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Did Baden-Powell Plagiarize Ernest Thompson Seton?
A contribution from David C Scott

In my previous article, I suggested that Ernest Thompson Seton was 'picking a fight' with Robert Baden-Powell (B-P) about the issue of intellectual plagiarism. Depending upon whom one talks to, and how much they have studied this issue, individual opinions will vary greatly. In the woodcrafting community today, (and by 'woodcrafting' I refer to both B-P's and Seton's schemes), there are staunch supporters on both sides, and neither community is willing to budge from their fundamental position. Unlike them, however, I have predictably waffled back and forth ever since I began researching this destructive drama several years ago. But eventually, even I came to a position that I could comfortably defend. And this is the argument that I detail in this article.
I believe that this yet unresolved topic is one of the most understudied, divisive and controversial issues in our worldwide brotherhood and it needs to be examined closely. So with the objective of presenting the facts, I begin my exploration into the abyss of one Scouting's dark sides.
Therefore I now ask, "Was Lt. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell a plagiarist or an assembler of other people's better ideas?"
David C Scott


Transitive senses: To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source

Intransitive senses: To commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

- Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2003

Destructive Roots

Cabinet Photograph, 1903
"It may interest you to know that I had been drawing up a scheme, with a handbook to it for the education of boys as scouts - which curiously runs much on the lines of yours. So I need hardly say your work has a very special interest to me."
- Robert Baden-Powell in a letter to Seton, 1 August 1906

After being sent several instalments of Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell in 1908, Seton was "astounded to find my ideas taken, all my games appropriated, disguised with new names, the essentials of my plan utilized, and not a word of acknowledgement to me, or explanation why I should be left out of a movement that I began."
- Ernest Thompson Seton, January 1910

"There is not an important idea in Scouting for Boys that I did not publish years ago in Two Little Savages"
- Seton in a letter to Baden-Powell, 24 April 1910

"There are many Fathers [of Scouting]. I am only one of the Uncles I might say."
- Baden-Powell in his Waldorf Astoria address, 23 September 1910

B-P's Early Vision

BY the end of May 1900, near the mid-point of the Second Boer War, Maj. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell was a noted British national hero. All of this recognition resulted from his remarkable defense of the South African railway town of Mafeking. And because of that recognition, his red little instruction guide for army scouts, entitled Aids to Scouting, received a large amount of attention back home in England. Specifically, many British boys were buying the manual in order to learn how to be an army scout in the great man's image; a phenomenon that was not missed by some budding capitalists.

Boys of the Empire

Ready to exploit this large market, the editor of a boy's magazine entitled The Boys of the Empire made a deal with Gale & Polden's Ltd., the publishers of Aids to Scouting, to serialize the work for its schoolboy audience. The first of these parts appeared on the 3rd of November 1900.

In the first article, B-P expounds upon the four characteristics that all peacetime scouts must have; pluck, self-reliance, confidence and discretion. Of pluck, he states, "How much higher, then, is the pluck of the single scout who goes on some risky enterprise, alone, on his own account, taking his life in his hand, when it is quite possible for him to go back without anybody being the wiser." Self-reliance, he notes is "the ability . . . to be able to see what is the right line to take according to circumstances, without wanting an officer or non-commissioned officer at your elbow to tell what exactly to do." With regard to discretion, this characteristic results from combining pluck and self-reliance by which, "you can go into the danger and get through it all right," which leads B-P to describe confidence, as the "secret ingredient" of them all.

It is obvious in B-P's concept of Scouting at that time, that boys were future army personnel and he guided them in that direction. I add that this idea is wholly consistent with the psychology of a military General. To illustrate this statement, I make note of two contemporary correspondences. The first is an editorial on page 43 of Boys of the Empire, in which the editor quotes a B-P letter to an Eastbourne schoolboy:

"You will make a good soldier, I expect. But one thing you must learn before you can be a good soldier, and that is to be very obedient to your superior officers - that is, while you are a boy to be obedient to your father, and to your schoolmaster, and to the captain of your cricket or football team; and when you become a real soldier you will know how to obey your officers in every little thing. It is no use being a big or strong soldier unless you are an obedient one."

The second correspondence is a newly-surfaced letter to a young English boy written on the 17th of January 1901 in which B-P, the Inspector-General of the South African Constabulary at the time, writes:B-P 1901 Letter

"I have heard from your father that you want to join my Police. You are not quite old enough yet - and as I cannot keep the force waiting for you till you grow up, you must do your best to grow up quickly and become a man by making yourself strong, and truthful, and obedient, so as to be ready to become a soldier when you are big enough."

But, even in leading boys into the military in the earliest parts of the 20th century, B-P successfully identifies several of his permanent scouting concepts like his reference to "obedience", which is one of the Scout Laws, and "do your best", the slogan from his eventual Wolf Cub Program.

