da Vinci and Seton finally meet

da Vinci
da Vinci

 

 

 

 

Walter Isaacson’s masterful biography, Leonardo da Vinci, takes readers on a journey into the life of one of the most creative minds in history. Civilization has produced only a few such geniuses. As the original “Renaissance Man,” Leonardo stands out not just for specific accomplishments (e.g. the Mona Lisa) but also for the breadth of his interests. The influence of such persons is magnified when their work becomes a model for those who follow. This made me think about Ernest Thompson Seton, Leonardo da Vinci and the intersection of art and science.

While this is no direct artistic influence of Leonardo upon Seton, similarities exist in their approach to creativity beginning with their high mutual regard for combining art and science. For instance, Seton’s wildlife illustrations range from the highly technical (Studies in the Art Anatomy of Animals) to the downright literary (Lives of Game Animals). They have in common a goal of achieving insight into the personality, capabilities, and/or ecology of the subject. In this case, scientific research (observation of the animal and its habits) leads to artistic expression.

Leonardo (like Seton) was subject to going off on tangents, one thought or subject leading to another, suggesting a lack of seriousness. But upon reflection, Isaacson wrote:

At first I thought that his susceptibility to fantasia was a failing, revealing a lack of discipline and diligence…[because] vision without execution is hallucination. But I came to believe that his ability to blur the line between reality and fantasy…was a key to creativity. Skill without imagination is barren. Leonardo knew how to marry observation and imagination which made him history’s consummate innovator.

Leonardo and Seton share a few specific interests. Both proved that the study of anatomy was the foundation of successful representational art. The skin or clothing of the human or animal model is merely a draping over muscles and bones. The lips of Mona Lisa are perfect because of Leonardo’s obsession with dissection of the human body. Seton’s masterwork, “Sleeping Wolf,” achieves its extraordinary sense of life from a thorough knowledge of canine physiology.

In his book, Isaacson chronicles Leonardo’s attributes.  Have selected a few that I believe apply to Seton as well.

“…he [Leonardo da Vinci] became the archetype of the Renaissance Man, an inspiration to all who believe in a unity filled with marvelous patterns.” (page 1)

Leonardo is passionately curious, stunningly imaginative, following a creative impulse through many different disciplines. (page 3)

Leonardo added to his to-do list a reminder to “Describe the tongue of a woodpecker.” (page 5) Simply remarkable. Compare to Seton counting all the feathers on a Brewer’s grackle.

From Seton’s autobiography:

Head                           2226

Back of neck                 285

Front of neck               300

All below                    1000

Back                               300

Each thigh 100              200

Each wing 280              560

Flight feathers                44

4915

Leonardo’s “ability to combine art, science, technology, the humanities, and imagination remains an enduring recipe for creativity.” (page 9)

Leonardo recognized that the key to figurative depiction was a thorough understanding of anatomy, “sinews, bones and muscles and tendons.” (page 84) Both artists infused their figures with remarkable life-likeness by starting from the inside (bones, muscles, etc.) and working outward (skin, fur, clothing). So we see the outermost layer, but it is entirely informed by what lies beneath.

“In his notebooks he decried ‘men who desire nothing but material riches and are absolutely devoid of the desire for wisdom, which is the sustenance and truly dependable wealth of the mind.” (page 130) Seton made the same point in Gospel of the Red Man.

Leonardo made incredibly accurate (and beautiful) anatomical drawings of the human form as well as that of the horse, combining the best artistic practices with the best science of his time. (page 162) Seton’s contribution in this field was his early book, Studies in the Art Anatomy of Animals.

He believed experiential learning was often more informative than an academic approach. (page 170) Why limit yourself to reading what others did, when you can instead do it yourself? This is a primary tenet of Lifecraft. Both Leonardo and Seton were largely self-taught, not the products of academic institutions.

Leonardo combined “omnivorous curiosity, which bordered on the fanatical” (page 178) with an emphasis on observation. This too is an important part of the Seton’s Lifecraft philosophy.

Just as Von Humboldt provided a model for the 19th century naturalists who followed him (including Seton), Leonardo anticipated Von Humboldt by providing a model of pursuing broad inquiry into as many specifics as possible in the attempt to understand the larger wholeness of the world. Seton’s Lifecraft carried that notion into the 20th century.

“He who has access to the fountain does not go to the water-jar.” Leonardo 1452-1519 (age 67)

“Because I have known the torment of thirst I would dig a well where others may drink.”  Seton from preface to Two Little Savages, 1903 (age 86)

 

Seton Animal Stories

Seton Stories
Seton Stories

In this, my fourth Lifecraft essay, I will discuss present several Seton animal stories. He vividly illustrates the lessons of Lifecraft through the biographies of his animal heroes. The stories are filled with action (chases and escapes) and emotion (triumph and pathos). Based on Seton’s observations and imaginings, we see nature described in a highly descriptive manner. He can veer into the fantastic (do animals really commit suicide?) but also stick to the highly realistic—wild nature, overall, while it may often emphasize cooperation over survival of the fittest, generates stories of kindness less often than others of unconscious cruelty. A hard lesson for the children the stories were aimed at, but that is life.

The violence in “Lobo” (wolf) is unapologetic. The life of Krag (bighorn sheep) is tragic. Even the triumph of Billy (another wolf) comes at a price—his life will never be one of security. Nature must be taken on its own terms, and not portrayed as less brutal or less magnificent than it is. Seton presents two radical lessons. One is that wild animals are not fundamentally different from us, only different by degree. The other is that we humans are a part of nature, and that by causing environmental destruction, it is ourselves that we attack.

Many of these stories are available as free on-line books or through Project Gutenberg. The stories are taken from Wild Animals I Have Known (1898), Lives of the Hunted (1901) and Animal Heroes (1905). Seton aimed his stories towards young adult readers (defined by the publishing industry as being between 12 and 17), but younger children as well as adults also have a lot to learn here. I have included story descriptions and discussion guides.

“Lobo, The King of Currumpaw” is Seton’s signature tale of the wolf hunt that transformed him from predator killer to predator protector. This is the lead story in Seton’s first best-seller, Wild Animals I Have Known, a first-person narrative about his efforts to trap wolves in Union County, N.M., during the winter of 1893-94. Based on real events, the story focuses on a remarkable wolf who could not be caught until Seton uses the most extraordinary treachery against him. The wolf is the hero of the story, while Seton casts himself as the villain. It is one of the most unusual hunting stories ever written. It is also a story that captures the larger American experience of man and nature.

Seton referenced it in one of his next books (Lives of the Hunted): “I have been bitterly denounced, first, for killing Lobo; second, and chiefly, for telling of it, to the distress of many tender hearts.  To this I reply: In what frame of mind are my hearers left with regard to the animal? Are their sympathies quickened toward the man who killed him, or toward the noble creature who, superior to every trial, died as he had lived, dignified, fearless, and steadfast?”

