Born August 14, 1860 in South Sheilds, England
Died October 23, 1946 Seton Village, New Mexico
He was the eighth of ten brothers that lived. (One sister died at age 6) The family, with the exception of a couple of the older brothers, went to Canada (Lindsay, Ontario) in 1866, when his father had lost his fortune as a ship-owner. Joseph (father) did not make a good farmer, so by 1870 they had moved to Toronto where he was employed as an accountant. Seton went to Toronto schools for his basic education.
He was born Ernest Evan Thompson in South Shields, County Durham (now part of South Tyneside, Tyne and Wear), England 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 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 Windyghoul estate 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.
Seton met Scouting‘s founder, Lord 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 (BSA) 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 1915–1934 and his work is in large part responsible for the appropriation and incorporation of what he believed to be American Indian elements into the traditions of the BSA. However, he had significant personality and philosophical clashes with Beard and James E. West.
In addition to disputes about the content of 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 United States citizens. Seton drafted his written resignation on January 29, 1915, but he 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 contains the story of his killing of the wolf Lobo. He later became involved in a literary debate known as the nature fakers controversy, after John Burroughs published an article in 1903 in the Atlantic Monthly attacking writers of sentimental animal stories. The controversy lasted for four years and included important American environmental and political figures of the day, including President Theodore Roosevelt.
Seton married twice. His 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. According to Ann’s introduction to the novel Green Darkness, Grace was a practicing Theosophist. Ernest and Grace divorced in 1935, and Ernest soon married Julia M. Buttree. Julia would write works by herself and with Ernest. They did not have any biological children, but did adopt an infant daughter, Beulah (Dee) Seton (later Dee Seton Barber), in 1938. Dee Seton Barber died in 2006.