At the beginning of the twentieth century, well-known naturalist and popular writer John Burroughs criticized a group of authors for their works of fiction featuring wildlife and nature, giving them the unwelcome label of “nature fakers.” Even President Theodore Roosevelt agreed with Burroughs’s criticism in a 1907 interview.
The writers so labeled included renowned artist and naturalist writer Ernest Thompson-Seton, as well as famed writer Jack London and others. At the next Draper Natural History Museum Lunchtime Expedition lecture, speaker Jeremy Johnston explores the subject in a talk titled Ernest Thompson-Seton and the “Nature Faker” Controversy. The free presentation takes place Thursday, December 5, 12:15 p.m. in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Coe Auditorium.
Johnston notes, “Seton and the other ‘nature fakers’ clearly created wonderful literary characters, yet the success of these writings raised concerns among many serious natural historians.” The criticism caused Seton much angst, pushing him to distance himself from the other so-called “nature faker” writers.
For the rest of his career, Seton worked to gain professional respect from serious natural historians and recommitted himself to publishing scientific studies of wildlife. “Through his naturalist publications,” adds Johnston, “Seton strove to demonstrate that his past fictional narratives, no matter how exaggerated, were true representations of wildlife behavior and not just entertaining fictional stories.”
Johnston is the Managing Editor of the Center of the West’s Papers of William F. Cody project. Prior to that, he taught for 15 years at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. Johnston received his BA and MA from the University of Wyoming, and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. He is now finishing his dissertation, which examines the connections between Theodore Roosevelt and William F. Cody.
Johnston is a frequent contributor to the Center’s Points West magazine, and has also written for Annals of Wyoming, Colorado Heritage, and Yellowstone Science, among others. He released his first book, a photo history of Powell, in 2009, followed by a “then and now” photo history in 2012. A past-president of the Wyoming State Historical Society, Johnston has appeared on various Wyoming PBS documentaries. He is currently working with the Center’s Dr. Charles Preston on an annotated version of Ernest Thompson-Seton’s The Biography of a Grizzly, to be published by University of Oklahoma Press.
For more information on Johnston’s talk and the Draper Museum’s Lunchtime Expedition series, visit our natural history programs page.
Since 1917, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has been committed to the greatness and growth of the American West, keeping western experiences alive. The Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, weaves the varied threads of the western experience—history and myth, art and Native culture, firearms, and the nature and science of Yellowstone—into the rich panorama that is the American West. The Center of the West has been honored with numerous awards, including the prestigious 2012 National Tour Association’s Award for “favorite museum for groups,” the 2013 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, and, most recently, one of the “Top 10 Must See Western Museums” by True West magazine.