Use these questions to generate conversation in a discussion group:

  1. People have to make a living through honorable undertakings such as cattle ranching. Wolves have to make a living as well, by killing their prey. Land owners have the right to protect their livestock. What rights do wolves have, or what rights should they have?
  2. Lobo proves to be an animal of exceptional cunning. What do you think of him?
  3. Seton uses a trick to trap Blanca. Was he unfair, or was he justified in the measures taken to trap her?
  4. Seton describes Lobo’s last hours in considerable detail, what do you think he might have learned from this experience?
  5. How does the death of the wolf make you feel?
“Krag, the Kootenay Ram” is an in-depth conscientious exploration of animal behavior set in the Canadian Rockies. In this story, Seton set out his ideas on environmental consciousness and the complexity of animal behavior. The magnificent bighorn sheep, Krag, finds himself in a lifelong battle against the degenerate hunter Scotty MacDougall. In their final encounter, Scotty’s pursuit is such that he gives Krag no time to graze, and the great animal begins to starve. The journey is equally harsh for Scotty, whose physical deterioration soon matches his mental collapse. The story is an allegory about Western civilization’s self-destructive treatment of nature.

Quote from Seton at the beginning of Lives of the Hunted: “My chief motive, my most earnest underlying wish, has been to stop the extermination of harmless wild animals; not for their sakes, but for ours, firmly believing that each of our native wild creatures is in itself a precious heritage that we have no right to destroy or put beyond the reach of our children.”

Use these questions to generate conversation in a discussion group:

  1. What do bighorn sheep have to learn in order to survive in their mountain environment?
  2. What are some of the rule of bighorn sheep life?
  3. Krinklehorn nearly kills Krag by unfair fighting, but pays a terrible price. Do animals have a sense of morality?
  4. Krag must battle against both dogs and wolves. Krag prevails in these encounters, but sometimes the predators must prevail because they too must feed their families. What is the relationship of predator and prey in the wild?
  5. Scotty relentlessly pursues the ram. Do you think Scotty represents something more than himself in this story? What lesson is Seton teaching us?
Badlands Billy: the Wolf that Won. Long before scientists understood animal intelligence, Seton identified it in this story. Badlands Billy is Seton’s remembrance of a wolf hunt he observed in 1897. Seton uses the story to explain the natural history of wolves. He invents a life history for this hero wolf who survives the greatest hardships. When the normal prey of wolves (such as bison and antelope) are killed off by human hunters, the wolves of North Dakota, like those of New Mexico, are forced to kill cattle, putting them into conflict with humans. Unlike Lobo, Billy outwits all the hunters. In addition to instincts, animals learn behavior by watching others of their own kind and through personal experience. Although these ideas are now accepted among animal behaviorists, when Seton first suggested them, they were highly controversial.

Quote from Seton in Animal Heroes: “A Hero is an individual of unusual gifts and achievements. Whether it be man or animal, this definition applies; and it is the histories of such that appeal to the imagination and to the hearts of those who hear them.”

Use these questions to generate conversation in a discussion group. Special note: the hunt for Billy took place in 1897, three years after the death of Lobo.

  1. Long ago, antelope and buffalo roamed the grasslands of America. Eventually, many of these animals were hunted to near extinction and replaced by cattle. The remaining wolves had nothing left to eat but cattle. Does this change your perception of wolves?
  2. What do mother wolves need to teach their pups?
  3. Why does Billy survive when Lobo did not?
  4. When Billy escapes the dogs, Seton cheers him on. Seton seems very different than three years earlier during his encounter with Lobo. Why do you think he has changed?
  5. What are the attributes of an animal hero? Which of these traits are demonstrated by Billy?
Silverspot, The Story of a Crow is Seton’s classic look into the secret lives of birds., the subject that began his interest in natural history. Birds, especially large ones such as crows are relatively easy to see. Birds of the Corvidae family (crows, jays and ravens) are known as animals of exceptional intelligence. Silverspot is a natural leader and teacher, wise in the ways of his own kind, and the object of Seton’s attention over several years when he lived in Toronto.

Quote from Seton in Wild Animals I Have Known: “How many of us ever got to know a wild animal? I do not mean merely to meet with one once or twice, or to have one in a cage, but to really know it for a long time in the wild, and to get an insight into its life and history.”

Use these questions in discussion of the story.

  1. Seton interprets the calls of crows as a kind of language. Are the crows really speaking to each other?
  2. Crows can reason, plan, and learn. When Silverspot drops bread into a stream entering a tunnel, he knows to wait for its reappearance at the tunnel’s other end. How much are we like them or they like us?
  3. Are there absolute differences between the behavior of crows and of humans?
Raggylug, The Story of a Cottontail Rabbit. Seton shows how animals, like people, do learn by watching their elders. He was one of the first naturalists to develop a scientific-based understanding of animal behavior. He wrote that animals (including rabbits) learn through instinct, but also by watching adults of the same species, and through personal experience. As we watch them go through their daily routines, we find out just how dangerous the world can be.

Quote from Wild Animals I Have Known: “Those who do not know animals well may think I have humanized them, but those who have lived so near them as to know somewhat of their ways and theirs minds will not think so.”

Consider these questions.

  1. Which of Rag’s learning moments falls into which of the three categories (instinct, watching and imitating others, personal experience)?
  2. Time after time, Rag’s mother shows a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice (that is, giving up her own life) to save him. How do you feel about her?
Bingo, The Story of My Dog is a tribute to man’s best friend. Most of us have owned or been around dogs. The human-dog bond is unique. Bingo saved Seton’s life at least once, perhaps twice.

Quote from Wild Animals I Have Known: “It is wonderful and beautiful how a man and his dog will stick to one another, through thick and thin.”

Here are some things we might ask about these relationships.

  1. What remarkable experiences have you had with dogs?
  2. What have you learned from dogs?
  3. Do you think they really know what we think and feel?
  4. Is there such a thing as a “bad dog” or are do dogs react to us in developing their own behavior?
The Springfield Fox. At least until the advent of televised nature programs, few were privileged to observe the secretive fox as closely as Seton. This fox made an appearance in Raggylug’s story as a predator passing through. But here we see that the foxes have families of their own to care for. They react to changing situations with both emotion and intelligence. A fox can consciously choose to resemble a rock in order to escape attention. This suggests they are, at least in some ways, much like us.

Quote from Wild Animals I Have Known: “For each kind of prey they [the fox pups] were taught a way to hunt, for every animal has some great strength or it could not live, and some great weakness or the others could not live.”

Discuss the following ideas.

  1. When people and animals (such as foxes) encounter one another, the result is often tragic for the animal. What steps might we take to avoid or non-violently resolve conflicts with wild animals?
  2. Have you ever seen a fox or other secretive wild animals?
The Pacing Mustang dramatizes the plight of wild animals by having a mustang choose between captivity and death.  Seton set this story concurrently with his hunt for Lobo. In order to create a sense of drama, he has the Mustang, in its final moment, chose death by suicide over captivity. Most scientists have doubted this could really have happened, but it is clear that animals have an emotional life.

