To Follow His Trail by Juanita Amero
There is no doubt that the outlaw wolves have sparked the interest of many people other than myself, and none more than Ernest T Seton. It is through his literary work that we enjoy many animal legends recorded by the flourish of a pen. I see Seton as a kindred spirit, as his interests mirror my own. It is with great admiration that I introduce you to him in this summer edition.
Seton was also known as the “Black Wolf”. As an award winning wildlife illustrator, he complemented his other talents as an attention grabbing storyteller. He became a best-selling author of animal stories, and was also an expert with Native American sign language. He did much in his life to support and promote the political, cultural and spiritual rights of the native (First Nations) people.
He was the eighth of ten brothers that lived. 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 and became a farmer. He was active in art from his early teens on. A woman prominent in the Toronto art community became his mentor in this field, giving him advice (and money) to continue his studies. He won the Gold Medal for art before he was 18.
A year later he went back to England to apply for a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Art. He won a seven year scholarship, which he did not complete. By 1881 his health (from poor food and living conditions) was so bad that a cousin wrote his mother saying that she better get him back to Canada before he died. His family sent him a steerage ticket and he went back to Toronto.
Two of the older brothers were homesteading in Manitoba, near what is now the small town of Carberry, and in 1881 he went by train to join his brothers. Seton made a worse farmer than his father. Always distracted by natural surrounding, this was the time of his most active animal art and research. He counted every feather on the wing of a grackle by candlelight. He would go off into the Carberry Sandhills for days and even weeks on end. Thought lazy and odd by the conventional people of the town (still is!), here he wrote his first natural history articles and began exchanges of study skins with other naturalists both in Canada and the United States, including Theodore Roosevelt.
His first visit to the United States was in December of 1883. He went to New York, where met with many naturalists and writers. From then until the late 1880’s he spent his time between Carberry, Toronto and New York. He became an established wildlife artist, and was given a contract in 1885 by the Century Company to do 1000 mammal drawings for the Century Dictionary.
He had trouble with his eyes (mostly from the close work on books) and was told that unless he did not use his eyes heavily for at least six months he would be blind. So he left France and went to New Mexico to the ranch of a man named Fitz-Randolph, and hunted wolves. The story of “Lobo” came from this hunt, and was first published in Scribner’s Magazine, later then with other stories in book form as ‘wild animals I have known’. From then on he was a famous writer, lecturer, artist, and environmentalist.
He married for the first time in 1896, to Grace Gallatin, a wealthy socialite, who was also a pioneer traveler. In 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.
In 1910 Seton was chairman of the founding committee of Boy Scouts of America. He went on later in his life to divorce and then to remarry. Seton did many astounding things during his walk on the earth. His love of nature and her creatures is something that I can understand his passion for. If one ever gets the chance to enjoy one of his books or articles, you will not be disappointed. He lived the life of dreams and took us right along with him on either the hunt, or the trail he left tracks on.