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Ernest Thompson Seton

Written and compiled by George Knowles

Born on the 14th August 1860, Ernest Thompson Seton was a British born Canadian and later U.S. naturalized citizen.  He was a prolific author of animal fiction, a wildlife artist and naturalist who founded the Woodcraft Indians in 1902, one of the first “back to nature” movements in America.  He also co-founded the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in 1910 and greatly influenced Lord Baden-Powell who founded the worldwide Boy Scouts movement from England in 1907.

Seton was born Ernest Evan Thompson in South Shields, England, and was the eighth of ten brothers and one sister who, sadly, died at age 6.  His father Joseph Logan Thompson had owned a small fleet of merchant sailing ships but was forced out of business when faster “steam-powered” ships began competing for trade.  In 1866, seeking a new life as a farmer, he and the rest of his family immigrated to Canada and settled on a farmstead near Lindsay, Ontario.  It was here that Seton developed a keen interest in animals and nature.  However, his father proved an indifferent farmer and in 1870 moved the family to Toronto where he took employment as an accountant.

Seton was educated in Toronto’s local schools where he quickly showed his aptitude for art.  He also attracted the attention of a lady in the Toronto art community who became his mentor and funded extra art studies for him; these included lessons from the Toronto portrait painter John Colin Forbes and night school classes at the Ontario School of Art and Design. 

In 1879 he returned to England and won a two-year scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Art in London (but didn’t complete it because of ill-health brought on by poor food and living conditions).  Later he changed his given name to Ernest Thompson Seton, a prominent name from his family’s ancestry, as he believed his father was a descendant of Lord George Seton, the 5th Earl of Winton (c.1678–1749).

Returning to Canada in 1881, he joined two of his older brothers homestead farming in the small town of Carberry, Manitoba.  He proved to be of little help to his brothers, however, for he would wander off for days on end researching wildlife and sketching animals, during which time he developed a fascination with wolves.  On one sojourn he made his first contact with Native Indians, and later became known as Black Wolf, a name conferred upon him by the Sioux whose language was just one of several he learned to speak.  He also began writing scientific articles and corresponding with other naturalists.

In 1883 he moved to New York City to further his career as a writer and artist, and to meet with other naturalists and ornithologists.  He spent much of his time studying at the American Museum of Natural History and wrote his first book Mammals of Manitoba in 1886.  Later he was appointed the Official Naturalist to the Government of Manitoba, a title he held until his death in 1946.

In 1890 he traveled to Paris to complete his art studies at the Académie Julian, and in 1896 met Grace Gallatin, the wealthy daughter of a Sacramento financier.  Grace would later became a widely published travel author, a Theosophist, a leading Suffragette and a Patron of the Arts.  They were married that same year in New York City and then moved to live at Wyndygoul, a grandiose house and estate he had built in Cos Cob, near Greenwich, Connecticut.  In 1904 Grace bore him a daughter Ann (later Anya Seton, a best-selling author of historical and biographical novels).

 

    

Grace Gallatin  -  Wyndygoul

After a spate of vandalism caused by youths in Cos Cob, Seton visited the local school and invited the culprits to camp at his estate for a weekend, during which time he told them stories about Native Indians and how they lived and worked in harmony with Nature.  As a result, he founded the Woodcraft Indians in 1902.  His aim was to educate and empower young people to improve their lives and that of others through active participation in society and to give them the skills needed for open-air living in close contact with nature.  The stories he told were later collated into a book The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians (1906).  From an initial tribe of 42 members in 1902, as the concept of Woodcraft Indians spread across America, and by 1910 membership had grown to an estimated 200,000 members.

Later that year in 1906, he visited England to promote his books and artwork, during which time he met with Lord Baden-Powell, who was particularly interested in his Woodcraft Indians youth group.  After corresponding and sharing mutual ideas, in 1907 Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts movement in England, which included many of Seton’s ideas and concepts.  However, when he announced his intention to bring the movement to the USA, Seton and his Woodcraft Indians together with the ‘Sons of Daniel Boone’ founded by Daniel Carter Beard, joined with the YMCA to boost the fledging ‘Boy Scouts of America’ (BSA) founded by William D. Boyce.

 

Ernest Thompson Seton (left) with Lord Baden-Powell (seated) and Daniel Carter Beard (right)

The BSA was later incorporated as a national youth organisation on 08th February 1910, and a national executive committee was created with James E. West elected as their first Chief Executive.  Seton became their first Chief Scout, a position similar to that of Baden-Powell in England, during which time he wrote most of the first edition of the U.S. Boy Scouts Handbook.  However with the approach of World War I, Seton did not like the militaristic emphasis being put on Scouting, particularly by Baden-Powell in England.  He was also constantly clashing with James E. West and Daniel Carter Beard over the contents of his Handbook and so resigned from the BSA in 1915.