Quote from Wild Animals I Have Known: “Up, up and on, above the sheerest cliff he dashed away into the vacant air, down—down—two hundred downward feet to fall, and land upon the rocks below, a lifeless wreck—but free.”

A group could discuss these questions.

  1. If we could tune into the feelings of wild horses (or wolves or rabbits), what might we learn?
  2. In the late 1800s, the western United States was lightly populated and thinly fenced. Have you visited areas that were vast and open? What did you experience and how did you feel about that place?
Redruff, The Story of the Don Valley Partridge is a poignant look at the extreme impact humans can have on wild nature. This is a particularly sad story where harmless animals are relentlessly pursued until they are exterminated. We will let Seton write the first discussion question from Wild Animals I have Known:

  1. “Have the wild things no moral or legal rights? What right has man to inflict such long and fearful agony on a fellow creature, simply because that creature does not speak his language?”
  2. Seton does not apply these questions to the way people treat one another. But do you believe these questions are valid in questioning how all the peoples of the world either do or do not get along?
  3. The back-page art in the original edition (and in many editions of the book) shows a man, a wolf, and a bird together. A rising sun comes up behind them (shining its light on all equally). A river or lake flows in front on them (from which all must drink). Swirling lines of energy connect all of them together. Was Seton correct in his vision, is it possible that all peoples, animals, and plants can someday achieve some level of harmony?

Through his stories Seton examined the relation of humankind to nature and its wildlife. Should we preserve wildlife for our sake? For the sake of the animals themselves? Or in our more ecologically minded time, can we make the case to do both? Lifecraft gives guidance for how to live, but also for how to question. We become fully alive when we take on the arduous responsibility of thinking for ourselves.

Ernest Thompson Seton Lifecraft Philosophy #3

Observation and the Learning Model
Observation and the Learning Model

In this essay, I am taking a somewhat different tact, using by permission, the Learning Model of the Academy for the Love of Learning. This has been developed over many years and is explored through the Academy’s programs. I believe Seton would have understood this approach since observation and experience were key to his view of learning.

We can enter the Learning Model by referring to events from Seton’s life, and then follow up with questions that we can ask about our own. Learning Model components create the basis of all programs offered through the Academy. Even in its simplest form, it brings personal engagement to the learning process, invites creativity and insight, and the establishes the potential for deep learning. Four key elements of the model (below) are also inherent to the meaning of Seton’s Lifecraft.

The Academy’s founder, Aaron Stern, while he was developing the fundamentals of his organization’s approach to education, had no knowledge of Seton or his ideas on Lifecraft. It may be too much to claim convergence of the two sets of ideas, but there are parallels which I mentioned in the previous essay (Lifecraft #2).

When Aaron made an agreement with Dee Seton Barber (Seton’s daughter) to provide the Seton Legacy with an institutional home at the Academy, he saw that Seton’s life illustrated one of the Academy’s core principles: one can become the change that one wants to see in the world. To learn more, we invite you to visit the Academy’s web site (the link is above) as well as the campus at Seton Village to take part in its programs. (In the meantime, we are happy to hear your thoughts on all of this.)

While there is no direct connection between Seton’s Fourfold Path and the four aspects of the Academy’s Learning Model (the number of four being coincidence), you may wish to join me in consideration of the parallels. The Fourfold Path (or Lifecraft Way) summarized:

  1. Service of Love (a waking up of consciousness about oneself, and one’s place in a larger context.
  2. Spirit of Fortitude (courage arising from self-reflection and empathy)
  3. Body of Beauty (recognition of the sanctity of life and standing for the well-being of all life)
  4. Mind of Truth (accepting honesty, reverence, and reasonableness as core guiding values)

As an adjunct to this, I can add, that although Seton was a romantic (in reaction to the mass-war, mass-industrial age), at the same time he specifically rejected the irrational as a legitimate means of interpreting meaning in the world.

The Learning Model of the Academy for the Love of Learning summarized:

EXPERIENCE
Seton hunted wolves, and eventually trapped Lobo. He came to see the nobility and intelligence of the wolf and, as he watched Lobo’s dignity in dying, was profoundly touched.  His understanding of animals was forever changed.

Begin with the experience—either an experience in the moment, or one that can be remembered…

  • Experience could come in many forms: drawing or painting, storytelling, movement, group activity, time in nature, going for an outing
  • Pretty much anything you give full attention to could be called an experience

Can you recall an experience that was transformative for you?

REFLECTION
Seton spent much of his time alone while he was in New Mexico trapping wolves. He kept a journal of his experience, and thought deeply about what he was seeing and feeling. Writing Lobo’s story was a powerful form of reflection.

Take some time to think and feel into the experience…

  • Reflection can be alone, or with another – can include journaling, drawing, going for a walk
  • Tell the story of the experience to a partner
  • Include feelings, emotions, memories that were evoked

When you reflect back on your transformative experience, what do you remember most clearly? What were the details, including feelings and emotions, that seem particularly meaningful to you now?

MAKING MEANING
To find meaning from his experiences in New Mexico, Seton made an extensive study of its birds and animals as an artist and naturalist, and also learned from Native American friends and mentors. Over time, Seton formulated an understanding of the interconnectedness of the natural world, including the role and impact of humanity.

Explore learning from the experience and what meaning can be made from it…

  • What personal or shared learning came from the experience?
  • What other sources of information can add insight?
  • How can this learning be applied in life? How can it be explored further?

What meaning does your experience hold for you? What did you learn from it about yourself, and about the world?

ACTION
Seton’s life of activism as a conservationist, naturalist, and educator, grew out of his experience with Lobo, and the resulting transformation of his understanding of the natural world.

Try out the learning…

  • Follow curiosity, see where this learning leads
  • See if it invites another cycle of learning…

How were you changed by that moment in your life? What actions, or new ways of being in the world, resulted from your experience?

Four Ways to Support the Learning Process

  1. This way of learning involves the whole person:
    Thinking is only a small part of the picture. Invite the whole of each person into the inquiry.
  • Physical movement – can you dance your experience, or explore it with your body?
  • Sensations – what textures, tastes, tones are in your experience?
  • Emotions – how do you feel? What do your feelings want to tell you about your experience?
  • Imagination – what colors are in your experience – what could you name your experience
  1. Slowing down helps bring awareness to reflection:
    Often our need to reach completion overwhelms the richness that comes with savoring the journey.
  • Invite participants to stop for a moment and listen, or feel, what is happening inside themselves, and in the group.
  • Encourage participants to relish their stories, take time to speak, and really get into the telling.
  • Listen slowly, too. As a facilitator, listen with depth, and experiment with reflecting back what you hear when a participant says something that touches you. Let him or her know how you were affected.
  • If things are going too fast, suggest everyone takes a breath, feels their weight on the chair, looks around the room.
  1. Follow your curiosity:
    What catches your attention can bring guidance as you work with the group.
  • Ask questions that deepen and invite feeling: “Can you say more…?”
  • Invite the unexpected: “What might happen if…?”
  • Allow yourself to be transparent at times: “When you said that, I felt very moved. Thank you for being so open.”
  • When strong feelings come up for you, as facilitator, can you follow the thread internally – what is being evoked in your own story? Be curious about that, too.
  1. Attend to what goes on in the ‘field’:
    When the unexpected happens, it may bring a key insight to the group.
  • Notice the tone of the group – is it alive, sleepy, all over the place.  Can you play with that, and make it part of the experience? “Let’s get up and run around the room.” “How about a five-minute nap?” or, “What do you think our sleepiness is trying to say to us?”
  • Are there themes coming into the group through reflections? Stories?
  • What’s happening outside the group? Are there interruptions? What’s the weather doing? Was there a powerful headline on the news?