Additionally, pluck equals the first scout law that "A Scout's Honour is to be Trusted." Self-reliance and discretion equate to the first part of the scout's motto, "Be Prepared in Mind", while confidence equals the second part of the scout's motto, "Be Prepared in Body". Finally, the concept that "A Scout Obeys Orders", otherwise defined, as "A Scout is Obedient", permeates through them all.

On the 30th of April 1904, B-P was acting as the reviewing officer for the Boys' Brigade Drill Inspection at the request of its founder, William Alexander Smith. Nearing the end of the review on the Yorkhill Drill Grounds in Glasgow, Scotland, B-P turned to Smith and suggested that his Boys' Brigade membership should be much bigger at this point in its development.B-P Pretoria 1900 Smith looked back at the General and challenged him to develop his own boy program based upon his own book, Aids to Scouting. Feeling rather upbeat, B-P returned to his headquarters and wrote up a report for Smith, which included a critique of the review along with a series of suggestions for the improvement of the Brigade. Although few of B-P's suggestions were actually implemented, Smith did allow the formation of Brigade patrols that followed B-P's teachings. Although the General's thoughts on physical fitness and on the powers of observation never made their way into the Brigade, they did find their way into B-P's own scouting program.

On the 22nd of December 1904, the Eton College Chronicle published B-P's Letter to the Editor that introduces his preliminary treatise on youth training. In this letter, B-P notes that boys should do their country a good turn, promote a spirit of patriotism, review the practices of the Medieval Knights, join together in small groups called 'clumps', promote traditional chivalric rules of conduct and practice using firearms.

Regarding these rules of conduct, B-P calls them 'Forms of Engagement'. Also included in this treatise is a fetal version of the eventual Scout Oath along with his prediction of its ultimate results for the Empire.

"The duties of the Knight of old and their retainers were these:
  1. to fear God
  2. honour the King
  3. help the weak and distressed
  4. [have] reverence to women and be kind to children
  5. train themselves to the use of arms for defense of their country
  6. sacrifice themselves, their amusements, their property, and, if necessary, their lives for the good of their fellow-countrymen.
"I promise on my honour, to be loyal to the King and to back up my commander in carrying out our duty in each of the above particulars. Note - If a fellow breaks his word of honour by not carrying out the above engagement after signing it, he incurs one punishment only, and that is Dismissal, because he is no longer fit to be a comrade of the others.

"Now, if two hundred volunteers carried out this idea and each trained ten boys this Christmas, we should have 2,000 retainers trained and ready to defend their country the moment that Government wanted them and put rifle in their hands . . . If they make a good start other schools will of course follow their example and in a very short time England would have 50,000 or more boys training the right way."
(My italics)

Without question, B-P is thinking of scouting solely in its military form with the reference to "training the right way". But beyond that distinction, B-P believes that boys would only prosper if they were required to recapture the glory of England's romantic past, of which Honour and Duty are paramount. Although the General wrote of many other qualities that a Boy Scout should have, all of them are built around the two core principles of Honour and Duty.

But no matter how B-P marketed his new movement in 1908, all that Seton saw was a military base surrounded by military versions of his plagiarized woodcraft games. And therefore, he had a great dislike for that type of training and he made it known publicly: "My aim," he said, "was to make a man; Baden-Powell's to make a soldier." Seton also attacked the Scout's Motto suggesting that; "Be prepared (for war)" was actually inferred. Furthermore, he denounced the homogeneity of the Scouting uniform, and criticized the points of the Scout's Law that requires a scout have "unquestioned obedience to parents, patrol leaders, and scoutmasters, and patriotic loyalty to church and state." Seton claims:

"You run the risk of making a lot of little prigs now [out of children] and disrupting their steady development into citizens of high and independent character . . . It is like forcing an orchid to flower two seasons ahead, by using chemicals . . . Yet it blooms, but dies early, and . . . never seeds."

Seton had a different way to train boys and it worked very well, at least for a while.

Seton's Views

IN May of 1902, Ernest Thompson Seton formally began the Woodcraft Movement with the issuance of a series of seven articles in the Ladies' Home Journal (LHJ) magazine entitled, Ernest Thompson Seton's Boys. By the time that all seven issues were published, many Woodcraft Tribes were springing-up amongst the readership of this widely distributed American magazine. In fact, his ideas were so popular that numerous requests for reprints were processed at the home office of the LHJ at the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1903, Seton's own response to this demand was to consolidate these seven articles and re-publish them as a pamphlet entitled How to Play Injun.

