ET Seton Institute

History of the Woodcraft Movement

History of the Woodcraft Movement

The first Woodcraft Indian tribe was established at Seton’s estate at Cos Cob, CT in 1902. Seton’s property had been vandalized by a group of boys from the local school. After he had to repaint his gate a number of times, he went to the school, and invited the boys to the property for a weekend, rather than prosecuting them. He sat down with them and told them stories of Native Americans and nature.

The unique feature of his program was that the boys elected their own leaders, a Chief, a Second Chief, a Keeper of the Tally and a keeper of the wampum. This was the beginning of his Woodcraft Indians, which later became the Woodcraft League of America. Seton wrote a series of articles for Ladies Home Journal in 1902 that were later published as the Birch Bark Rolls and the Book of Woodcraft. At the urging of his friend Rudyard Kipling, Seton published Two Little Savages as a novel, rather than a dictionary of Woodcraft.

Seton was in England in 1906 as a guest of the Duke of Bedford, and was looking for people interested in establishing a youth development program based on outdoor life.  Through the Duke, he was introduced to Robert Baden-Powell. Seton gave Baden-Powell a copy of the Birch Bark Roll, and they corresponded from that point forward. In 1908, Baden-Powell wrote a letter to Seton stating that he was going ahead with his scheme for Scouting, based very much on Seton’s program. Baden-Powell incorporated many of the ideas, honors and games into his book, Scouting for Boys.

Seton established a program he called “brownies” in 1921 for age 6 through 11 girls and boys, based on his earlier book Woodland Tales that served as the origin of the Brownies in the Girl Scouts of America.


Girls Around the Campfire

Seton was a good friend of Dr. and Mrs. Luther H. Gulick, founders of the Camp Fire Girls. Dr. Gulick was a member of the Woodcraft Advisory Board for a number of years. Seton provided materials and a framework for their new organization for girls.

In 1915 Seton founded the Woodcraft League of America as a co-educational program open to children between ages “4 and 94”. There were many local Woodcraft groups in the United States in the early part of this century,and there are third-generation Woodcrafters who are still active in the movement. The best known group today are The WoodCraft Rangers in Los Angeles, who have a nature camp and activities for inner-city children. There are camps following the Woodcraft Program in the United States and Canada that were founded by Seton’s friends and students.

Publication of The Book of Woodcraft in 1912 inspired the formation of many Woodcraft groups around the world. If you have additional information on Woodcraft groups in Europe or elsewhere, please let us know.



John Hargrave, also known as “White Fox” was a Woodcraft and Boy Scout leader in England who adapted the Woodcraft Way for Scouts who lived far from other boys in the countryside of England and the U.K. Lonecraft, his best selling book, was the start of the UK Lone Scout program, and has been credited as one of the two books that popularized scouting and Woodcraft in Continental Europe, that other book being Seton’s Book of Woodcraft.

Hargrave left the Boy Scout movement in 1919 to found the Kibbo Kift, a British Woodcraft group that drew from native British traditions as well as First People’s Lore. Some of the elders of the Kibbo Kift were Ruth “Minobi” Clark, Julian Huxley (who had been a mentor to Seton during his time in London), Havelock Ellis, Maurice Maeterlinck, R. Tagore, and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, the suffragette leader and revival Morris Dance leader.

Hargrave delineated his own brand of Woodcraft in six books: Lonecraft (1912), Tribal Training (1919), Totem Talks (1918), Confession of the Kibbo Kift (1927), The Great War Brings it Home (1919) and Young Winkle (1925). The Kibbo Kift became the Green Shirts, or Social Credit Party of England in the early 1930’s. Contrary to occasional public opinion, the Kibbo Kift was an anti-fascist, anti-communist and anti-imperialist organization. Hargrave officially disbanded the Kibbo Kift in 1950.

In 1924 Lesle Paul led a schism from the Kibbo Kift, and founded the Woodcraft Folk, which is still in existence in England as a Woodcraft movement for boys and girls, teaching principles of cooperation, fairness and a respect and appreciation for nature.

Ernest and Aubrey Westlake, a father and son team of Quakers, founded the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry and the Forest School in the New Forest of England in 1915, with the help of Seton. The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry and the Forest School Camps exist to this day in England, where they teach permaculture and a respect for nature to its members and students.

There were Woodcraft groups in all of these countries prior to WWII. Further information would be appreciated.

There is an Austrian group known as the Falcons that seems to be a Woodcraft organization. Further information would be appreciated.

