redruff, Raggylug, Vixen (1900)
  • Lives of the Hunted, Scribners (1901)
  • Twelve Pictures of Wild Animals (no text) Scribners (1901)
  • Krag and Johnny Bear, Scribners (1902)
  • How to Play Indian (1903)
  • Two Little Savages, Doubleday (1903)
  • How to Make a Real Indian Teepee, Curtis (1903)
  • How Boys Can Form a Band of Indians, Curtis (1903)
  • The Red Book (1904)
  • Monarch, The Big Bear of Tallac, Scribners (1904)
  • Woodmyth and Fable, Century (1905)
  • Animal Heroes, Scribners (1905)
  • The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians (1906)
  • The Natural History of the Ten Commandments, Scribners (1907)
  • Fauna of Manitoba, British Assoc. Handbook (1909)
  • Biography of a Silver Fox, Century (1909)
  • Life-Histories of Northern Animals (2 Volumes), Scribners (1909)
  • BSA: A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft, Including General Sir Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. Doubleday and Page for the Boy Scouts of America (1910)
  • The Forester's Manual, Doubleday (1910)
  • The Arctic Prairies : a Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles in Search of the Caribou; B, available for free via Project Gutenberg, Scribners (1911)
  • Rolf In The Woods, Doubleday (Dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America). Note: Full text is available on-line, thanks to Ted Soldan and the holders of the copyright. (1911)
  • The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore (1912)
  • The Red Lodge, private printing of 100 copies (1912)
  • Wild Animals at Home, Doubleday (1913)
  • The Slum Cat, Constable (London) (1915)
  • Legend of the White Reindeer, Constable (London) (1915)
  • The Manual of the Woodcraft Indians (1915)
  • Wild Animal Ways, Doubleday (1916)
  • Woodcraft Manual for Girls (1916)
  • The Preacher of Cedar Mountain, Doubleday (1917)
  • Woodcraft Manual for Boys; the Sixteenth Birch Bark Roll by Ernest Thompson Seton. Published for the Woodcraft League of America, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Page & Company, 1917. 441 pp., illus. and music. (1917)
  • The Woodcraft Manual for Boys; the Seventeenth Birch Bark Roll by Ernest Thompson Seton. Published for the Woodcraft League of America, Inc. Garden City, New York Doubleday, Page & Company, 441 pp. Illus. and music. (1918)
  • The Woodcraft Manual for Girls; the Eighteenth Birch Bark Roll, Published for the Woodcraft League of America, Inc. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 424 pp. Illus. and music. (1918)
  • Sign Talk of the Indians, Doubleday (1918)
  • The Laws and Honors of the Little Lodge of Woodcraft., 8 vo. Published at Cheyenne, Wyo. August. 4th edition. (1919)
  • The Brownie Wigwam; The Rules of the Brownies. Fun outdoors for boys and girls under 11 years of age. Woodcraft League of America, N. Y. 8 vo., 7 pp. 5th edition, the first being part of the Birch Bark Roll for 1906 (1921)
  • The Buffalo Wind (1921)
  • Woodland Tales (1921)
  • The Book of Woodcraft (1921)
  • The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore; Doubleday, Page & Co., 590 pp. More than 500 drawings by the author; 3rd edition of the 1912 issue, enlarged by the inclusion of "The Foresters Manual." (1922)
  • Bannertail: The Story of A Grey Squirrel, Scribners (1922)
  • Manual of the Brownies; Manual of the Brownies, the Little Lodge of the Woodcraft League of America. 6th edition. A pamphlet of 10 pp. Oct., New York. (1922)
  • The Ten Commandments in the Animal World, Doubleday (1923)
  • Animals, The Nature Library, Doubleday (Color Plates) (1926)
  • Lobo, Rag, and Vixen (The Scribner Series of School Reading), Scribners, 147 pp. (1927)
  • Old Silver Grizzly, Hodder (London) (ca. 1927)
  • Raggylug and Other Stories, Hodder (London) (ca. 1927)
  • Chink and Other Stories, Hodder (London) (ca. 1927)
  • Foam The Razorback, Hodder (London) (ca. 1927)
  • Johnny Bear and Other Stories, Hodder (London) (ca. 1927)
  • Lobo and Other Stories, Hodder (London) (ca. 1927)
  • Animals Worth Knowing, (As Above), The Little Nature Library, Doubleday (No Color Plates) (1928)
  • 1925-1928 Lives of Game Animals (4 Volumes), Doubleday
  • Blazes on The Trail, Little Peegno Press (3 Pamphlets): Life Craft or Woodcraft; Rise of the Woodcraft Indians; Spartans of the West (1928)
  • Krag, The Kootenay Ram and Other Stories, University of London Press (1929)
  • Billy the Dog That Made Good, Hodder (London) (1930)
  • Cute Coyote and Other Stories, Hodder (London) (1930)
  • Lobo, Bingo, The Pacing Mustang (1930)
  • Famous Animal Stories (1932)
  • Animals Worth Knowing (1934)
  • Johnny Bear, Lobo and Other Stories, (Modern Standard Authors) Scribners (1935)
  • The Gospel of the Redman, with Julia Seton, Doubleday (1936)
  • Biography of An Arctic Fox, Appleton-Century (1937)
  • Great Historic Animals, Scribners (1937)
  • Mainly About Wolves (Same as above), Methuen (London) (1937)
  • Pictographs of the Old Southwest, with other authors, Cedar Rapids (1937)
  • Buffalo Wind, Private printing of 200 (1938)
  • Trail and Camp-Fire Stories (1940)
  • Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton, Scribners (1940)
  • Santanna, The Hero Dog of France, Limited printing of 500 copies with 300 autographed, Phoenix Press (1945)
  • The Best of Ernest Thompson Seton (1949)
  • Ernest Thompson Seton's America; Selections of the writings of the artist-naturalist. New York: Devin-Adair Co. 413 pages Edited with an intro by Farida A. Wiley (1954)
  • Animal Tracks and Hunter Signs (1958)
  • The Gospel of the Redman; with Julia M. Seton, Santa Fe NM; Seton Village (1958)
  • The Worlds of Ernest Thompson Seton. (Edited, with introduction and commentary, by John G. Samson). New York: Knopf. 204 pp. (1976)