Ernest Thompson Seton Lifecraft Philosophy #2

Fourfold Path
Fourfold Path

The drawing above shows the Fourfold path, or Lifecraft Way. Seton’s directional graph was inspired by the worldview of American Indians and First Nations Peoples with whom he studied and from whom he learned the outdoors skills, natural history, and ethics that comprise the core values of Lifecraft.

This is its directional organization: Service Way (north), Spirit Way (east), Body Way (south), Mind Way (west). At its core are the words, “Symbol of Great Spirit,” although not the symbol itself. From the four Ways issue the twelve “Laws.” In my view, the graph represents a non-linear complex system, one open to receiving, processing, and expending energy. There is no one entry or any one place of exit; all of the direction-ways are equally important.

The Fourfold Path calls for an integration of body, mind, spirit, and service: A fully lived life is holistic and ecological, in connection with nature, society, and other individuals. Lifecraft considers the individual (child or adult) part of a larger system of male and female, of family, of community (to which service is owed), of spirituality, and of the natural world. It stands against rigid standardization. Each of us should be inspired and enabled to follow our chosen life path. The competition that pits us against each other is morally wrong; the competition that matches us to a high, but achievable standard should be encouraged. The beauty we find in nature, or in our own creations (artistic or hand-crafted of whatever kind) is the highest good. Seton felt that the values he espoused were essential to the survival of our country and our civilization.

For each direction, I will begin with a short description of my understanding of the Lifecraft path. Although developed separately, Seton’s views parallel those of the Learning Model of the Academy for the Love of Learning.

North. Service of Love: Kind. Helpful. Glad Alive.

The heartfelt intention of kindness begins with those with whom we may be in closest contact and extends to all other persons and all other living beings. Helpfulness grows from the work we do, from freely sharing what we know, to making what we have available for the benefit of others. A sense of joy comes from the mere fact of being alive, at least if we remain conscious of it. We should develop the underlying intention to wake up to a greater degree of consciousness.

East. Sprit of Fortitude: Brave. Silent. Obey.

Bravery and valor is the great measurement of who we are in the world, the fountain of empathy, and the counterweight to fear, the font of hate. Our embrace of silence serves the purpose of allowing time for inward thought and outward listening. Obedience has nothing to do with blind, unthinking subservience, but is an inward following of personal principle. Be conscious of presence and spaciousness in listening. One should develop the capacity for self-reflection and the ability to enter into periods of disorientation.

South. Body of Beauty: Clean. Strong. Wildlife.

Cleanliness of person may seem self-evident, but this too is a continuum encompassing the space immediately around us, and continuing outward into the world so that we may all walk in beauty. Physical well-being grows from choice of sustenance, attitudes towards exercise, body image, sex, and a commitment to being as strong as our life circumstances may allow. Appreciating, celebrating, observing, and preserving the beauty of nature is essential to the preservation of our own bodies in this life, and also a practice critical to the survival and prosperity of all life.

West. Mind of Truth: Speak True. Reverent. Play Fair.

Honesty is the foundation on which all else rests, beginning with taking awareness and responsibility for all our actions. Reverence is being centered within to find a personal definition of the sacred, and an outward private or public expression of belief. The way we behave, our degree of reasonableness, governs our extension of fairness to others. An ability to speak the truth is another aspect of being able to hear the truth, and to be able to sit with each other in difficult conversation. This requires a willingness to be changed by the experience. But also coming to an awareness that what one learns benefits the other as well as oneself.

It is important to understand that the system described by Seton is without boundaries; we perceive each of these attributes as coming, firstly, from within, then extending outward past our own physicality, through our place of living and work, then into the community, and into the world. We must be open to acting as receiver as well as giver of insights. These concepts are neither static in direction nor in definition, but work in concert, shifting, blending, changing.

Ernest Thompson Seton Lifecraft Philosophy #1

Illustration by Amy Flowers, from Seton story of "Lobo"
Illustration by Amy Flowers, from Seton story of “Lobo”

 

Beginning in 1902, Seton set forth his ideas on youth outdoor education.  This series of essays takes a close look at what he termed Lifecraft. These ideas became the expression of Seton’s philosophy.

Seton described “Principles” and a “Fourfold Path” (covered in a separate essay) as guidance for personal development that can be best learned and practiced through a close connection to, and respect for, nature. Over decades, the Principles have been reinterpreted and expanded by various authors (including Seton himself) keeping them relevant. Seton set forth as his goal:

“I should like to lead this whole nation into the way of living outdoors for at least a month each year, reviving and expanding a custom that as far back as Moses was deemed essential to the national well-being….it is not enough to take men [and all persons of all ages] out of doors. We must also teach them to enjoy it.”

Seton’s educational philosophy shares great affinity with that of the Academy for the Love of Learning. The four essays in this series were published in slightly different form at our sister site on Blogspot.

Numbered lines are Seton’s Principles from the 1923 edition of The Book of Woodcraft. The paragraphs following are my interpretation.

On his behalf, I have extended the Principles to apply equally to males and females as well as to persons of all ages whatever their backgrounds. dlw

Nine Important Principles of Lifecraft

1 This movement is essentially for recreation.

Many of us, from students moving from one activity to the next (academic classes, band practice, computer study, soccer, music, etc. etc.) to adults moving through the daily routine (listening to the news, working at the office or shop, worrying about finances, transporting kids from one activity to the next, etc. etc.) forget the simpler ways of stepping back. Even vacations—not to mention family reunions—can be work. Recreation is a different concept. It is an activity separate from the routine, something we create for ourselves and which doesn’t have to include (at least, not on a large scale) the consumption or purchase of material things. The very best place to experience recreation: the outdoors! Individuals, couples, families, small groups. This can include anything from a quiet walk to outside sports to activities of personal interest, such as for me, wildflower identification. But fishing, skiing, climbing, quiet reflection, or anything else that puts one in positive contact with nature works just as well.

2 Camp-life. Camping is the simple life reduced to actual practice, as well as the culmination of the outdoor life…When intelligently followed camp-life must take its place as a cheap and delightful way of living, as well as a mental and physical savior of those strained or broken by the grind of an over-busy word. The wilderness affords ideal camping, but many of the benefits can be got by living in a tent on a town lot, or piazza, or even a housetop.

