William J. Long

William J. Long


William J. Long (1857-1952) lived and worked in Stamford, Connecticut as a minister of the First Congregationalist Church.

He was also a naturalist who would leave Stamford in March, often with his two daughters Lois and Cesca in tow, to travel to "the wilderness" of Maine. There they would stay until the first snows of October. Sometimes he would stay all winter. In the '20's, he bypassed Maine for Nova Scotia, claiming "the wilderness is getting too crowded."

He wrote of these wilderness experiences, in books "Ways of Wood Folk", "Wilderness Ways", "Wood-folk Comedies", "Northern Trails", "Wood Folk at School", along with many others. His earlier books were illustrated by Charles Copeland; two later ones were illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull. He believed that the best way to experience the wild was to plant yourself and sit for hours on end to let the wild "come to you; and they will!".

Many of his early books were issued in school editions under the title of The Wood Folk Series.


Because of the increased interest in the natural world as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, many of his books were taught in the school systems of the time, both public and private. However, President Teddy Roosevelt's naturalist advisor, John Burroughs, accused Rev. Long of gross exaggeration, if not outright lies, regarding his books and the reflections of nature therein. Long thus found himself at the centre of the "nature fakers" controversy of the early 1900s.

Much of the controversy surrounded Rev. Long's fantastic stories of foxes that rode on the backs of sheep to escape hunters and porcupines curling into balls and rolling down hills.

But some of the controversy surrounded Burroughs', and much of the scientific community's, belief that animals used instinct and could only learn from experience. A bird grows up and builds a nest by instinct; it is not taught to build a nest. It was also believed that there was a clear delineation between the animal world and humans, and any behavioral mixing between the two conflicted with true facts.

Rev. Long provided many examples, supposedly from his experience, to cast doubt on that prevailing wisdom. Some of the more famous "lies" were that kingfishers would catch fish in a river and then drop them into small pools so their offspring could practice catching the same fish, but in an easier environment. He also chronicled a woodcock that made a "splint" for its broken leg.

Burroughs claimed Rev. Long was trying to sell books to guilible readers with such lies and President Roosevelt himself had Rev. Long's books taken from all school libraries.

The local Stamford paper chronicled the feud with "our dashing Rev. Long". Rev. Long would counter that you cannot "understand nature when you have a gun on your hip, ride on top of a wagon or horseback, and have a crowd of twenty with you," taking aim at Teddy Roosevelt's much publicized and photographed forays into nature. He went so far to state Roosevelt "never met an animal he didn't kill." After a couple months back and forth in the Stamford and national papers, Rev. Long said that "while obviously we cannot settle this through the media, I invite President Roosevelt anytime to Stamford to settle this like men."

Roosevelt never accepted his invitation.


*"Ways of Wood Folk" (1899), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Wilderness Ways" (1900), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Beasts of the Field" (1901), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Fowls of the Air" (1901), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Secrets of the Woods" (1901), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"School of the Woods: Some life studies of animal instincts and animal training" (1902), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Wood Folk at School" (1903), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"A Little Brother to the Bear and Other Animal Studies" (1903), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Following the Deer" (1903), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Northern Trails" (1905), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Brier-Patch Philosophy, by "Peter Rabbit" (1906), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Whose Home Is the Wilderness: Some Studies of Wild Animal Life" (1907), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"How Animals Talk: And Other Pleasant Studies of Birds and Beasts" (1919), illustrated by Charles Copeland
*"Wood-folk Comedies: The Play of Wild-Animal Life on a Natural Stage" (1920), illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull
*"Mother Nature: A Study of Animal Life and Death" (1923), illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull
*"The Spirit of the Wild: Observations in the Animal World" (1956), illustrated by Ray Houlihan
*"Wings of the Forest" (1957), illustrated by Ray Houlihan


*"Northern Trails" (1905), 390pp., was reissued in two volumes as:
**"Wayeeses the White Wolf" (1907), 128pp.
**"Stories from Northern Trails" (1908), 158pp.

Wood Folk Series

*"Ways of Wood Folk" (1899)
*"Wilderness Ways" (1900)
*"Secrets of the Woods" (1901)
*"Wood Folk at School" (1903)
*"A Little Brother to the Bear and Other Animal Studies. Wood Folk Series Book V" (1904) 178pp. (shortened version of the 280pp. 1903 edition)
*"Northern Trails Book 1. Wood Folk Series Book VI" (1908) 128pp. (same content as "Wayeeses the White Wolf")
*"Northern Trails Book II Wood Folk Series Book VII" (1908) 158pp. (same content as "Stories from Northern Trails")


*Lutts, Ralph H. "The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science and Sentiment". Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1990.

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