  1. Edward L. Rowan, 2005, To do my best: James E. West and the history of the Boy Scouts of America. Las Vegas, NV: Las Vegas International Scouting Museum. ISBN 0974647918
  2. David C. Scott, 2006, "The Origins of BSA's 1910 Handbook." International Scouting Collectors Association Journal. 6(4): 6–13.
  3. American Traditional Scouting. Traditional Scouting Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  4. David C. Scott, "Ernest Thompson Seton and BSA - The Partnership Collapse of 1915." International Scouting Collectors Association. (June 2006) 6(6): 10–16.
  5. Clemont Marot Hull, 1938-1942 Santa Fe Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  6. H. Allen Anderson, 1986, The chief: Ernest Thompson Seton and the changing West. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 9780890962398
  7. Julie Ann Grimm, 2005, "Seton Castle destroyed by fire." Santa Fe New Mexican.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Blue Sky! - The Ernest Thompson Seton Pages. Ernest Thompson Seton Institute Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  • Garst, Shannon. Ernest Thompson Seton, Naturalist. Messner, 1959. OCLC 1659109
  • Keller, Betty. Black Wolf: the Life of Ernest Thompson Seton. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1984. ISBN 978-0888944399
  • Morris, Brian. Ernest Thompson Seton, Founder of the Woodcraft Movement, 1860-1946: Apostle of Indian Wisdom and Pioneer Ecologist. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0773454743

External links

All links retrieved February 13, 2024.


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