The oldest Woodcraft groups in Europe were probably the “Deti Ziveny”, or Children of Zivena (Slavic goddess of life and crops). This organization was founded by Professor Milos Seifert, a high school teacher, in 1912 in a small town near Prague. Many other Woodcraft groups have been established in the region known as Czechoslovakia in the pre-WWII years. Seton visited Czechoslovakia in 1936. When the communist regime fell in Czechoslovakia, seven hundred Woodcraft groups that had been masquerading as rod and reel, hiking, or canoe clubs came out of hiding and announced their identity as Woodcrafters. According to information provided to Dee Seton Barber, there are at least eight different organizations in the Czech Republic following some part of the Woodcraft Way.

There have been Woodcraft groups in Poland since 1921, albeit with interruptions due to wars and political upheavals.The current Pathfinder Organization wants to protect the environment of Poland from the ravages of civilization and to live the Woodcraft Way.

A Russian woman who visited Seton Castle in 1993 had belonged to a Siberian Woodcraft group in her childhood. Additional information would be welcome.

This page is based on material originally written by Dee Seton Barber

8 thoughts on “History of the Woodcraft Movement

  1. Buzz

    Lake Arrowhead Woodcraft Rangers 1965-1967.
    The bus ride up on Rim of The World
    Standing at attention first morning before breakfast waiting to see who would faint first
    The silver jugs filled with hot cocoa
    Creaking, smelly bunk beds, tent huts with green canvas tops and open sides
    squirrels that dug into your duffel bag and ate your candy
    cold water washing up in the morning out of long metal troughs
    lanyard making, yarn gods-eyes, boiling water fast with pine needles
    singing “We All Live In A Yellow Submarine”, over and over again all summer.
    Muddy Flats, Dollar Lake, hiking above tree line to the top of Mt San Grogornio
    Camp counselors “fertilizing” the altitude sign at the top of Mt San Grogornio
    Snow on the mountain top even in mid-winter, but not quite snow cone worthy
    Stake Bed Truck rides to the lake, walk out past the red crawdaddies, swim to Lone Pine Island
    Catching trout by hand in a stream with buddies, cleaned them, brought them back to camp, cooked and served to us special in front of rest of campers, best day ever.

  2. James Lehman, Jr.

    Ms Seton: I just fell across this website only today. Thank you for attending our Scout Round Table last year, here in Maryland. I am interested in the history of Ernest T. with the BSA, and his “falling out” with Mr. West and later re-instatement (?) with BSA. What were the issues involved? I do not see any mention of this above. Was the Woodcraft League originally disbanded in favor of BSA, was Woodcraft re-instated when he left BSA, that sort of thing. Again, it was very good to meet you last year.

    1. Julie Seton

      Dear James,
      Thank you! A good source of information on early Scout history is in the book THE SCOUTING PARTY: Pioneering and Preservation, Progressivism and Preparedness in the Making of the Boy Scouts, by David C. Scott and Brennen Murphy. I am doing additional research using archives from the BSA, the American Museum of Natural History and others. Seton shifted the Woodcraft Indians toward the BSA, but didn’t give it up completely during his years with BSA. In 1915, he changed the name to the Woodcraft League of America, broadening its scope. After he left BSA in 1915, there was a cordial and professional relationship; however, it is clear, from the letters I have found, that although there was correspondence, it was not very friendly.

  3. Don Goodman

    I am a novelist doing research on the Woodcraft Ranger camp at Lake Arrowhead. I have interviewed a number of counselors, campers and leaders at the camp. If you want to talk Woodcraft Rangers you can email me back or call 818 419 3335. I have found just talking to former Rangers leads to good converation and interesting stories. Don Goodman

    1. Julie Seton

      Mr. Goodman, Are you still working on the Woodcraft Ranger camp project? If so, please contact me at [email protected]. My name is Julie Seton and I am ET Seton’s granddaughter. I have just taken on the responsibility of the ETSI website.

    2. Julie Seton

      Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been out most of the summer on travel. I am interested in understanding more about the Woodcraft Rangers. I have found some letters between ETS and his assistant JMS regarding the Woodcraft program in California. I have also been contacted by a woman whose great-grandfather was connected to Woodcraft in the 1920’s. Do you need more interviews? I am in contact with a livelong Woodcraft Ranger. I could connect you.
      Best regards,
      –Julie Seton

  4. Paul Tucker

    I am Paul Tucker.
    I was a Woodcraft Ranger in the 1960’s in San Dimas California. I was part of the Seminole tribe. My father Raymond Tucker was a Guide and when I turned 16, I became a Jr. Guide. The Woodcraft Rangers was a very positive orignization in my life. Fact of the matter my entire family was involved. Our tribe got so big that we had to split t.he tribe into four tribes. I would be interested in discussing this further if anyone is interested.
    Paul M Tucker

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