The man called Grey Owl (Wa-sha-quon-asin, He-Who-Flies-by Night in Ojibwa) was known during his lifetime as a First Nations writer and conservationist in Canada. He was remembered as being one of the first nature conservationists.
He was not really an Indian, but in fact an Englishman named Archibald Stansfeld "Archie" Belaney who was born in Hastings, East Sussex in 1888, and he was raised by his grandmother and aunts. Young Archie grew up being fascinated by nature and the frontiers and Native people of North America.
In 1906, with his aunt's approval, Belaney went to Canada to study agriculture in Toronto. He did not stay in Toronto very long and went to the town of Temagami to work as a forest ranger. While working as a forest ranger, he came in contact with several tribes of Native Canadians and slowly started learning and adapting their ways of life and language. He adopted the identity of "Grey Owl" and claimed to be the son of an Apache woman and a Scottish father, who he said was a close friend of his childhood hero, Buffalo Bill Cody. He was accepted into an Ojibwa tribe, married an Ojibwa woman, Angele Egwuna and worked as a fur trapper.
After serving in World War I as a sniper for the Canadian Army, he married again this time to Constance Holmes, a childhood friend in England, it did not last.
After the war, the woods in Canada were being logged and it soon became difficult to make money as a trapper.
In 1925, Grey Owl met a young Iroquois woman named Gertrude Bernard, who he fell in love with and eventually married. Gertrude, whom he called by her Indian name Anahareo, disliked trapping and encouraged him to stop. The couple adopted orphaned beaver kittens, whose parents had been killed by trapping, and raised them as pets.
Grey Owl began writing magazine articles and books about the importance of preserving wildlife and forests and worked for the National Park Fund. Some of the books he published were The Men of the Last Frontier (1931), Pilgrims of the Wild (1934), Sajo and the Beaver People (1935) and Tales of an Empty Cabin (1936). Though his writings, Grey Owl helped raise awareness for environmental causes and the wildlife of Canada. He also appeared in several wildlife documentaries and did two lecture tours of the United Kingdom in the 1930s, even though many people did not know that was the country of his birth.
Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney died from pneumonia in 1938 at the age of 50. Shortly after Grey Owl's death, his true heritage was revealed by the press (who got the information from his aunts and several other sources) and he was labeled an imposter who lied about his background. Grey Owl's conservation work was forgotten.
It wasn't until also several decades later, when Grey Owl's legacy and contributions were remembered, once again. A memorial was placed in Hastings, the town of his birth. Richard Attenborough, who met Grey Owl on one of his lecture tours, made a film called "Grey Owl" starring Pierce Brosnan chronicling his life, which was released in 1999.