From time to time, some of us may be fortunate enough to go camping, traveling away from home, enjoying the scenic wonders of the wilderness or the prosaic values of a local park. We may remain out over night, but a daytime picnic will provide much the same feeling. The purpose is to renew our contact with nature. I have done this on Arctic expeditions and other wilderness trips, but also by staying overnight in the roofless ruins of Seton Castle (pictured at the top of this blog)—something Seton could not have imagined, but I believe would have approved of.

3 Self-government with Adult Guidance. Control from without is a poor thing when you can get control from within. As far as possible, then, we make these camps [of the Woodcraft League] self-governing [by the youth participants].

Children (and adults, for that matter) are subjected to many a command and rule, even in their play activities. But given the chance for self-organization, individuals or groups of individuals will find their own way. Leadership does not mean command or management; it has more to do with respect and listening. Supervision is for the purpose of helping others find that path, but not ordering them onto it. Self-governance means taking personal responsibility and personal leadership. As adults, we are more effective and happier in the world if we make these into guiding values. The lessons we take from our time in wild nature can help guide our way through all aspects of life.

4 The Magic of the Campfire. Our [human] race has seen this blessed fire [as] the means and emblem of light, warmth, protection, friendly gathering, council. All the hallow of the ancient thoughts, hearth, fireside, home is centred in its glow, and the home-tie itself is weakened with the waning of the home-fire. Not in the steam radiator can we find the spell; not in the water coil; not even in the gas log; they do not reach the heart. Only the ancient sacred fire of wood has power to touch and thrill the chords of primitive remembrance. When men [and all persons!] sit together at the campfire they seem to shed all modern form and poise, and hark back to the primitive—to meet as man and man—to show the naked soul.

Your campfire partner wins your love, or hate, mostly your love; and having camped in peace together, is a lasting bond of union—however wide your worlds may be apart. The campfire, then, is the focal centre of all primitive brotherhood. We shall not fail to use its magic powers.

While building a campfire is not always practical, appropriate, or even allowed in many public places, the experience of having sat around one is always memorable. The fire may be in the home fireplace, but one outside at night is best of all. Campfires should be intimate, a soft glow in the night, not a blazing inferno meant to defeat the dark Our earliest ancestors, whoever they may have been and whenever they may have lived, practiced their ceremonies within the glow of burning wood. The campfire may create a sense of community. Just as important is one person contemplating the embers alone, or two or three sharing their truth as the last warmth of flame is replaced by cold night. For some reason, the primitive self, the individual soul, may find a way to express itself here where all earlier efforts, in all other places, have failed.

5 Woodcraft [Lifecraft] Pursuits. Realizing that manhood, [or womanhood or personhood!] not scholarship, is the first aim of education, we have sought out those pursuits which develop the finest character, the finest physique, and which may be followed out of doors.

The love of learning, not academics, should be the first pursuit of education. The outcome for the individual is the opportunity to become a fully realized being, finding one’s place in the world, emotionally centered and, in some sense, truly happy. Children are born with a love of nature and the outdoors and a need to engage in physical activity. By encouraging them at an early age to follow their instincts in physical exploration and experiential contact with the natural world, they can be set on a path of learning that lasts a lifetime.

6 Accomplishment by standards. The competitive principle is responsible for much that is evil. We see it rampant in our colleges to-day, where every effort is made to discover and develop a champion, while the great body of students is neglected. That is, the ones who are in need of physical development do not get it, and those who do not need it are over-developed. The result is unsoundness of many kinds. A great deal of this would be avoided if we strove to bring all individuals up to a certain standard.

In our non-competitive tests the enemies are not “the other fellows,” but time and space, the forces of Nature. We try not to down the others, but to raise ourselves. A thorough application of this principle would end many of the evils now demoralizing college athletics [as well as all other levels of the educational system]. Therefore, all our honors are bestowed according to world-wide standards. (Prizes are not honors.)

The worth or power of individuals in society is all too often measured by competition as a zero-sum game where the gain of one can only come at the expense of another. A more positive view of achievement is to measure one’s accomplishments by standards of time and space, and age and physical ability. The lesson is that the measure of our success is in line with what is physically, mentally, and morally possible. Instead of tearing down, we build up. This is an additive-sum game where success drives upward what is possible for us as individuals, and as collections of individuals.

7 Personal Decoration for Personal Achievements. All have a chance for glory through the standards, [Principle #6] and we blazon it forth in personal decorations that all can see, have, and desire.

It is possible to take pride in one’s achievements without being prideful. Recognition of our achievements by others serves as validation of our efforts and as incentive to continue on a path of personal fulfillment, especially where that path leads to outcomes that serve a larger purpose.

8 A Heroic Ideal. The boy from ten to fifteen…is purely physical in his ideals. I do not know that I ever met a boy that would not rather be John L. Sullivan [a sports hero from the 1880s] than Darwin or Tolstoy. Therefore, I accept the fact, and seek to keep in view an ideal that is physical, but also clean, manly, heroic, already familiar, and leading with certainty to higher things.

Personal valor may take many forms for young males and females. It may be the ability to take physical action or moral leadership in a crisis situation. It may mean stepping up into leadership or serving the community or taking on a problem no one else can tackle. It can also mean making personal sacrifice or facing an extreme form of suffering. This does not mean not knowing fear, but, in the face of some great task, overcoming stasis, and taking a needed action or holding to an important principle. In our time—as well as Seton’s had he more clearly recognized it—heroism is a larger genderless concept that includes but is not limited to or by a particular physical ability.

9 Picturesqueness in Everything. Very great importance should be attached to this. The effect of the picturesque is magical, and all the more subtle and irresistible because it is not on the face of it reasonable. The charm of titles and…costumes, of the beautiful in ceremony, phrase, dance, and song, are utilized in all ways.

Aesthetics means sensitivity to beauty. This is the sense we use in our appreciation of the natural world or works of art. It can be a sense of awe. Beauty resides also in mathematical equations and in the logic of philosophy. And, it is also found in the way we see ourselves, both outwardly and inwardly. Without this sense, we are little more than shadows.

 

 

Hunt for Lobo Part II

Wolf skulls, Canadian Museum of Nature
Wolf skulls, Canadian Museum of Nature

Untangling the Past

When Seton arrived in New Mexico in 1893, decades of hunting had decimated the previously abundant wildlife. Wolves had hunted animals from bison to pronghorn antelope. But by then predators preyed upon cattle, the only large animals remaining. Lobo and company prowled the ranch country along the Corrumpa watershed.

This intermittent creek (“Currumpaw” in Seton’s spelling), arises from the east slopes of two prominent peaks, Sierra Grande and Capulin Volcano. It runs north of  Clayton, New Mexico and on towards the Oklahoma border. The resident wolves declined by six due to Seton’s efforts, all taken in inhumane leg traps. Two of their skulls ended up in the Vertebrate Collection of the specimen storage facility at the Canadian Museum of Nature (Collections des Vertébrés, Musée canadien de la nature) in Ottawa.

