In 1900, Seton bought properties in Greenwich, CT, and started to build his own nature preserve called Wyndygoul. Seton’s property was being 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 rather than prosecuting them, he invited the boys to the property for a weekend of camping. He sat down with them and told them stories of Native Americans and nature. This was the first test of his program of Woodcraft. The organization was officially started on 1 July 1902.
One unique feature of his outdoor program was that the boys elected their 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 the Ladies Home Journal in 1902 that were later compiled and published as the Birch Bark Roll 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 sought 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 ideas, honors, and games into his book, Scouting for Boys. For more information on Seton and the Boy Scouts, click here.
Seton established a program he called “Brownies” in 1921 for ages 6 through 11 girls and boys, based on his book Woodland Tales, which served as the origin of the Brownies in the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Seton was a good friend of Dr. and Mrs. Luther H. Gulick, founders of the Camp Fire Girls. Seton provided materials and a framework for them that became the first national organization for girls established in 911. Dr. Gulick was an educator and philanthropist working for the Russell Sage Foundation. He was also a Woodcrafter and contributed to the Boy Scouts of America Scout Handbooks.
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 fifth-generation lone Woodcrafters are still active today.
The Woodcraft League declined sharply as a formal organization after Seton died in 1946. Today’s only formal group is the Woodcraft Rangers in Los Angeles, who offer nature camps and activities for inner-city children. The program is also still an active part of many summer camps. For a list of the ones we know about, click here. We believe there are more. Please contact us if you can add to the list.
In addition, Seton’s legacy is recognized and strong in Scouting and many other youth organizations.
The publication of The Book of Woodcraft in 1912 inspired the formation of many Woodcraft groups worldwide. Please let us know if you have additional information on Woodcraft groups in Europe or elsewhere.