Chronology of Events in the Life of
ERNEST THOMPSON SETON
Artist, Naturalist, Environmentalist, Explorer
Founder of the Woodcraft League
(1860 – 1946)
In her book By a Thousand Fires, published in 1967, E.T.Seton’s wife Julia Seton wrote in another brief chronology:
“1946: Seton died. Active and in full command of his talents to the very end, he had influenced three generations during his lifetime. Through his books, now translated into nearly every language, he will continue to delight and instruct generations yet to come.”
Forty years after publication of Julia’s book, the prophecy is continuing to prove true.
1860 Born In South Shields, Durham, England, August 14.
1866 Immigrated to Lindsay, Ontario, Canada with his parents and nine brothers. Seton was a Canadian for 64 of his 96 years of life.
1870-1879 Family moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Two Little Savages later recorded his youthful adventures in Toronto’s ravines.
1876 First oil painting “The Sharpshin Hawk” at age 16. He produced 4,000 paintings, drawings and sketches during his lifetime.
1879 Awarded Toronto Society of- Arts Gold Medal.
1879 Studied art in London, England. Two-year scholarship granted at the Royal Academy on the basis of a juried examination of his work. Because he was under age (only 19), according to the rules of the British Museum, he sought and was granted permission, for life, to use the resources of the library by the then Regents — the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Prime Minister Disraeli.
1881 First article published, “Key to birds of Canada.”
1882-1886 Spent much of his formative years at his brother Arthur’s homestead half a mile east of Carberry, Manitoba, Canada. ‘The golden years, the best days of my life,” wrote Seton of the Sandhills and Spruce Woods of Carberry- Subsequently wrote Trail of the Sandhill Stag. First contact with the Native Peoples of North America.
1883 Studied art in New York, USA at the Art Students League. Bronze sculpture of “The American Bison” praised.
1884 Studied art in Paris, France.
1885 Provided 1,000 animal drawings for the Century Dictionary, and the illustrations for Frank M. Chapman’s Handbook of Birds, which were favorably compared with those of Audubon. 1886 “A List of the Mammals of Manitoba” published.
1890-1891 Studied art in Paris, France at the Julian Academy.
1891 Painting “The Sleeping Wolf” hung in featured space in the Paris “Grand Salon”, France.
1892 Appointed Provincial Naturalist, Government of Manitoba, Canada, an appointment he held for the rest of his life. His books Birds of Manitoba and Animals of Manitoba are respected references to this day.
1893 Hunt in the Territory of New Mexico, USA, for “Lobo,” a clever marauding wolf so famous locally that he had acquired a name and and identity. Seton was sorry to kill so fine an animal. but he did not kill “Lobo’s” spirit. Later he would use the wolf paw print as part of his signature. Also, a deep and long-lasting friendship began with Canadian Native poet E. Pauline Johnson.
1893 Painting “Triumph of the Wolves” hung -at the Chicago World Fair, USA. This painting created considerable controversy because it portrays the reality of the natural world from the wolves’ perspective.
1894 Story of Lobo published in Scribner’s, a leading American magazine.
1896 First book published, Studies in the Art Anatomy of Animals. In addition to 42 books, Seton also published thousands of articles.
1896 Married Grace Gallatin of New York, NY, USA. She was a widely published travel and adventure author, leading suffragette, patron of the arts and letters, and fundraiser.
1898 Wild Animals I have Known published, the first and most acclaimed of his many books of animal stories (included Lobo). This book has never been out of print, and has been published in a dozen languages. Kipling wrote to Seton that the idea for the Jungle Books came from Wild Animals I Have Known. A stream of other books of animal stories soon followed, including Biography of a Grizzly, Lives of the Hunted and Two Little Savages. His reputation as a naturalist, author, illustrator and storyteller spread rapidly all over the world. But some controversy ensued. John Burroughs, a prominent naturalist, attacked Seton in the Atlantic for ascribing self- consciousness, motives, and emotions to animals. He later accepted the evidence of Seton’s scrupulous field observations and became a friend and colleague. Burroughs wrote, “Seton easily throws all other animal story writers in the shade.”
1900 Moved to “Windygoul” Cos Cob, Connecticut, USA.
1900 Expanded conservation work. Later celebrated as a seminal non-Native environmentalist. Gave 6,000 lectures in North America and Europe during his life. His message, based substantially on the wisdom of the Native Elders, has proven to be singularly prophetic.
1902 Founding of Woodcraft, originally the Woodcraft Indians, a “Tribe” of 12 boys from Cos Cob School. The “tribe” grew during Seton’s Cos Cob years and met on weekends and for summer camps. Woodcraft was the forerunner of the Boy Scout movement, the Camp Fire Girls, and major influence on the Girl Guides, Cub Scouts, the YMCA, and the Canadian and American Camping Associations. Began publishing the Birch Bark Roll, an annually updated manual for Woodcrafters. Twenty-eight editions were published until 1930. An essential feature of Woodcraft is that it requires judicious updating to incorporate new ideas and, realities, without losing its essential features.