Seton's Indians Cover

By late 1904, the Woodcraft concept had traveled overseas to Great Britain, in which several start-up tribes called home. Recognizing this, Seton set-off to England to lecture on Woodcraft and to promote his books Two Little Savages and Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac. On the 13th of October, Seton delivered a new lecture in his repertoire to a packed house at the Congregational Church in London entitled The Red Indian as I Knew Him. Subsequent talks during that trip occurred at public schools and colleges over the next couple of months. In fact, after a lecture on the 8th of November, a camp was established in Eccles, England followed by new camps in Hove, New Brighton and Kent Hatch. Unfortunately, by 1908 each of these five tribes had disbanded.

Seton Lecture Flyer 1901

In the early part of 1906, Seton published the fifth edition of the Birch-Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians.

(NOTE: Although Seton himself specified the 1902 LHJ articles as the first edition of the BBR, technically only the 1906 edition can be designated as the first actual use of the title Birch-Bark Roll. Only then can it be characterized as the proto-typical scouting handbook, the same handbook which was closely examined and readily utilized by B-P when authoring Scouting for Boys in late 1907 and early 1908).

In March of 1906, Seton was back in England to make another speaking tour. This time, the audience included the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, whom afterward introduced him to British Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts. Roberts, who had been Her Majesty's Supreme Commander of Forces in South Africa during the first part of the Second Boer War, had a keen interest in the possibilities of Woodcraft. It was, in fact, Lord Roberts, who discussed this program with B-P. As a result, B-P submitted his first plan for the 'Training of Boys in Scouting' to Roberts on the 6th of May 1906 for his review and critique.

Bobs Curio Card

In the summer of 1906, Seton, having recently returned from his tour of Great Britain, hosted his annual weeklong Woodcraft summer camp on his Wyndygoul estate in Connecticut for a new set of campers arriving on the 5th of July. At the time, it was common for Seton to invite various dignitaries to attend and to observe his camps, and there is one report that suggests that B-P did just that during the prior year of 1905.

According to a boy participant at that camp named Leonard S Clark, he recalled an Englishman named Robert S S Baden-Powell as attending the camp as a guest of the Camp Fire Club of America, an organization that was founded in 1897 by noted naturalist William T Hornaday on the staunch conviction "that animals had a right to live regardless of their usefulness to man." Its membership roll included Seton, noted artist and woodsman Daniel Carter Beard, President Theodore Roosevelt, as well as popular Western novelist Zane Grey.

Although this account is sketchy, it is known that B-P was, in fact, in North America on a five-day military tour of Canada and Niagara Falls in the summer of 1905. Therefore, it follows that he may have come over the border into Connecticut, provided that he had the time and the desire. Yet if this incident were true, then I would expect more citations in other scholarly works. As it stands now, this story is only revealed in this 1976 interview with the 84-year-old Clark.

Regardless of the accuracy of Clark's memory, Seton biographer, H Alan Anderson, tells that the naturalist wrote a letter to the vacationing B-P at the home of publisher C. Arthur Pearson at the urging of Lord Roberts in July of 1906. Specifically, Seton was inquiring into how much interest the General had in helping him to popularize the Woodcraft Movement in England. Along with this letter, he also sent a complimentary copy of the sixth edition of his latest work entitled The Birch-Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians.

In a letter back to Seton dated the 1st of August 1906, B-P wrote,

"I am sincerely grateful to you for your kindness in forwarding me your interesting Birch Bark. It may interest you to know that I had been drawing up a scheme with a handbook to it, for the education of boys as scouts - which essentially runs along the same lines of yours. So I need scarcely say that your work has a very special interest to me. I should very much like to meet you if you are at any time in England - and in any case if you should allow me to send you a copy of my scheme later on (it is not yet printed completely), and give me your criticism of it I should be very grateful indeed."

The Feud Begins

ON the 30th of October 1906, the two Woodcraft visionaries met for lunch at London's posh Savoy Hotel. This event marked the first time that these two men would actively work together and exchange ideas to produce a camping program for boys both in Great Britain as well as in the United States. At this meeting Seton asked B-P to revise and edit the content of the Birch-Bark Roll for future editions, in order to make it more appealing to his young readers. It was also during this meeting that Seton claimed that B-P stole several of his ideas that he eventually used in his own English scouting scheme. One of these allegations involved B-P's development of his movement's individual marks of distinction called 'proficiency awards'.

Baden-Powell's biographer, Tim Jeal, tells that by late 1906, Seton had developed 150 'wampum medals' for personal achievement made from shells that were "engraved with the symbol of the deed for which it was given". On the other side of the argument, Jeal also points out that B-P had developed insignia for the army scouts of the 5th Dragoon Guards during his tenure in India in the 1890's. But, is it fair to assume that B-P had never established some sort of 'merit based' awards system?

In fact, during his military service, B-P had been in charge of locating and training the poorest marksmen in his regiment. At the time, it had been suggested to him that the only way to get them to improve their shooting was to authorize a pay bump of ten pence day. However, B-P suggested a different solution in order to "save the nation's purse", and that solution involved the earning of a personal recognition: a distinguishing uniform badge.

