Black Wolf: Ernest Thompson Seton | Science | Smithsonian

Black Wolf: Ernest Thompson Seton

In his lifetime no one did more than Ernest Thompson Seton to promote the idea that nature is a very good thing

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From the 1890s to his death in 1946, Ernest Thompson Seton wrote some 60 books and nearly 400 magazine articles and short stories. His book Wild Animals I Have Known has never gone out of print since it was first published in 1898. His dramatic wilderness stories brought him kudos from such notable contemporaries as Andrew Carnegie, Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt, Leo Tolstoy and Mark Twain. Still, determined to beat his reputation as a writer of tall tales, Seton spent years on a four-volume work that earned him the respect of the scientific community.

A self-trained biologist, Seton began his career as a scientific illustrator but soon began writing, too. One of his most popular stories, "Lobo, the King of Currumpaw," told of his hunt for a legendary wolf in New Mexico. Seton was to develop an almost mystical reverence for both wolves and Indians, writes Bil Gilbert in this profile of the multifaceted naturalist. Wolves, Seton thought, were the most clever and noble of creatures. (He eventually dubbed himself "Black Wolf.") Indians were the best of people because they were the most attuned to and respectful of nature. A key figure in the early history of the Boy Scouts of America (though he and the group eventually parted over what he saw as the Scouts' militaristic bent), Seton inspired thousands of children to model the Indians' ways.

Much simplified, the message Seton delivered for 60 years was: Nature is a Very Good Thing. The remarkable extent to which we have become a nation of nature lovers is one of the more thought-provoking phenomena of the 20th century. Certainly, in his time, Ernest Thompson Seton did more than most to help the cause along.

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