Ernest Thompson Seton
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Revision as of 16:29, October 8, 2007
Ernest Thompson Seton (August 14 1860 - October 23 1946]) was a Scoto-Canadian (and naturalized U.S. citizen) who became a noted author, wildlife artist, founder of the Woodcraft Indians, and founding pioneer of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Seton also heavily influenced Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of 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.
He was born Ernest Evan Thompson in South Shields, County Durham (now part of South Tyneside, Tyne and Wear), England of Scottish parents and 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 abusive father. He won a scholarship in art to the Royal Academy in London, England
He later rejected his father 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 for wolves while working as a naturalist for Manitoba. He became successful as a writer, artist and naturalist, later moving 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 told stories of the 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 in 1990. Ann, who later changed her first name, became a best-selling author of historical and biographical novels as Anya Seton. Ernest and Grace divorced in 1935, and Ernest soon married [ulia Moss Buttree. Julia would write works by herself and with Ernest. They did not have any children, but did adopt an infant daughter, Beulah (Dee) Seton (later Dee Seton Barber), in 1938. Dee Seton Barber died in 2006.
Seton met Scouting's founder, Robert 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 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. The work of Seton and Beard is in large part the basis of the Traditional Scouting movement. 
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 US citizens. Seton drafted his written resignation on January 29, 1915 but did not send it to BSA until May.
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 has always been in print.
In 1931 he became a United States citizen. He died in Seton Village, New Mexico in 1946, aged 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 a plane.
The Philmont Scout Ranch houses the Seton Memorial Library and Museum. Seton Castle in Santa Fe, built by Seton and his last residence, housed many other items from him. During renovation work on Seton Castle in 2005, it caught fire and burned down. However, all the artwork, manuscripts, books, etc., had been removed to storage before the work.