So, based upon this fact, is it fair to Seton that B-P be accorded the honour of creating the first 'proficiency award'? Absolutely not. That would be as ludicrous as claiming that Seton plagiarized B-P's 'idea of proficiency awards'. But for years Seton cried plagiarism.

So, to put an end to the nagging issue, B-P wrote an article for the July 1928 issue of the BSA's official magazine, Boys' Life, in which he succinctly states the origins of his English proficiency awards system, an article which some historians regard as fiction. But in addition to these comments, B-P also makes several obvious verbal jabs at Seton and at his undying claims of plagiarism:

"Years ago, soon after the Boy Scouts were first started in America, certain critics accused the Movement as being a military one. Whenever anything new is started there are bound to be people who get up on their hind legs to find fault with it, often before that know what it is all about. In this case they said that the Scout Movement was designed to teach the boys to be soldiers . . . The badges of proficiency, I adopted from the Royal Navy; the Woodcraft signs and signals were the usual ones employed by backwoodsmen . . . Thus, in forming the Boy Scouts I adopted steps from all directions."

More Problems and Apologies

OTHER 'borrowings', according to Seton, were the animal or bird symbols, along with their vocalized calls, that a patrol used to identify itself. In the Woodcraft movement, Seton used them to identify individual 'bands' of Woodcrafters.

But the biggest problems were published (and not published) in Scouting for Boys. Initially, B-P utilized five of Seton's games in the fortnightly series of Scouting for Boys issued from January through March of 1908, but he failed to credit Seton on two of them in the specific places that they actually appear in the series. These two games are called 'Quick Sight' & 'Spot the Rabbit'. I believe that these omissions were an oversight on the part of B-P, because the other three games each credit Seton immediately after their official introductions in the series.

Even so, B-P did summarily credit Seton for them all in Part Six on page 365 in the Scouting Games, Practices, and Displays section, under the heading, Notes to Instructors:

"Several of the games given here are founded on those in Mr. Thompson Seton's Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, called Spearing the Sturgeon (Whale Hunt), Quick Sight (Spotty Face), Spot the Rabbit, Bang the Bear, Hostile Spy (Stop a Thief), etc. A number of non-scouting games are quoted from the book Social - to Save."

Jeal incorrectly notes that this credit was first given to Seton in a 1909 edition of Scouting for Boys, but as you now know, it was actually done in the original fortnightly series.

However, this acknowledgement did little to placate Seton who wrote to B-P saying:

"When first your Scouting for Boys appeared, in 1908, I was astounded to find all my ideas taken, all my games appropriated, disguised with new names, the essentials of my plan utilized, and not a word of acknowledgement to me, or explanation why I should be left out of a movement that I began. At once I wrote a friendly letter of protest, asking why you had used all my ideas and all my games and given me no credit.

"You merely stated later that several of the games were founded on those wholly invented by me; which is an error. Not some, but nearly all of them are taken wholly from the games slowly perfected by much actual practice and copyrighted by myself, and nothing is said about the most important thing of all, that the whole idea was originated by me and founded in England in 1904."

As it turns out, however, it seems that this is the main incident that Seton uses for his most vehement cries of plagiarism.

But the glaring problem with his argument, this time, is that he started his shouts of 'stealing' before he saw the final product. Seton wrote to B-P of his disappointment for not being credited in the series, prior to the publication of Instalment Five on the 15th of March 1908 (NOTE: I will address the Scouting for Boys 'crediting' issue in depth later in this article).

Although we have no copy of the 'friendly letter' to which Seton refers in the above quotation, it can be assumed that it was written prior to B-P's response to it dated the 14th of March 1908. B-P wrote of the alleged "issue of a lack of credit":

"Thank you very much for your kind letter. I much regret that I should have omitted mentioning the source of several of the games as being taken from your Birch-Bark Roll, but the truth is I had made a general statement to that effect in the introduction to the book which I afterwards cut out from at the beginning and have inserted it at the end where you will see it in Part 6. But in doing this I had not reflected that the remarks giving the authorship of the games would not be read by the people until after the games had appeared before them. I very much regret this oversight. It is very kind of you to take it in the good-natured way in which you have."

Baden-Powell's response is clearly an issue of him being diplomatic and respectful, because his acknowledgement of Seton's work is undeniably mentioned numerous times in Scouting for Boys.

And if that was not enough, along with the repeated statement of this acknowledgement in subsequent printings of Scouting for Boys, on the 5th of February 1910, B-P published an letter in The Scout magazine - the official magazine for his Movement - in which he again credits Seton as being the creator of these games:

"I wish to take this opportunity for expressing my indebtedness to that great authority on woodcraft [Seton] for his very valuable assistance. I hope that the future may bring opportunities for the Boy Scouts and their American cousins, the Woodcraft Indians, to meet each other and to establish the bond of comradeship which ought to exist between them."

