Boys' Historic Uniforms: Woodcraft Indians

Figure 1.--.

The author and illustrator, Ernest Thompson Seton, created the Woodcraft Indians in 1902. They were the most influential of the various precursor groups to Boy Scouting in America, although in many ways the program contrasted sharply with Scouting. Seaton's respect for Native American traditions and life style played an important part in the program.The Woodcfaft Indians was designed for boys aged 12 to 15 years and was based on North American Indian lore and outdoor life. In 1906 he added the Little Lodge of Woodcraft Indians for younger boys and girls, which in many ways was the fore runner of Cubbing, even though it took the Boy Scouts many years to establish Cubbing--well after most other countries had established the program. Seton visited London in 1906 and met with Baden Powell to exchange ideas. Baden Powell eventually incorporated some of Seton's ideas and later credited Seton with being one of the fathers of Boy and Cub Scouting. His many volumes of Scoutcraft became an integral part of Scouting, and his intelligence and enthusiasm helped turn an idea into reality.

Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946)

The Woodcraft Indians were founded Ernest Thompson Seton was isbetter known for his contribution to the Boy Scout movement. Seaton interestingly was born in South Shields, Durham, England. It is notable and perhaps goes to the genius of America, that the founder oif a nationalist youth group was born in a foreign coubntry. Seaton emigrated to Canada with his family at the age of 6. His original name was Ernest Seton Thompson. His sketches as a youth won awards. Consequently, he was sent to study art in London at the Royal Academy School of Painting and Sculpture. Late he went to Paris for further study. In 1881, he became the Naturalist for the government of Manitoba. Seaton played an important role in the foundation and early period of Americam Scouting. He withdrew from the movement in 1915 over disagreements about cubbing and what he perceived as militarism, but returned to help found cubbing in the 1930. Seton received the seventh Silver Buffalo award in 1926; the first year it was offered.


The Ladies Home Journal magazine asked him to write a series on woodcraft for boys. On the first day of July in 1902, he founded the Woodcraft Indians. Seton invited boys to camp at his estate in Connecticut and published a series of articles in "Ladies' Home Journal" on woodcraft and Indian-style camping. The first article appeared in May, 1902. The Woodcraft Indians proved to be the most influential of the variuous precursor groups to Boy Scouting in America. [Macleod, p. 130.] The Woodcraft program in many ways the program contrasted sharply with Scouting. Basically the only thongs the two had in common were healtful camping and evening campfires. The outlook of Woodcraft ans Scouting were almost diametrially oppossed.


The Woodcraft Indians were a loosely-structured boys' program. Seaton wrote a book, The Birchbark Rolls of the Woodcraft Indians as a guide for the program. Seaton's respect for Native American traditions and life style played an important part in the program. The program was designed for boys aged 12 to 15 years and was based on North American Indian lore and outdoor life. The boys wre organized into tribes. Seaton in 1906 added the Little Lodge of Woodcraft Indians for younger boys and girls, which in many ways was the fore runner of Cubbing, even though it took the Boy Scouts many years to establish Cubbing--well after most other countries had established the program.


Seaton had some unconventional approaches that were quite different than the rather preachy Boys' Brigade or the more regimented Boy Scouts that Baden-Powell was to organize. Seaton did not want the organization used for over moral indoctrination although he felt that an experience with nature would have a kind of cathartic impact upon the soul. He was especially opposed to regimentation. His approach was as little formal organization as possible. A Woodcraft Indian outing was an informal camping experience with Natibe American ceremonies, games, and awards. There was no vocational training or modern hobbies, in fact Seaton tried to get asfara way from modern technology as possible which was one of te weaknesses wityh attracting boys to the program--especially older boys. Woodcraft Indians earned awards which Seaton called "coups," for single feats of campcraft, nature study, or track and field. A boy won won 25 coups became a "sachem." A boy earning 50 became a "sagamore". This was the only formal hierarchy in the Woodcraft Indians. There were no organized team sports. Seton devised his own competitions: simulated deer hunt with tracking irons to leave a visible trail. There were evening campfires. Seton led songs, Native American dances, and storytelling. Each boy was solemnly given a Native American name. In the Woodcraft Indians, all offices elective. Seton made little or no effort to use these outings to promote many of the ideas that parents had in mind as the cahracter-building purpose of a youth organization. He did not stress conventional morality, piety, and patriotism. According to one historian, "Since he believed that young savages were unready for abstractions, the laws he propounded for his Indians were merely rules for an orderly camp." [Macleod, p. 131.]


