Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Other Founder-Roots of the Boy Scouts

Reflecting on recent news about the young men involved in committing multiple murders in the US and Norway it occurs to me that something they each have in common is a lack of connection to their better selves and to nature.

Earlier this month I attended the 152nd birthday celebration of Ernest Thompson Seton, a founder of the Boy Scouts of America who once lived in a castle he built not more than five miles from my home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 
By the late 19th century there was some fear that the industrial revolution had seriously undermined some of the self-reliance and connection to wild nature thought to be inherent in manhood. Perhaps this was the first wave of awareness regarding nature deficit disorder as one author penned it this century. 
As family and family biographers gathered and spoke to a larger community group at the party, it was noted that Ernest Thompson Seton (born a Scot, as was John Muir), a prodigious writer, artist and youth development champion had a different design for and philosophy of the boy scouts than the one that prevailed through the 20th century. He held that indigenous ways of learning, adapting to and cooperating with nature were more important to character building than the militarism other prominent leaders of the time were keen to inculcate as they feared boys might become too effeminate if something was not done to intervene. 
Seton developed programs for girls with co-educational activities as well which was far beyond most sensibilities of the time. Though world wars took their toll on the arc Seton projected, modern scouting may have headed back toward his earlier directions and imprint. I surmised some of that when I visited the Philmont Scout Ranch website. Some of Seton's works are housed in a museum there as well as near Seton Castle in Santa Fe, now owned by the Academy For The Love of Learning. Philmont consists of an entire wilderness area and leadership training center near Cimarron, New Mexico where tens of thousands of boys and young men have spent time each summer since 1939.

When I was growing up my father fondly shared with me on more than one occasion that as a youngster he had participated in the Wildcraft Rangers (an offshoot of Seton's work) as well as in YMCA programs. My post paying tribute to my father this year notes he was a street kid with little parental guidance. His experiences with these organizations were formative, creating lasting memories. 

I too learned early lessons in leadership and what it meant to be in awe of and have respect for nature while attending Y camp as a boy. The YMCA was an early supporter of Seton's work. I guess that in an indirect but significant way, I owe special thanks to Ernest Thompson Seton for the man I've become. 

Do youth in your life have access to these positive character and values shaping experiences that can play an important role in building a society everyone can thrive in? 
The following information was based on material originally written by Dee Seton Barber, a daughter of Ernest Thompson Seton 
In 1902, the first of a series of articles by Ernest Thompson Seton that began the Woodcraft movement was published in the Ladies Home Journal. In 1906 while in England Seton met with Baden-Powell, who was introduced to him by the Duke of Bedford. They exchanged correspondence from then until after Baden Powell founded the Boy Scouts, borrowing much material and many concepts from Seton without giving him credit.
Dewinton%201920.jpgIn 1907 Seton made a 2000 mile canoe trip in northern Canada, with Edward Preble of the US Biological Survey as his traveling companion. The trip was funded by Seton. Although he was not a surveyor and did his mapping with only a good compass, the maps he made on this trip were used until the 1950's, and are still considered extremely accurate.06053t.gif
In 1910 Seton was chairman of the founding committee of Boy Scouts of America. He wrote the first handbook (including B-P's Scouting material) and served as Chief Scout from 1910 until 1915. Seton did not like the military aspects of Scouting, and Scouting did not like the Native American emphasis of Seton. With WW I, the militarists won, and Seton resigned from Scouting. He revived Woodcraft in 1915, not as a children's organization, but as a coeducational organization serving all ages, THE WOODCRAFT LEAGUE OF AMERICA.Seton%20seated%20at%20Woodcraft%20Circle.jpg
It prospered. In 1922 the children's organization "Little Lodge" was merged with the Western Rangers, and became the Woodcraft Rangers. They were not interested in girls or adults, so this became a young boys organization. The Woodcraft Rangers became a co-educational organization by the early 1950's.
Seton continued to run Woodcraft Leadership Camps in Greenwich until 1930 when he moved to Santa Fe. In 1931 he became a United States citizen.
In Santa Fe, he built a castle on 100 acres in his "retirement" and continued to train leaders in Woodcraft. In addition to this, he wrote most of the first U.S. edition of the Boy Scout Handbook and was responsible for many of the concepts found within Scouting throughout the world.
In 1934 Seton and Grace were divorced. In 1935 (Jan.22) Seton married his second wife, Julia Moses Buttree (also known as Julia Moss Buttree) in El Paso, TexasSeton%20w%20Baby%20Dee.jpg
In 1938 they adopted a daughter, later Dee Seton Barber, who appeared with them on stage during Seton's lifetime.Seton%20Julia%20Dee.jpg
Julia was an author in her own right. Her first book, 'Rhythm of the Redman' was published before she married Seton. He did the illustrations for this book. She worked as Seton's assistant, secretary, and they performed joint lectures in schools, at clubs, in churches and lecture halls of towns and universities, throughout the United States, Canada, France, England and the Czech Republic.
The Leadership camps continued in Santa Fe, until 1941 (WW II), but were not continued after the war, as Seton died in 1946, at the age of 86.
After Seton's death, Julia continued to write and maintain the Santa Fe estate, and also lectured on her own, her last tour sponsored by the Audobon Society in 1967. She suffered a stroke in 1968 and died in 1975 in Santa Fe.
Dee Seton Barber died in 2006.

For more about Ernest Thompson Seton go to:
Here's the link to Philmont Scout Ranch

1 comment:

  1. Randy I appreciate you sharing this. I agree with you that Seton was an iconoclast and way ahead of his time. I grew up spending so much time in the woods and connected to nature. I feel like some of that has been lost for me over the years. Grateful for a legacy like Seton's to remind us to reconnect.


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