Salutation, Burroughs to Roosevelt

Ernest Thompson Seton read books by John Burroughs as a young man, inspired by the older man’s love of nature. This made the shock all the greater when Burroughs attacked him during the Nature Faker controversy of 1903-04. He publicly brushed it off, “but it did not mean that I was not hurt deeply,” Seton wrote in his autobiography.

Seton claimed to have confronted the ancient naturalist about his (Burroughs) complete lack of knowledge about wolves during a dinner for writers hosted by Andrew Carnegie. The flustered Burroughs “broke down and wept” while admitting his error and acknowledging Seton as the master of this subject. Until someone finds a collaborating witness, I will remain skeptical of Seton’s claim.

Eventually the two of them reconciled. They lobbied politicians in Washington, D. C. in January 1913 for passage of the Weeks-McLean Act, a vital piece of early environmental legislation.

The reconciliation, however, came much earlier. During the summer of 1906, Burroughs accepted an invitation from Seton to visit a summer camp of the Woodcraft Indians, the still fledgling but increasingly popular youth movement. Burroughs must have been mightily impressed: he sent a letter of recommendation to his close friend Theodore Roosevelt introducing the President to the outdoor youth movement. In later years, Roosevelt took an active role in promoting the Boy Scouts of America. This letter is where that trajectory began.

The Letter To The President

West Park NY July 2, 1906

Dear President Roosevelt,

I congratulate you on your return to Oyster Bay after your glorious {…} work at the capital.

Mr. Gilders letter which I enclose, will explain itself. I agree with Mr. Gilder that Thompson-Seton has got hold of a big thing in his boys Indian Camp and am thinking that you and Mrs. Roosevelt would enjoy seeing he is doing. I have been once and was much impressed with it all and with the grand results to the boys that are seen to flow from his scheme. All the boys wild with energy and full of deviltry are turned into new channels, he is taught manual craft and natural history and Indian lore in a most fascinating way. I really think it is well worthy of your attention and encouragement.

Hoping I shall see you before the season is over.

I am your faithful Oom John [Burroughs]

Letter from John Burroughs to Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

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