The Woodcraft Indians of course did not have a uniform. The boys wore individually made costumes rather than uniforms. [Macleod, p. 131.]


The Woodcraft Indians lacked a supervisory mechanism or a central organization capable of promoting the program. Almost all tribes operated within the YMCA. This loose organization made it virtually impossible for them to compete effectively wuth the BSA. Another major problem was the lack of commitment to technological growth and progress. This was a key tennent of middleclass American culture. Boys might enjoy naturing outings, but few American boys wanted to make that their exclusive boyhood activities. Many wre also fascinated by the many technical adbances that were occurring and were interested in a program that could help them persue some if the new technologies. The absence of a program moral indoctrination was also a weakness in the eyes of many adults. [Macleod, p. 131.]


Like Daniel Carter Beard, the founder of the Sons of Daniel Boone, Seaton was a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts. William Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America in February 1910, but soon turned over management of the BSA to Edgar Robinson and the YMCA. Seaton had worked with Robinson on Scouting programs for the Y. Robinson convinced Seton merge his Woodcraft Indians with the new organization and became the BSA's first Chief Scout (1910-16). The original 1910 handook included 50 pages from Baden-Powell and 100 pages of Seton's writings. Seaton made a major contribution to Scouting, but disagreements with BSA executive James E. West forced him out of the movement in 1915.

Woodcraft Rangers

After leaving the BSA in 1915, Seton then founded the Woodcraft League of America. Seaton revived Woodcraft in 1915 after leaving the BSA. It was not a children's or youth organization, but as a coeducational organization serving all ages--the Woodcraft League of America. 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 1950s. Seton continued to run Woodcraft Leadership Camps in Greenwich until 1930 when he moved to Santa Fe.


Seaton authored an amizingly long list of books on quite a range of topics:

1886 Mammals Of Manitoba

1891 Birds Of Manitoba, Foster

1894 How to Catch Wolves, Oneida Community

1896 Studies in the Art Anatomy of Animals, Macmillan

1898 Wild Animals I Have Known, Scribners

1899 The Trail of The Sandhill Stag, Scribners

1899 Lobo, Rag, and Vixen, Scribners

1900 The Wild Animal Play For Children (Musical), Doubleday & Curtis

1900 The Biography of A Grizzly, Century

1900 Lobo

1900 Ragylug

1900 American Printing House For The Blind, Wild Animals I have Known (NY point system)

1900 Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind Four Books In Braille: Lobo, Redruff, Raggylug, Vixen

1901 Lives of the Hunted, Scribners

1901 Twelve Pictures of Wild Animals (no text) Scribners

1902 Krag and Johnny Bear, Scribners

1903 How to Play Indian

1903 Two Little Savages, Doubleday

1903 How to Make A Real Indian Teepee, Curtis

1903 How Boys Can Form A Band of Indians, Curtis

1904 The Red Book

1904 Monarch, The Big Bear of Tallac, Scribners

1905 Woodmyth and Fable, Century

1905 Animal Heroes, Scribners

1906 The Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians

1907 The Natural History of the Ten Commandments, Scribners

1909 Fauna of Manitoba, British Assoc. Handbook

1909 Biography of A Silver Fox, Century

1909 Life-Histories of Northern Animals (2 Volumes), Scribners

1910 BSA: A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-craft, Including General Sir Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. Doubleday and Page for the Boy Scouts of America

1910 The Forester's Manual, Doubleday

1911 The Arctic Prairies, Scribners

1911 Rolf In The Woods, Doubleday (Dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America). Note: Full text is available on-line, thanks to Ted Soldan and the holders of the copyright.

1912 The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore

1912 The Red Lodge, private printing of 100 copies

1913 Wild Animals At Home, Doubleday

1915 The Slum Cat, Constable (London)

1915 Legend of the White Reindeer, Constable (London)

1915 The Manual of the Woodcraft Indians

1916 Wild Animal Ways, Doubleday

1916 Woodcraft Manual for Girls

1917 The Preacher of Cedar Mountain, Doubleday

1917 Woodcraft Manual for Boys; the Sixteenth Birch Bark Roll by Ernest Thompson Seton. Published for the Woodcraft League of America, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Page & Company, 1917. 441 pp., illus. and music.