But this time, B-P also publicly addresses several of Seton's claims of plagiarism:

"Scouting for boys, [sic] together with its badges, etc. was founded upon scouting for soldiers, which we started in India in 1898; and when I met Mr. Seton [at the Savoy Hotel] I got several useful hints from him personally, and from his book, for our organization."

And finally, in the Fourth Edition (Enlarged and Revised) of Scouting for Boys printed in October of 1911, B-P reiterates his debt to Seton in the closing of the Preface:

"I beg to offer my sincere thanks to those who have, by their kind suggestions, helped so much in the completion of this work, and to Mr. Ernest Thompson Seton, to whose Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, I am indebted for some valuable hints and games."

But even after all of this, Seton biographer, Betty Keller, in her 1984 book, Black Wolf, overlooks or possibly even ignores these acknowledgements in which she incorrectly states, "In spite of Seton's continuing protests, Baden-Powell did not give Seton credit in future editions."

Who really used whom?

OF course, all of this 'plagiarism' or 'oversight' or 'borrowing' or 'cribbing' or whatever else you want to call it, took place after the Savoy Hotel meeting. The agreement that allegedly was reached during the meeting is also somewhat suspect. As Jeal records, sometime during lunch, Seton proposed that B-P, in effect, be his 'assistant' to promote Woodcraft in the United Kingdom. And that may have been the case for the subsequent two years.

But in 1908, Seton wrote that B-P had "welched on the agreement" by taking Seton's ideas and going it alone. Furthermore, Seton alleged that, "General Baden-Powell . . . worked for me for two years and in 1908 gave the movement a great popular boom by changing the name of the Woodcraft Indians to Boy Scouts." The day after this very eventful Savoy Hotel meeting on the 31st of October 1906, B-P wrote to Seton, in which he states:Mafeking is Relieved Post Card

"I enclose a kind of preliminary notice which I sent out early this year [to William Smith] regarding my scheme of 'Boy Scouts' . . . You will see that our principles seem practically identical - except that mine does not necessarily make its own organization - it is applicable to existing ones: if we can work together in the same direction I should be very glad indeed."

So, Seton should have had realized that each of them was working on a competing product, and therein lies the major problem with his overall claims of plagiarism. To use a business analogy, B-P was like a company researching its potential entry into a market and performing due diligence on its competition; and the Woodcraft Indians organization was the competition. And at the Savoy Hotel, Seton made B-P's intelligence gathering all too easy. So, if the General can be charged with initiating corporate espionage, then the esteemed naturalist can be charged with committing corporate suicide by being excessively forthright with proprietary information.

Gallant Little Mafeking

So, does this analogy make Seton out to be some sort of overly trusting soul or make B-P into some type of conniving spy? I think not. It merely illustrates the point that there was a complete and total misunderstanding between these two Woodcraft visionaries at the time. And in reality, when this issue is examined more closely, who really was trying to use whom? This knife cuts both ways.

Because, it is very important to remember that B-P's fame was clearly of international proportions. Newspapers across the globe reported daily updates on the Siege of Mafeking in 1899 and 1900. Seton, on the other hand, was more of a North American success story. There was no question that he was a highly successful author and lecturer and was also very well known in prominent American social circles, but his notoriety did not reach as far across the oceans as B-P's did.Boys' Brigade Cig Card And that is why he sought-out and solicited some much-needed help from the 'Hero of Mafeking'.

Originally, all that B-P ever wanted to do with his scheme was to incorporate his ideas into the programs of other scout-like organizations that were already in existence, like the Boys' Brigade, the Church Lads' Brigade and the YMCA. But as it turns out, B-P's creation was so popular with the masses that he had to, in Seton's words, "go it alone" and immediately set up his own independent management infrastructure. Seton, on the other hand, always wanted his scheme to stand on its own as an independent organization, but in order to do so it had to have a large membership roll.

But in the end, I think that B-P took Seton's criticism pretty well. However, that did not keep him from tossing the occasional verbal barb in Seton's direction. I refer to a 1916 letter to Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) Chief Executive, Dr. James West, in which B-P states:

"[Seton's] statement that he and I together organized the Boy Scouts in England in 1908 and in America in 1910 is news to me! However, I am proud to have been associated with it."

As we know from our Scouting history, B-P organized his first Boy Scout camp on the Island of Brownsea in Poole Harbour in the late summer of 1907. As I detailed in my previous article, B-P used Seton's Two Little Savages as a partial text for his camp activities. Now, had B-P's Brownsea Island Experiment been a failure at that point, then I would not be writing this article. But it was not. As you probably know, it was a complete success. Thereby, B-P's wildly popular movement began in the United Kingdom in early 1908 with the issuance of the first fortnightly instalment of Scouting for Boys. And, on the 3rd Wednesday of the year 1908, Ernest Thompson Seton's Woodcraft Movement was, for the most part, permanently eclipsed.