I saw them in a high ceiling, dimly lit, quiet hall. Few visitors make it into this secure facility. And almost none visit the New Mexico wolves. I stopped by on my way to Baffin Island in 2009, assisting a plant ecology expedition.  Dr. Kamal Khidas, Chief Collections Manager, kindly brought out the two skulls, long ago informally named “Lobo” and “Blanca” by someone familiar with the story.

Laid out on a heavy wood table, they gleamed startling white against a black cloth background. They retained Seton’s original specimen tags on which was written a catalog number, date of kill, and other notes. I compared these tags to Seton’s original field notes. Sometimes Seton specified the manner of death, i.e., by gun or by strangulation. I show them below in numerical order.

#653 December 13, 1893, male, 100 lbs. (maybe shot in trap)

#655 December 25, 1893, male, 87 lbs. (shot in trap) (skull at Canadian Museum of Nature; pelt at Philmont or Canadian Museum of Nature)

#662 December 29, 1893, female, 75 lbs. (shot in trap) (skull at Canadian Museum of Nature)

#672 January 25, 1894, female, 80 lbs. (shot in trap? strangled?) “Blanca”

#675 January 29, 1894, female, 60 lbs. (maybe shot in trap) (skull at Canadian Museum of Nature)

#677 January 31, 1894, male, 78 lbs. (died of injuries after release from trap) “Lobo” (skull gifted to Caroline Fitz Randolph in 1894 or 1895, not located)

Meanwhile, in New Mexico

I assumed the correct tags were still connected to the current specimens. I’ll return to the Canadian skulls in a moment, but first to the collection of the National Scouting Museum—Seton Memorial Library at Philmont Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.

In 1965, Julia Seton, Ernest’s widow, promised a donation of Seton-related material to the Boy Scouts of America. This collection was eventually housed at Philmont. Included was a wolf pelt identified as “Lobo” when it was displayed in the Castle at Seton Village. But a few years ago, when Philmont museum staff opened the case, and invited me to take a look, we noticed two things. First, the tag on this pelt was for specimen # 655. Lobo’s number was #677. Second, the appearance in the famous photograph of the wolf identified by Seton as being Lobo, is not the same as the pelt in the Philmont collection.

That is, if the photograph taken by Seton really shows Lobo, then the Philmont pelt is that of a different wolf, maybe #655 as it is marked. Or, the photograph, identified by Seton as Lobo, is actually of a different wolf. But since Julie (and presumably Seton) passed off #655 as being #677…well, we can’t know anything for certain.

Back to the Canadian specimens

Seton specimen #662, Canadian Museum of Nature #3726

Written on tag #662:

Species: Texas Gray Wolf
Locality: New Mexico, Union County, Currumpaw River, about 35 mi. N.W.  of Clayton, N.M.
December 29, (1887: Crossed out) 1893
Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton

“Blanca. Canis lupus monstrabilis. Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton in Union Co. New Mexico on December 29, 1887”

(I didn’t get the information copied from this one, but the number 662 was attached. Skull showed no bullet hole. Blanca’s specimen number was #672, so presumably this one is not Blanca.)

Seton Specimen #665  Canadian Museum of Nature #1875

Written on tag #655:

Species: Canis lupus nubilus Say, Plains Gray Wolf

Locality: United States: New Mexico
Date: 1893  Sex: Female adult
Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton
Second National Museum of Canada tag on #655:
Species: Texas Gray Wolf, Canis Lupus monstrabilis Goldman
Locality: U.S.A., Clayton County
Date: 1893?
Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton

“Lobo. Canis lupus nubilus. Collected by Ernest Thompson Seton in New Mexico in 1883.  Loaned by J.H. Fleming. From old mounted specimen dismounted in February 1942.)

(This skull has a bullet hole; there is a pelt associated with this number. The 1883 date above is a typo.)

But here we encounter a new problem. Both the Canadian Museum of Nature and the National Scouting Museum have pelt’s identified as #665! At least one, and perhaps both of these identifications are incorrect. Also, notice that the Canadian Museum of Nature’s “Lobo” and “Blanca” are identified as belonging to different sub-species.

DNA

In an email to me dated September 3, 2009, Dr. Khidas shared with me the “Genetic Analysis of Canadian Museum of Nature Samples.” This was conducted by Professor Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, dated October 8, 2007, on the two New Mexico wolf specimens.

For specimen #662 the researchers took their DNA sample from a tooth. For #665 they used foot skin from the pelt. Both specimens had the same “mitochondrial control region haplotype” or DNA sequence. This is “a unique sequence not previously detected in extant or historic Canis lupus. This “haplotype is in the same clade as historic Canis lupus nubilus haplotypes” observed also from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, the “interior continental U.S. gray wolves.”

Neither of these specimens, if they are indeed from different animals, conform to the genetic profile of monstrabilis. The ranges of both intersected in northeast New Mexico.

Don’t confuse either of them with the Mexican Gray Wolf Canis lupus baileyi, the still extant subspecies living in southwest New Mexico.

We are unlikely to untangle all these mysteries, historical puzzles mainly of interest to a few experts. Further DNA analysis and a closer look at textual evidence could help.

Of greater concern is preserving the wolves still living. Or will Canis lupus baileyi follow nubilus and monstrabilis into the forever oblivion of extinction?

(An exhibition, Lobo, the King of Currumpaw, accompanied by a graphic novel of the same name, is currently showing at the Seton Gallery of the Academy for the Love of Learning.)

Lobo Graphic Novel Premiers

Academy founder Aaron Stern and Ernest’s granddaughter Julie Seton at the opening reception
Academy founder Aaron Stern and Ernest’s granddaughter Julie Seton at the opening reception

The passage of time brings change to the details of life. But overarching themes may change very little. One-hundred and twenty-four years ago Ernest Thompson Seton attended the last hours in the life of a wolf. Referred to in his journal as specimen #677, the wolf returned to literary life as “Lobo” ten months later. The wolf’s biography, “The King of Currumpaw” become “Lobo, The King of Currumpaw” in 1898, four years after his first appearance. The story anchored a short story collection in Wild Animals I Have Known. It was, in its way, the first Lobo graphic novel.

Seton illustrated the Lobo story (depending upon the edition) with more than twenty drawings. He referred to Lobo several times in later books and often in his lectures. Lobo has now appeared yet again in a newly illustrated version the story. The Academy for the Love of Learning has just released a graphic novel, Lobo, The King of Currumpaw, The World’s Greatest Wolf Story. Forty-eight artists created fifty-five illustrations for the latest re-telling of the story.

A new art exhibition

The original art premiered on Sunday, August 12 at the Academy’s Seton Gallery. The opening reception attracted an attendance of over 150 (including more than twenty of the artists). This also marked the debut of the graphic novel.

Each artist was given one section of text from the story to illustrate on a 20 x 15” board. Their only instruction was to create an original work of art in reaction to the text. They used whatever medium they wished—painting, drawing, prints, and collage. The artists worked independently from one another.

