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|Founder||Ernest Thompson Seton|
The League of Woodcraft Indians is an American youth program, established by Ernest Thompson Seton. Despite the name, it was developed for non-Indian boys. It was later renamed the "Woodcraft League of America", and would also allow girls to join. The program was also picked up overseas, and many of these overseas programs still exist.
In the United States, the first Woodcraft "Tribe" was established at Cos Cob, Connecticut, in 1902. Seton's property had been vandalized by a group of boys from the local school. After having to repaint his gate a number of times, he went to the school, and invited the boys to the property for a weekend, rather than prosecuting them. He sat down with them and told them stories about Native Americans and nature.
The unique feature of his program was that the boys elected their own leaders: a "Chief", a "Second Chief", a "Keeper of the Tally" and a "Keeper of the Wampum". Seton wrote a series of seven articles for Ladies' Home Journal from May to November 1902 under the heading "Seton's Boys" that were later published as the Birch Bark Roll. At the urging of his friend Rudyard Kipling, Seton published Two Little Savages (1903) as a novel, rather than a dictionary of Woodcraft.
Seton traveled to England in 1906 to look for people interested in his outdoor organization. He met Robert Baden-Powell, and gave him a copy of the Birch Bark Roll. The book was one of a number of influences for Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys.
In 1910, Seton and Dan Beard formed the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and became the Chief Scout for five years. This was the same position that Baden-Powell held in England. He merged his Woodcraft Indians into the fledging BSA. After a fallout with James E. West, Seton left the BSA in 1915 and re-established the Woodcraft Indians separately. Later he claimed he never really merged the group into the BSA. The Woodcraft League of America was a co-educational program open to children between ages "4 and 94".
Seton established a program he called "Brownies" in 1921 for girls and boys ages 6–11, based on his earlier book, Woodland Tales.
There were many local Woodcraft groups in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. There are third-generation Woodcrafters who are still active in the movement. The best known group today are the Woodcraft Rangers in Los Angeles, California. Formally established in 1922, over the decades Woodcraft Rangers has modified Seton’s original emphasis on outdoor life to incorporate activities that meet the needs of an increasingly urban population, but the goal of changing behavior and encouraging positive outcomes through interaction and education remains central to its mission today. Currently, Woodcraft Rangers reaches out to over 18,000 at-risk children and youth annually through enriching after-school and camping programs. The organization’s programs are responsive to social trends and designed to help children mature into healthy, productive adults through positive experiences and age-appropriate challenges. By providing structured activities, a safe environment, and adult guidance after school, Woodcraft Rangers offers a positive alternative to the boredom and negative peer pressures that can lead to juvenile delinquency. As it has since Seton's time, the group’s American Camp Association-accredited summer camp programs at Blue Sky Meadow focus on outdoor living skills and nature activities. Campers are encouraged to explore and test their strengths and build character in a safe and supportive environment. After participating in nature hikes, archery, scavenger hunts, map & compass adventures, arts & crafts, survival skills games and star-gazing, campers return home with a better understanding of the outdoor world and greater confidence in their abilities. Summer camp also provides an opportunity for kids to just be kids – to have fun while forging lifelong friendships, developing important skills and discovering new interests.
Camps following the Woodcraft Program in the United States and Canada were also founded by friends and students of Seton.
- The BSA's 'forgotten' founding father (October 1998)
- The Woodcraft League in Czechoslovakia (split in 1992)
- Woodcraft Rangers
- History of the Woodcraft Movement