Scouting for Boys: No Credit?

S4B 1908 Part 2 Cover

ON the 15th of January 1908, B-P introduced his concept of Boy Scouting to the world at the cash register price of 4d per copy. It was a smallish sort of publication but it was packed with adventure and with intrigue. At the bottom of page 19, after the brilliantly condensed version of English author Rudyard Kipling's story of Kim, B-P states, "The following books, which may be got from a Lending Library or from friends, may be found useful in connection with Chapter 1." Of them, Two Little Savages, by E Thompson Seton is mentioned fifth. Now, since I did not find any direct reference to Seton's work in that chapter, why would B-P place this book on his suggested reading list?

Perhaps B-P realized that Seton's contribution to him at the Brownsea Island camp in August of 1907 was of vital importance and it also was very fresh in his mind. This hypothesis is quite plausible because, remember, B-P was penning the first instalment of Scouting for Boys in the cottage under the windmill on Wimbledon Common in late December of 1907.

Wild Animal Play S4B 1908 Part 2 Back Cover

In full, that makes ten credits to Mr. Thompson Seton, two credits to Mrs. Thompson Seton and one surname correction in the six fortnightly instalments. That these ten credit were later to be included in the book, Seton himself acknowledged in a letter to B-P dated April 30th, 1910

"The rest of your letter in which you state making mention of my book on ten different pages of your own [Scouting for Boys] is doubtless correct (tho I could verify only one of the pages mentioned). I appreciate the kindly spirits in which you have written; and feel sure that it is not through any ill intent that the situation has arisen."

This clearly and succinctly verifies that Seton knew all along (or at least admitted in private) that B-P did not plagiarize him. However, this was after his very accusatory "Open Letter to B-P" of April 1910 and a follow-up letter in June 1910, but after the "Waldorf" speech where B-P publicly claimed to be only one of the "Uncles" of Scouting, but that Seton was a "Father" of the movement. And B-P was absolutely right, except that Seton founded the Back-to-Nature Movement and B-P founded Scouting, which was a part of Seton's overall creation. Seton invented the bigger pie all along, but he just did not know it, because all of the attention was being given to B-P and his little piece of the pie!

There are other private letters to Seton's buddies that say that B-P is Satan. However, Seton's basis for this relies fully on the fact that he did not "verify" those 10 different places in Scouting for Boys where B-P credited Seton. It is very probable that this little-known fact has simply not been uncovered before, which would lead to the problems that the two factions of supporters have had over the past 60 years.

So, how bad can having all those credits be? Actually, pretty bad if you are a retentive editor.

Specifically, Ernest Thompson Seton's manual is The Birch-Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians, not "Birchbark of the Woodcraft Indians" or "Birchbark Roll" without the hyphen. Therefore, eight of the twelve credits have some sort of misstatement or misspelling in them. If I had been Seton reading Scouting for Boys in 1908, I'd have been upset too, and probably written a letter to B-P saying, "Get a better editor or stop using my stuff." But, in the end, weren't his ideas being seen by a vastly greater audience than it already had? So, maybe these mistakes weren't so bad after all. And to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "Isn't the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about?"

Of John Smith and Duty

AT the end of Part One is a Scouts' Play, entitled Pocahontas; or The Capture of Captain John Smith. On the first reading, I simply saw it as a highly jingoistic work that is based on Pocahontas' rescue of the handsome Englishman, John Smith, who is captured in the New World by the Red Indian King, Powhattan. In it, B-P dramatizes how brave Smith is by penning the following line for the Briton to exclaim to the Red Indian King, "Forget not - I am an Englishman - an Englishman knows no fear."

So, is this play solely jingoistic fodder or is there more to it?

Actually, B-P believed, with some justification, that he was related to Captain John Smith (although some historians note that Smith was never married and, therefore, never had children). And to that end, he wanted to portray (and utilize) his famous relative's positive characteristics as best as he could for his new Scouting Movement. So, at the beginning of the Part One, B-P starts off the series by dramatizing his own experiences from the Siege of Mafeking, and closes it by dramatizing a story from his family's other national hero.

Wow! Those stories must have really captivated his readers and thrown them into a patriotic frenzy. But there is something else about this story of the brave Captain that I must mention.

Clearly, B-P wants to establish one of his organization's core values that being loyal to both God and country are tantamount to doing one's duty for God and country, a cornerstone concept that he had developed back in his Letter to the Editor of the Eton College Chronicle in December of 1904. But, in addition to this observation, is he subtly telling his patriotic readers that his movement is better than the one started by his counterpart, Seton, or is it just a coincidence? I feel that it is the latter because, remember at that time, he just wanted his Movement to supplement the programs of other organizations already in existence, while the former argues to the formation of a fully competitive, independent Movement.