The visual result is remarkably evocative of the landscape and challenges faced by Lobo, of the violence and loyalty of wolf life, and of the role Seton himself played in this drama. There were as many different artistic approaches as there were artists. Lobo and his story continue to inspire us in the Twenty-first Century, much as he did in the Nineteenth.

Wolves still in trouble

And yet, the tragic theme of wolf killing in that earlier century continues to repeat itself in our own time. The two wolf subspecies living in northeastern New Mexico where the Lobo story was set are long extinct. Today, the remaining subspecies, the Mexican Gray Wolf, is similarly beleaguered.

The names change. The stories remain much the same.

Hunt for Lobo Continues Today

Lobo wolf at night by Ernest Thompson Seton
Lobo wolf at night by Ernest Thompson Seton

Part I

Seton had planned to spend the winter of 1893-1894 at his home in Toronto, and with luck, in New York as well. His professional future as an illustrator (and later, as a writer) resided in the American city. His manic work schedule, however, resulted in severe eye strain. A doctor advised him to take a break from the drawing board and try something else. I have not found the name of that medico, but his advice for a change of venue set Seton on a new track. This included coming up with ideas resulting in worldwide Scouting and mass marketing of wildlife conservation.

The Intervening Step

That step was traveling to far-away New Mexico to hunt wolves in October 1893. Over a year earlier Seton had met a young New Jersey woman, Virginia Fitz Randolph. Renewing their acquaintance back in the States (he was by then spending time with her younger sister Caroline), he met their father Louis. An absentee ranch owner, Louis V. Fitz Randolph was losing money on his cattle operation due to wolf predation. Seton, described by Fitz Randolph as “my wolf killing friend” wrote up a business agreement on October 6 outlining two month’s work. Within days Seton was on his way to Clayton to begin the extermination process.

I have already given the story so will skip to the post-script issue: What happened to Lobo and Blanca after their deaths? And for that matter, what about the other four wolves Seton killed that winter? I’ll get to the other five in another posting and here will start with Lobo.

Seton kept Lobo’s skull, or at least a wolf skull he claimed to be that of Lobo. Contained in Seton’s files (and now at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa) is a letter from Caroline. Dated March 13, 1895, she acknowledged a special gift:

 

My dear Mr. Thompson

At last the head of your victim has come, am very proud of it and delighted am I. It is the very best thing of the kind that I have ever seen, and I am already attached to it as the glory of my modest possessions….

Mother[?] says that she can’t bear to meet Lobo’s eye – she fancies that he has a “Mr. Hyde” sort of sneer, a look as though he might be the evil side of a human [ ? ], but for me, I love Lobo. He fascinates and attracts me, and his quaint [ ? ] and [ ? ] charms and satisfy me afresh every time I glance at him. I shall consult Julie [ ? ] before having his mounted and protected. But have a notion of my own that I should like him in a [ ? ] band of plain ebony with a tiny sample rim of gold inside – to signify le rir est mort. Does that sound right and fitting, oh mighty conquerer?

I have said a great deal, but somehow seem to have fallen short of telling you how good you are to me to send me Lobo, and how warmly I appreciate your kindness. I’ve not written

[The letter ends at this point, although it must have continued on another, now lost page.]

Caroline wrote on letterhead showing their address as Front Street & Farragut Road, Plainfield, New Jersey. Some years ago, a correspondent at the Historical Society of Plainfield, New Jersey confirmed for me that Lewis Fitz Randolph and his wife Emily Caroline had a daughter named Caroline. Lewis apparently was prosperous, purchasing “a lot of property” following the Civil War. Caroline eventually married, but we did not find her married name. Did the “Lobo” skull survive?

The Iliad of Lobo and Seton

Illustration from Lobo graphic novel by Matthew Chase-Daniel
Illustration from Lobo graphic novel by Matthew Chase-Daniel

Seton wrote Lobo story in slightly fictionalized form. At its conclusion we know the fate of Lobo and Blanca, but not that of Seton. His attitudes about hunting and trapping unfolded through lectures and additional books in the early 20th century.

The meaning of the story became clear only after a decade passed from its original 1894 publication. He became increasingly adamant about the need to protect wild nature. In 1901 he wrote,

“I have been bitterly denounced, first, for killing Lobo; second, and chiefly, for telling of it, to the distress of many tender hearts. To this I reply: In what frame of mind are my hearers left with regard to the animal? Are their sympathies quickened toward the man who killed him, or toward the noble creature who, superior to every trial, died as he had lived, dignified, fearless, and steadfast?”

The story ended without our knowing that on the day of Lobo’s death Seton unexpectedly decided to leave New Mexico. Having touched Lobo and looked into his eyes, the wolf hunter could not bring himself to hunt another wolf. Ever. Nor could he remain in the place where Lobo’s death occurred.

I explained Seton’s personal transformation from wildlife killer to wildlife protector in Ernest Thompson Seton, The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist. The three-months covered in the Lobo story may be the most important period of Seton’s life. It was part of a longer nature journey beginning on the Canadian frontier and ending decades later in Santa Fe. The man who hunted Lobo and Blanca later came to bitterly denounce the wanton and senseless destructions of our wild relatives.

Ancient History

The importance of this relatively short period to the longer struggle has a literary antecedent, another, much earlier tragedy.

The Iliad of Homer describes just two weeks of the ten-year Achaean siege of Ilium.  Or two weeks of twenty years if one includes the subsequent travels of Odysseus. The Achaeans were Hellenistic peoples of the heroic Mycenaean period when the gods of Olympus were believed to have taken an active role in the lives of men at the siege of Troy and elsewhere. (Subsequently, following the mysterious fall of Mycenae, the gods retreated, and these peoples became recognizable in history as Greeks.)

Two warriors, Achilles and Hector, representing their respective armies, are pitted against one another. They have (at the start at least) no special antipathy for one another. They have no reason to be at each other’s throats except that terrible circumstances have brought them together. Achilles is fated to win their deadly competition because of his special advantages. This increases the pathos of the humiliating and ultimately pointless death of Hector. There is no honor in the way Achilles kills Hector, although Achilles is otherwise an honorable man by the standards of his time.

Similarly, the great warrior wolf Lobo wants nothing of this war with the invincible Seton, who for his part, holds no antipathy for Lobo. Their conflict is for Seton just a job he has traveled to from a faraway land. Seton gives us a hint that his attitude towards Lobo and consciousness about animals in general is beginning to change. The rest of his story, like that of Odysseus, comes later.

By 1901 in Lives of the Hunted, Seton seems to recognize the shallowness of his victory. (See quote above.) In 1905, he tells of witnessing another wolf hunt, but one in which he refuses to participate. He wrote “Badlands Billy: The Wolf that Won,” in Animal Heroes. Billy survived his encounter with human enemies, much to Seton’s approval.

