Ernest Thompson Seton

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Author and Wildlife artist Ernest Thompson Seton founded the Woodcraft Indians in 1902. His ideas influenced Baden Powell and Ernest went on to be a founder member of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910.

In 1913 the founder of the 12th Cambridge John Morrish, later Murrish, wrote to Ernest when he was visiting Britain. The reply (below) exists in the Cambridgeshire Collection. Aubrey Westlake was influenced by his ideas in 1915 when, as a student in Cambridge, he planned the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry. He was introduced to Seton’s ideas by Murrish.

The woodcraft influence permeated Scouting; in Cambridge it can be seen after the Great War; little troop based material survives from before.

The Scout News column in the local press was signed ‘Wolverine’. The author is probably John Murrish. The following quote is attributed to Seton:

The Wolverine is a tremendous character…. a personality of unmeasured force, courage, and achievement so enveloped in a mist of legend, superstition, idolatry, fear, and hatred, that one scarcely knows how to begin or what to accept as fact.  Picture a Weasel—and most of us can do that, for we have met that little demon of destruction, that small atom of insensate courage, that symbol of slaughter, sleeplessness, and tireless, incredible activity—picture that scrap of demoniac fury, multiply that mite some fifty times, and you have the likeness of a Wolverine.          

 See also

  • Order of Woodcraft Chivalry  
  • John Murrish                                                                   

Cambridge Archives

1915 In the John Murrish scrapbook held by the Cambridgeshire Collection there are two letters between Seton and the elder and younger Westlake the gist of which are – your proposals (for the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry) are hasty and don’t alter what I have spent half a lifetime refining.

C. 1920  ‘Then as woodcraft ideas spread we gave up exotic patrol names and used those of native birds and spread whose calls would be “natural”, we thought, so Lions became Owls; Wolves became Pewits and the rattlesnake call (“rattle a pebble in a potted meat tin”) vanished in-to history.’  WTT Archaeology  1978

In the 12th Cambridge Wolves became Foxes in 1922 whilst the other patrols, local creatures, remained unaltered.

Savoy Hotel, London

My Dear Scoutmaster

Yours kind letter of April 14th with the Indian Play duly received (I have been away).  I have read the play with the greatest of interest.  I would be very proud to receive the dedication of the play.  I have ventured one or two suggestions.  But please do not use the story of Wolverine.  I have …. in this myself will publish it shortly.  My business partner was dreadfully upset when he found there was a possibility of some one getting my story out ahead of myself.

Have you got my last edition of Birch Bark Roll, the Book of Woodcraft (Constable Ho.)  In this I run over one or two real war dances.

Many thanks for your kind words.  It is very pleasant when such appreciation

I wish I could see your troop at work.

With kind regards

Yours Cordially

Ernest Thompson Seton

3rd May 1913

I am returning the play herewith

To Scoutmaster John Morrish

The following letter can be found in John Murrish’s scrapbook in the Cambridgeshire Collection. Addressed to Aubrey Westlake it concerns the proposals for the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry.

A second, shorter letter to the elder Westlake can also be found conveying the same core message – don’t alter my version of Woodcraft.

JWR Archivist July 2019