1918 The Woodcraft Manual for Boys; the Seventeenth Birch Bark Roll by Ernest Thompson Seton. Published for the Woodcraft League of America, Inc. Garden City, New York Doubleday, Page & Company, 441 pp. Illus. and music.

1918 The Woodcraft Manual for Girls; the Eighteenth Birch Bark Roll, Published for the Woodcraft League of America, Inc. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 424 pp. Illus. and music.

1918 Sign Talk of the Indians, Doubleday

1919 The Laws and Honors of the Little Lodge of Woodcraft., 8 vo. Published at Cheyenne, Wyo. August. 4th edition.

1921 The Brownie Wigwam; The Rules of the Brownies. Fun outdoors for boys and girls under 11 years of age. Woodcraft League of America, N. Y. 8 vo., 7 pp. 5th edition, the first being part of the Birch Bark Roll for 1906

1921 The Buffalo Wind

1921 Woodland Tales

1921 The Book of Woodcraft

1922 The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore; Doubleday, Page & Co., 590 pp. More than 500 drawings by the author; 3rd edition of the 1912 issue, enlarged by the inclusion of "The Foresters Manual."

1922 Bannertail: The Story of A Gray Squirrel, Scribners

1922 Manual of the Brownies; Manual of the Brownies, the Little Lodge of the Woodcraft League of America. 6th edition. A pamphlet of 10 pp. Oct., New York.

1923 The Ten Commandments in the Animal World, Doubleday

1926 Animals, The Nature Library, Doubleday (Color Plates)

1927 Lobo, Rag, and Vixen (The Scribner Series of School Reading), Scribners, 147 pp.

ca. 1927 Old Silver Grizzly, Hodder (London)

ca. 1927 Raggylug and Other Stories, Hodder (London)

ca. 1927 Chink and Other Stories, Hodder (London)

ca. 1927 Foam The Razorback, Hodder (London)

ca. 1927 Johnny Bear and Other Stories, Hodder (London)

ca. 1927 Lobo and Other Stories, Hodder (London)

1928 Animals Worth Knowing, (As Above), The Little Nature Library, Doubleday (No Color Plates)

1925-1928 Lives of Game Animals (4 Volumes), Doubleday

1928 Blazes on The Trail, Little Peegno Press (3 Pamphlets): Life Craft or Woodcraft; Rise of the Woodcraft Indians; Spartans of the West

1929 Krag, The Kootenay Ram and Other Stories, University of London Press

1930 Billy the Dog That Made Good, Hodder (London)

1930 Cute Coyote and Other Stories, Hodder (London)

1930 Lobo, Bingo, The Pacing Mustang

1932 Famous Animal Stories

1934 Animals Worth Knowing

1935 Johnny Bear, Lobo and Other Stories, (Modern Standard Authors) Scribners

1936 The Gospel of the Redman, with Julia Seton, Doubleday

1937 Biography of An Arctic Fox, Appleton-Century

1937 Great Historic Animals, Scribners

1937 Mainly About Wolves (Same as above), Methuen (London)

1937 Pictographs of the Old Southwest, with other authors, Cedar Rapids

1938 Buffalo Wind, Private printing of 200

1940 Trail and Camp-Fire Stories

1940 Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton, Scribners

1945 Santanna, The Hero Dog of France, Limited printing of 500 copies with 300 autographed, Phoenix Press

1949 The Best of Ernest Thompson Seton

1954 Ernest Thompson Seton's America; Selections of the writings of the artist-naturalist. New York: Devin-Adair Co. 413 pages Edited with an intro by Farida A. Wiley

1958 Animal Tracks and Hunter Signs

1958 The Gospel of the Redman; with Julia M. Seton, Santa Fe NM; Seton Village

1976 The Worlds of Ernest Thompson Seton. (Edited, with introduction and commentary, by John G. Samson). New York: Knopf. 204 pp.


Macleod, David I. Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 315p.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 24, 2000
Last updated: July 27, 2002