1904 Daughter Ann Seton born. Under the pen name Anya Seton, she wrote much admired historical novels, several of which were made into movies, including “Dragonwyck” and “Foxfire.”
1906 Met and worked with Baden-Powell in England to develop the Boy Scout movement.
1907 Undertook a 2,000-mile, seven-month canoe trip exploring Northern Canada, using Hudson’s Bay Company routes in the Arctic including the Thelon River, Northwest Territories. Wrote The Arctic Prairies. Elected to the Explorers Club. Membership in this club is granted only to a select few premier adventurists such as Admiral Peary and Sir Edmund Hillary.
1908 Moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, USA. Site of major experimentation and expansion of Woodcraft, which he then called the Woodcraft League of America.
1909 Published Life Histories of Northern Animals, a significant work in two volumes. Frank Chapman said, “Seton has done for the mammals what Audubon did for our birds but he has done it better.”
1910 Chairman, Founding Committee, Boy Scouts of America.
1910 Wrote first Boy Scout Manual.
1910-1915 Chief Scout, Boy Scouts of America.
1912 Woodcraft League of Czechoslovakia founded. The Book of Woodcraft published.
1916 Order of Woodcraft Chivalry founded in England. Other Leagues founded over the years in Belgium, France, Canada, Poland, Germany, Hungary, USSR,, Ireland and Yugoslavia.
1917 Woodcraft League of America incorporated. Ernest Thompson Seton universally called “Chief” in connection with Woodcraft. The name “Black Wolf” was conferred on him by the Sioux, whose language (one of several) he spoke. He preferred this name to his own. Board members included naturalists John Burroughs and Frank Chapman, businessmen David Abercrombie, John Alexander, and James E. Sullivan, plus James L. Hughes (Inspector of Public Schools, Toronto, Canada),. Edgar Robinson (Secretary of the International YMCA), Charles D. Walcott (Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute), and Ambassador Henry Van Dyke of Princeton University. President Theodore Roosevelt was Patron and coined “Blue Sky,” the traditional greeting of Woodcrafters everywhere. Roosevelt defined Woodcraft “a man making scheme with a blue sky background.” Seton wrote, “Woodcraft is something to do, with what you have, right now.” Roosevelt commissioned a wolf painting that still hangs in the Governor’s Residence in Albany New York, USA.
1917 Published the first “Totem Board,” an occasional news-bulletin of Woodcraft ideas and activities.
1918 Published Sign Talk, a study of Native linguistics, the result of 20 years of periodic travel and research among many Native Nations in the western United States and Canada.
1918-1925 Research and writing of major scientific work The Lives of Game Animals, in four volumes with 1,500 illustrations.
1924 Last visit to Carberry, Manitoba,
1926 Received the “Silver Buffalo Award,” Boy Scouts of America, in the year of the inception of this honor.
1927 Journey to live and study with the Sioux and Pueblo Indian Peoples in co-operation with Clyde Fisher, Head of the Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, whose wife was Te Ata, a Cherokee and stage actress. Continuation of Seton’s lifelong appreciation and advocacy for the culture and traditions of the First Peoples. Wrote Gospel of the Redman.
1927 Awarded the internationally prestigious “John Burroughs Medal” by the National Institute of Sciences, USA, in recognition of the importance of Lives of Game Animals.
1928 Awarded the “Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal” by the American Museum of Natural History, for “pre-eminence in zoology,” Lives of Game Animals.
1928 Played a key role in founding the American Cub Scouts, which borrowed liberally from Woodcraft.
1930 Moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the 47th State of the USA. Designed and built Seton Castle. Founded the “Seton Institute of Indian Wisdom,” a training camp for leaders of recreational organizations based on the North American Indian traditional way of life.
1930 Became a citizen of the United States of America, at age 70. Continued to travel, conduct research, write, lecture and promote Woodcraft.
1935 Divorced. Married Julia Moses Buttree (also known as Julia Moss Buttree), January 22, 1935, El Paso, TX, USA. Julia Seton was a Lecturer at Hunter College, New York, and an author who wrote extensively on Native arts, crafts and music. (e.g., American Indian Arts, A Way of Life.)
1936 Lengthy lecture tour of the United Kingdom and the European continent including Germany and Czechoslovakia. where he also visited Woodcraft organizations. This tour was one of a half dozen he made overseas.
1938 Adopted daughter Beulah (later changed to Dee).
1939 Published The Buffalo Wind. This fine and poetic short book describes, with magnificent imagery, the call he heard all his life to give voice to the Red Man’s way.
Luminarias Light the Courtyard of Seton Castle
1940 Published his autobiography, Trail of an Artist Naturalist.
1945 Published his last book, Santana, the Hero Dog of France.
1945 Painted his last picture, Santana.
1946 Gave his last lecture on his birthday, August 14, at the University of New Mexico.
1946 Died October 23, 1946, Seton Castle, Santa Fe, New Mexico, aged 86.