It is only by knowing this sequel that we can understand the meaning of Seton’s life. The death of Lobo changed first Seton and then the world. I am tempted to write that maybe, knowing the outcome of Seton’s journey, we can begin to forgive him for his murder of Lobo. Or maybe not. Seton did not ask our forgiveness for his heinous act against the wolf. But without Lobo, there would have been no Seton Legacy. Seton learned important lessons about himself and about wildlife from his three months in New Mexico. One could read the balance of his life as a kind of atonement.

In another 3000 years our civilization may be as mysterious to the people of that time as that of the Achaeans is to us. The story of Lobo and Blanca will have become mythical, its author a shadowy legend. They will marvel at our pointless cruelty and mourn for that earlier time when the howl of the wolf could be heard in the West and was its most beautiful sound.

{The graphic novel based on Lobo, The King of Currumpaw, will be released on August 12. Original art work illustrations from the novel will be featured on the walls of the Seton Gallery. For more information, contact the Academy for the Love of Learning.}

Lobo’s Story of wolf hunting in New Mexico

Detail of illustration from Lobo graphic novel by Jamison Chās Banks
Detail of illustration from Lobo graphic novel by Jamison Chās Banks

First introduced as a long form story in 1894, “Lobo, the King of Currumpaw,” became a star because of Seton’s 1898 book, Wild Animals I Have Known. Lobo’s story has resonated ever since, re-issued many times. It has also been re-imagined. British illustrator William Grill published his own graphic novel, The Wolves of Currumpaw in 2016.

A satirical version (which appeared to have been influenced by my book on Seton) appeared on an American television network a few years ago. Even earlier, BBC and PBS ran slightly different versions of a Lobo documentary. Occasionally I hear a rumor that another literary or cinematic version may be in the works.

This August, the Academy for the Love of Learning releases its own graphic novel of Lobo’s story. That is a lot of attention for a wolf who died over a century ago. Seton wrote:

“Lobo lived his wild romantic life from 1889 to 1894 in the Currumpaw region, as the ranchmen know too well, and died, precisely as related, on January 31, 1894. The fact that these stories are true is the reason why all are tragic. The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end.”

This December marks the 120th anniversary of Wild Animals I Have Known. Lobo’s story is the most popular in a collection that includes many fine works. Seton gives a first-person account of pursuing the brave and noble Lobo.

Spoiler alert: Synopsis of the story follows, including its ending.

The setting: northeastern New Mexico, October 1893 – February 1894 in the area now known as Union County. (It separated from Colfax County in January 1894.) Broad tablelands cut deep arroyos. Rising from the flanks of two volcanoes, Sierra Grande and Capulin (now a National Monument) the intermittent flow of Corrumpa Creek crosses eastward over dozens of semi-arid miles toward the town of Clayton. Seton hunted wolves here. Although somewhat embellished, Seton presents Lobo’s story much as is actually happened.

Part 1: A large gray wolf, leader of a five-wolf pack, preyed upon Currumpaw Valley cattle in the late 19th century. Known as “Old Lobo,” he gained a reputation as the largest, smartest, and loudest of his kindred. The pack included a white-coated female, Blanca.

These animals were occasionally spotted in the distance by cowboys and shepherds. The wolf pack took a terrible toll on herds and flocks. The problem was made worse by the wolves’ habit of eating only animals they freshly killed.  All attempts to hunt or poison the wolves met with failure. A thousand-dollar reward offered for Lobo’s hide brought in bounty hunters. But the hunters wore out their horses and mourned the loss of large wolf-hounds killed by the even larger wolves. All seemed hopeless from the rancher standpoint.

Part 2: The narrator of the story (Seton), formerly a wolf hunter (in Canada) had for some time made his living at a “stool and desk” as a commercial artist specializing in wildlife illustration. An acquaintance, a ranch owner on the Currumpaw, invited Seton to New Mexico to deal with the wolf problem.

Seton’s approach was to scatter poisoned meat and lay out baited traps. He made every effort to hide any hint of human scent from the traps. But Lobo seemed to taunt him, gathering up baits and scattering “filth” over them. The wolf kicked rocks onto hidden traps, springing them. When Seton hid traps in devious patterns Lobo backed out them unharmed. Nothing worked.

Part 3: After weeks of unrewarded effort, during which Seton made acute observation of wolf habits and ecological role, he noticed something important. While the wolf pack generally stayed behind Lobo, he discovered that Blanca sometimes ran heedlessly ahead. Seton changed tactics. Rather than continue his fruitless efforts to trap Lobo, he instead turned his efforts toward Blanca.

Seton came up with a devious plan. He set out six steel leg traps near a freshly killed cow knowing that Lobo would find and disable them. He removed the head and tossed it casually aside. He buried two traps under the dirt by the head, knowing that wolves would not eat it, and knowing that Lobo would not approach, but betting that one of the others might investigate while Lobo busied himself disabling the other traps.

The following morning Seton returned to find the cow head gone along with one of the traps, dragged away by a strong wolf. He followed the trail for a mile, finding poor Blanca still in the trap and hopelessly dragging the heavy steer head behind her. Despite her terrible situation, Blanca turned to fight with the last of her strength, howling for Lobo, who howled in return. But Lobo could do nothing against men with guns. Seton killed her in a manner he came to regret.

He returned to the ranch with her body. All night the cañons reverberated with the plaintive cries of the bereft Lobo. “It was sadder than I could possibly have believed.” Lobo prowled about the ranch in the dark.

Seton came up with another trick to use against Lobo. On horseback, he dragged Blanca’s body through a field to set out a chaotic pattern that Lobo would attempt to follow. Counting on Lobo’s love and loyalty for his mate, he set out many traps.

Attracted by her scent, the heartbroken wolf did indeed come looking for Blanca.

Seton found Lobo caught in three of four traps. Like Blanca, Lobo made ready to fight upon his antagonist’s approach, even biting through and severing a lasso thrown over his neck. Seton aimed at the animal with his rifle but at the last possible instant, held back, unable to carry out the execution.

Seton and a cowboy threw a stick and heavy cord to the wolf who bit into the stick and became entangled in the cord; they drew the cord tight to close his massive jaw. Unable to bite, Lobo ceased all resistance. They threw the wolf over a saddled horse and returned with him to the ranch. Now a prisoner, Lobo silently watched his passing kingdom.

At the ranch, they secured Lobo with a collar and strong chain, removing the stick and cord from his mouth. Seton offered the wolf water and meat which Lobo ignored. Seton closely examined the wolf, looking into Lobo’s eyes, reaching out and touching him. The wolf just stared out onto the prairie where he and Blanca had roamed free.

During the night Lobo died, the spirit gone out of him. He could not tolerate the loss of strength, the loss of his freedom, and the loss of his beloved mate. Seton placed his body next to the remains of Blanca, reuniting them.

I will not be giving too much away by mentioning that Seton never killed another wolf. Lobo’s death changed Seton, directly influencing much he would accomplish in the world.

The King of Currumpaw exhibition opens at the Academy for the Love of Learning on Sunday August 12 from 2 to 4 pm.