The South Shields lad who helped ‘change’ America

You will remember how local historian Andrew Grant recently raised the profile of Ernest Thompson Seton – the South Tyneside-born man by telling us how he inspired Lord Baden Powell to form the Boy Scout movement.

Friday, 31st May 2019, 09:50 am
Ernest Thompson Seton.

Now another regular contributor, Terry Grewcock, has been in touch to reveal another aspect of Seton’s life.

Seton was born in South Shields in 1860, and according to Terry helped “change America”.

A wolf.

“Andrew Grant should be congratulated for bringing to our attention this little known native of South Shields,” says Terry.

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“Andrew has successfully summarised the salient facts of Seton’s life, particularly his major work as a pioneer of the scouting movement.

“Recently, as the interest and awareness of environmental affairs receives greater publicity than ever before, another aspect of Seton’s life has come to the fore, which will probably receive more attention nowadays than his other achievements.”

Terry goes on to say that just a few years ago, PBS America (makers of high quality documentaries) broadcast a one-hour “docudrama” devoted to one of Seton’s best known stories, Lobo, his factual story of a wolf, from a book of short stories entitled, Wild Animals I Have Known. It was first published in 1898, and is still in print.

Sir David Attenborough, says Terry, has praised it as “the most precious book of my childhood”.

“This TV docudrama was called, ‘The Wolf that Changed America’ – a rather bold claim for the influence of Seton’s story.

“It faithfully retells the story, with stunning visuals, of a bounty hunter enlisted to kill Lobo, the notorious leader of a pack of wolves that had been causing mayhem among the cattle and sheep herders of the Currumpaw area of the state of New Mexico.

“The most surprising fact of the story to a modern reader is that the author, Ernest Seton, naturalist, and artist specialising in wildlife, should be the person chosen to track and kill Lobo.

“In fact, the story was a pivotal change in Seton’s approach to the environment. At this time, the wolf was seen purely as a predator, even vermin, and competing with ranchers – a real bad guy!

“Seton, with his knowledge of the habits of this creature from the Canadian prairies, was happy to use this knowledge to track it down.

“At the end of the story, not a happy ending by the way, Seton has had a ‘conversion’.

“He realises that he is the villain, and Lobo, the hero.

“It marked a change in attitude to wildlife, the environment, conservation, and endangered species.

“The desire to protect America’s amazing wild areas had begun and National Parks, like Yellowstone, were created. There are now 58 scattered all over America.

“In Yellowstone, alone, there are more than 100 wolves, in 11 packs.”

As a result of his work, Seton has now been recognised as an early pioneer of the environmental movement.

“This PBS programme is well worth seeing. I tracked it down online for viewing, but it can be purchased online as a DVD.

“Andrew mentioned that Seton’s father, Joseph Logan Thompson, ‘the most selfish man I ever knew, or heard of, in history or in fiction’ billed 21-year-old Seton for $537.50 as recompense for the cost of raising him.

“I don’t think we should remember this man from South Shields!

“Interesting statistic though. I wonder how much would it cost a modern parent to raise their child to 21? Does anyone know?”