After leaving the BSA, that same year Seton revived his original Woodcraft Indians, but not just as a youth group, more as a co-educational organization serving all ages.  As well as containing the main practical aspects of Woodcraft aimed at youths, for adults, Seton introduced a more mystical element to the Craft based on Native American spiritual beliefs.  This took the form of a Red Lodge, which included three degree’s of initiation, and some similar practices as can be found in practised in today’s contemporary Witchcraft.  Seton laid down the rules and structure of the Red Lodge in a little known limited edition pamphlet, inside which he states:

 

Red Lodge pamphlet (c.1912)

Later his Woodcraft Indians group became known as The Woodcraft League of America and was incorporated in 1917.  The League prospered until 1922 when it merged with other groups to become the Woodcraft Rangers.  Seton in the meantime continued to run Camps at his home in Cos Cob until 1930.  He then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had purchased a 2,500-acre plot of land with the idea of building “an academy of outdoor life.”  A year later in 1931 he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. 

In 1934 Seton divorced his first wife Grace, and a few days later on the 22nd January 1935, married Julia Moses Buttree in El Paso, Texas.  Some thirty years earlier Julia had been Seton’s secretary and gradually over the intervening year's became his trusted companion and helper (and Posibably his mistress).  She was also an author in her own right, having written her first book Rhythm of the Redman, which Seton later illustrated.  After their marriage Julia continued as Seton’s assistant and secretary, and together they performed lectures all around the United States, in Canada, France, England and the Czech Republic.  Back home in Santa Fe, they founded the Seton College of Indian Wisdom (later known as the Seton Institute of Indian Lore), from where they conducted courses in arts and crafts, outdoor activities and leadership skills.

 

Julia and Seton

Having no children of their own, in 1938 they adopted a baby daughter, Beulah (Dee) Seton (later Dee Seton Barber).  By this time Seton had designed and built a 30-room Castle on 100 acres of his land in Santa Fe, around which a small community, Seton Village, had evolved as friends and colleagues settled on surrounding lands.  Over time the village grew large enough to warrant a museum, library, art gallery and lecture hall.

In 1945, Seton wrote his last animal storybook Santana, the Hero Dog of France, and on his birthday, the 14th August 1946, gave his last lecture at the University of New Mexico.  On the 23rd October 1946 he died at his home in Seton Village and was later cremated in Albuquerque.

Legacy

During his lifetime Ernest Thompson Seton wrote more than 75 fiction and non-fiction books, some of which have never been out of print.  He also wrote thousands of scientific articles on animals, nature and conservation in the environment, while his major artworks have graced the walls of galleries and museums all around the world.  Much of his literary work and original art have been collected and preserved in the Seton Memorial Library and Museum at Philmont Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.

After his death in 1946, his widow Julia, who lived until 1975, and his adopted daughter Dee Seton Barber and her family continued  to live in Seton Castle and carry his work at the Institute of Indian Lore.  In 1960, to honour what would have been his 100th birthday, (which happened to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the founding of Santa Fe) Dee, together with his grandson Seton Cottier (the son of Anya Seton), scattered his ashes over Seton Village from an airplane.

In 2003, Seton Castle was sold to the ‘Academy for the Love of Learning’ a non-profit educational organization based in Santa Fe.  The sale included a large number of Seton’s personal artefacts, books, artwork and other things that had been of great personal value to him while alive, and which provide a unique insight into the private life of the man.  Fortunately, most of these items were archived and moved into storage before renovations began on restoring the Castle.

 

    

Seton Castle before and after the fire

Sadly, on the afternoon of November 15, 2005, when two-thirds of the buildings restoration was complete, an accidental fire destroyed most of the Castle leaving only the skeletal remains of its stone walls and chimneys.  With the Castle in ruins, a decision was made to preserve what was left as an outdoor meeting space and meditative garden.  In 2010 the Academy for the Love of Learning opened a new ‘eco friendly’ Centre of Learning close to the former Castle site, which includes a gallery and archive featuring the artwork and personal artefacts of Seton as part of its ongoing Seton Legacy Project.

Speculation

While Seton’s life as an author, writer, artist, naturalist and conservationist is pretty well documented, there is a mystical and spiritual side to Seton, which from my initial researches have yet to be fully explored.  I refer to his creation of the ‘Red Lodge’, mentioned earlier; about which little is known except for the small limited edition pamphlet he produced in 1912.  What is known, is that his teachings influenced a number of later ‘Pagan oriented’ groups, which in turn played an important role in the prehistory of Gerald Gardner’s Wicca!  These I shall be exploring later.

 

End.

 

Sources:

The New Encyclopedia of the Occult  -  by John Michael Greer

http://www.etsetoninstitute.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Thompson_Seton

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbo_Kift

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodcraft_Folk

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodcraft_Indians

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy_Scouts_of_America

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sons_of_Daniel_Boone

 

First published on the 24th February 2011  ©  George Knowles

   

Edited on the 18th June 2014 after recieving addition information from Pamela Cottier Forcey (Seaton's granddaughter).

My grateful thanks Ma'am.

Best wishes and Blessed Be

 

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Rituals contributed by Crone:  Samhain / YuleImbolcOstara /  BeltaneLithaLammasMabon

 

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In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow /  Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)

 

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Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murder by WitchcraftThe Fairy Witch of ClonmelA Battleship, U-boat, and a WitchThe Troll-Tear (A story for Children)Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-LanternThe Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

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Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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