Savages on the loose
“Two Little Savages” is the title of a story that was published in 1903 by Ernest Thompson
Seton, who was listed on the title page as “naturalist to the government of Manitoba.”
The subtitle says the book is “the adventures of two boys who lived as Indians and what they learned.”
The central character is a boy named Yan, who grows up in a Canadian city but who longs to become a naturalist. At the age of 14, for health reasons, he is sent to a farm for a year. The farm is in a region settled by families from Ireland, some of whom had been given a free passage to their new homes.
The farm where Yan boards is owned by William Raften, who is given a unique personality. He is gruff and abrupt in his dealings with humans, but won’t let anyone mistreat animals.
The author does a good job depicting the various accents of the people appearing in the story. Those who are from Ireland have an accent that makes what they’re saying almost unreadable. Those like Raften whose father came from Ireland have an accent when they’re angry or excited.
The author goes on: “The younger generation had almost no Irish accent. All had sifted down to the peculiar burring whine of the backwoods Canadian.”
The Raftens have a son, Sam, who is about Yan’s age, and the two of them eventually camp out and, at Yan’s urging, try to live as much like Indians as possible.
The book was intended to specialize in camping and the outdoors. There are extensive details, with illustrations, on the construction of a tepee, including how to position the poles, how to tie them together, and how to place the canvas cover over them. There are illustrations of how to make a bed of evergreen boughs.
Also well illustrated are instructions for making bows and arrows, with the proper positions for a person to assume when using them.
When the boys are finally camped out, they learn such things as how to keep mosquitoes from getting into the tent at night, and how to keep the outside clear of garbage so as not to attract flies and other insects.
There are chapters devoted to the wildlife and birds the boys come across while camping out and the games they invent for outdoor fun. They make a deer out of a sack full of straw with sticks for legs and learn how to drop seeds of corn to make the deer’s trail. In that way, they don’t clutter the woodland with confusing trails, because the birds and animals eat the corn before the next day’s hunt.
The author must have been rather difficult to get along with. Somewhere in his career he seems to have changed his name. I have some nature books where he signed himself as “Ernest Seton Thompson” but, by the time “Two Little Savages” arrived, he had made his middle name into his last name. I never knew if the change came about for family reasons, or whether it was due to something else.
In any event, Yan has many adventures with camping and impresses the farm family with his ability.
Kendall Wild is a former editor of the Herald.