Even so, after the issuance of Part One, B-P's publisher could have advertised, "Just look at our national heroes who did great, patriotic deeds in Part One. Does Seton have any of that?"

No, Seton does not. His Movement was based solely on the ancient teachings of a proud and noble, yet misunderstood people. Did B-P unknowingly expose that basic difference? I point to this pontification by Captain Smith:

"What brought me here was duty to my King and God and countrymen; to spread his powerful sway over all the earth, that you and yours may know of God, that trade may spread to carry peace and wealth throughout the world. If you accept these views all will be well; if you accept them not then do your worst, but use your haste; our mission is to clean the world! Kill me, but that will not avail, for where I fall a thousand more will come. Know this, O Savage King, a Briton's word is to be trusted over the world; his first care is for others - not himself; he sticks to friend through thick and thin; he's loyal to his King. And though you threat with death or pains, he'll do his duty to the end."

I propose that after Seton read these six instalments in 1908, he felt a great deal of anger towards the 'Hero of Mafeking', especially if looking at it from the standpoint of lousy proofreading. But only from this 'lack of proofing' position, do I believe that his anger was justifiable.

It is very plausible, however, that the naturalist saw this play as an attack on the Red Indian as not being a 'noble' savage. Thereby, Seton could have seen it as an assault on the philosophical basis of his beloved Woodcraft Movement, regardless of B-P's alleged grand familial relationship to Captain Smith.

And since Pocahontas is prominently positioned as the closer of Part One, B-P is able to successfully tease his patriotic readers into wanting a copy of Part Two of his revolutionary thesis on Boy Scouting, which would lead to Part Three and Part Four, etc.

And when one blends that observation with the numerous editorial oversights and mistakes relating to the naturalist's contributions to the book, along with B-P's introduction of 'proficiency awards', in addition to his use of animal or bird names for patrols; then quite possibly, Seton's intense hatred was truly spawned towards the General.

But does that equal plagiarism? I don't think so. After all, even though Seton was a great visionary, he did not develop his program in a vacuum. And had it not been at the urging of a certain Mr. Kipling, there may not have been a Woodcraft Indians organization in 1902. Because it was Kipling whom originally got Seton thinking about teaching lessons in woodcraft to the youth of the world in the late 19th century.

Kipling & Seton

By 1000 Fires Cover

IN the year 1898, famed English writer Rudyard Kipling met the esteemed Naturalist to the Government of Manitoba (Canada), Ernest Seton-Thompson. According to Seton's second wife, Julia, in her book, By a Thousand Fires: Nature Notes and Extracts from the Life and Unpublished Journals of Ernest Thompson Seton, she relates that Seton told Kipling of his dream "'that outdoor life with simple pleasures and woodcraft pursuits was the proper school for manhood', which Seton always held should be the real aim of education."

Kipling, duly impressed, said: "How are you going to land it?"
Seton replied: "Well, I am writing a dictionary of woodcraft."
"Hell," Kipling exploded. "Who would ever read a dictionary?"
"Well what would you do?" Seton countered.
"I'd put it into a novel," he said.
"Maybe you're right," replied Seton.

But that is not the end of the story. In 1899, Kipling was deathly ill and at his bedside was his bosom buddy, new and struggling publisher Frank N Doubleday. Kipling, from his bedside calls out,
"Frank, Frank, come here!"
"Yes, Ruddy," answered Doubleday. "What is it?"
"Frank," said Kipling in a weak voice, "you are starting out as a publisher. I want you to tell you how to make it a great success. You go down to Seton and ask him to write you a book on American Woodcraft and you will reach the whole nation."
"All right, Ruddy," replied Doubleday softly. "Now you lie down and be very still."


The next day Kipling turned toward Doubleday as the latter sat at his bedside and said:
"Frank-Frank - did you get the contract from Seton for a book on Woodcraft?"
"No, not yet, Ruddy, but I will as soon as I can. Now go to sleep. The doctor says you must not talk."

Evidently, Kipling ends up pestering Doubleday several more times before the publisher finally blurts out,
"All right, old man, I'll attend to that soon, but you must lie down and be quiet."
To which Kipling replied, "I won't lie down and I won't be quiet till you go and get the contract."

So, Doubleday left the poet and sought out the noted Naturalist to Manitoba. During their meeting, Seton informed the publisher that it would take two years to write the manuscript, although the material was already present in his head. So, Doubleday agreed to wait.

And in 1903, Two Little Savages was published; to which a fully recovered Kipling commented that the work seemed almost autobiographical due to the level of information that Seton provided. In fact, it was autobiographical. Seton was his character, Yan.

So, in fairness to B-P, since Seton was so sensitive to the giving and the getting of appropriate credit, shouldn't he have acknowledged Kipling somewhere in Two Little Savages for giving him that lucrative idea for this book?

Regardless of my previous thought, the naturalist later admitted to Kipling that he had yet to fully include all of his woodcraft ideas. So the poet urged him to write another book. And that novel was Rolf in the Woods, which was eventually published in 1911. But in the meantime, his ponderings on the details of Rolf in the Woods led to the publication of his seminal Birch-Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians in 1906, which led to thirty or so additions and revisions of this treatise through its final publication in the year of 1948.

Argument Summation

FOR years and years Seton and his supporters have claimed intellectual plagiarism. The complaints are plentiful and they are well documented in the frequent letters between these two Woodcraft visionaries.

But are they strong enough to convict B-P of plagiarism or to acquit B-P of plagiarism? I suspect that, eventually, it all comes down to how one personally defines the word 'plagiarism'.

So I ask again, "Did B-P 'steal and pass-off' Ernest Thompson Seton's ideas as his own since Seton asserts that, ' . . . the whole [Scouting] idea was originated by me and founded in England in 1904'?"

To me the answer must be "No" for a variety of arguments. I repeat the most self-evident reasons.


Daniel Carter Beard in Buckskins

BADEN-POWELL did not mind being thought of as the 'Father of Scouting' or even the creator of many of those highly popular ideas, concepts and games. However, the facts indicate that these rather convenient 'omissions' and 'oversights' were probably more tactfully orchestrated than previously believed. But clearly they were not tantamount to 'literary theft'.

Therefore, since we live in an imperfect world, I find Seton's defiant cries of malicious stealing and of intellectual plagiarism to be misleading.

In fact, even Dan Beard accused Seton of plagiarizing him in the 1910 Original Edition of the BSA's Handbook. Specifically, Beard claimed that Seton stole his ideas for the Pioneering section and failed to acknowledge him properly.

All of which leads me to the following conclusions:-

Firstly, the original ideas upon which the worlds of Scouting and Woodcraft are founded are highly interrelated. There is no one single founder or one single creator. It is a highly diverse tapestry of ideas and innovations that all of its creators can summarily take credit for.

When compared with Seton's movement, B-P's was the most successful, which is why he is credited with being the 'Father of Scouting'. And because of that title, he was the guy that Seton had to 'knock off the mountain' in order for his own scouting concepts to ever be heard, much less ever have any lasting social relevance. Which leads to my second conclusion:

Seton's ideas have always been heard but just not in the publications called The Birch-Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians or Two Little Savages.

In a Perfect World . . .

. . . Seton should have taken a page out of Kipling's playbook and genuinely accepted the General as the man who could most effectively deliver his beautiful music of Woodcraft to the youthful ears of the world. But he did not.

In the end, Seton tried to quiet the good General's voice by shouting the shrill accusations of plagiarism from the hilltops; words that were mostly born of jealousy, anger and resentment. But even more sadly, that's what many of Seton's supporters are doing today. Yet in the hope of an eventual resolution to this drama, I offer my third and final conclusion; and it is the one that I most fervently know to be true:

Ernest Thompson Seton's brilliant Woodcraft visions are permanently and forever immortalized in the world's all-time second best-selling book behind the Holy Bible, entitled Scouting for Boys: in the voice of an aging English patriot named Lord Robert Baden-Powell of Gilwell, the beloved Chief Scout of the World.


B-P of Gilwell Post Card
Printed Sources
The Boy Scouts of America’s National Archives, Irving, Texas
The Colin Walker Collection
The David C Scott Collection
The Seton Papers in the Dee Seton Barber Collection
Boys of the Empire, November 3rd, 1900
Scouting for Boys, editions of 1908, 1909 and 1911
The Scout, February 5th, 1910
Boys' Life Magazine, July 1928
Baden-Powell - Two Lives of a Hero, William Hillcourt, 1964
By a Thousand Fires: Nature Notes and Extracts from the Unpublished Journals of Ernest Thompson Seton, Julia M Seton, 1967
Beard, Boys, and Buckskins: Daniel Carter Beard and the Preservation of the American Pioneer Tradition, Allan Richard Whitmore, 1970, Unpublished dissertation
Seton's Indians: As told by Leonard S. Clark, Penny Bott, 1976
Black Wolf - The Life of Ernest Thompson Seton, Betty Keller, 1984
The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the Origins of the Boy Scout Movement, Michael Rosenthal, Pantheon Books, 1984
The Chief - Ernest Thompson Seton and the Changing West, Allan Anderson, 1986
The Boy-Man: The Life of Lord Baden-Powell, Tim Jeal, 1990
Baden-Powell and His Boy Scouts: The Reasons for Their Creation, Growth and Success in Great Britain, 1906 - 1920, James Herbert Galt-Brown, Unpublished dissertation, December 2002, Mississippi State University
Ernest Thompson Seton: Man in Nature, John Wadland, 1978
Internet Sources
Scouting Milestones, Colin Walker

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