Tom Brown Jr., like any public
figure, is not without his detractors. He has attracted his share of
controversy. This section of the website investigates some
of these controversies that surround Tom Brown.
The following is an overview and summary of these controversies.
As a person, Tom, like most people, exhibits various character traits. Some
people find him to be arrogant and abrasive; some refer to him as a redneck. At
the other extreme, others see him as a gentle and
loving person. Still another side of Tom that people observe is his deep love for
the Earth, coupled with his warrior-like stance in defense of certain parts of
the wild Earth.
In short, he's a real person, much like the rest of us, with a wide range of
feelings. Unfortunately, many of his students place him high up on a pedestal,
and when Tom -- inevitably -- does not measure up to their high standards, they
are disappointed. So some of the criticisms of Tom do arise from disillusioned students.
Others arise simply from who and what he is as a person.
Another difficulty for some people is that, quite frankly, a lot of the
things that Tom claims to be able to do, along with things he teaches, seem to
many people to be impossible or unreal.
An excellent example of this are his legendary tracking
abilities. Are there many people who can reproduce the tracking results that Tom teaches
in his more advanced classes? Therefore, it is hard for some to believe that
these tracking techniques are anything but an elaborate fiction. And the only
way to prove if they are or not is to learn and practice them. Compounding this
is that there are no replicable studies of pressure releases available - no one
has proven the pressure releases in any kind of objective study.
Add to this the fact that
some of the people who take classes at the Tracker School exhibit an extreme
overconfidence in their abilities. This doesn't help Tom's credibility either. Tales
abound of arrogant Tracker students who fall flat when they have to prove their
alleged abilities in the field (they seem to have conveniently forgotten Tom's
admonishment of putting in lots of "dirt time").
And then we come to Stalking Wolf, who was Tom's teacher. He is regarded by
some to be an entirely fictional character. This belief is bolstered by the fact
that virtually no one can claim to have met Stalking Wolf in person.
Additionally, many Native American people, particularly among the Apaches,
regard Stalking Wolf as an invention, as he does not seem to be known amongst
their people at all. There are those who say they knew Tom when he was young,
and that he made up the whole Stalking Wolf and Rick story. Or, alternatively,
that these figures did exist, but that all the stories surrounding them were
made up or at the very least majorly embellished.
The whole mystique surrounding Stalking Wolf is exacerbated by the fact that
the name "Stalking Wolf" is actually a pseudonym, which makes verification of his
existence almost impossible (see "Walk
Like an Apache").
On the other hand, where on earth did Tom learn to speak various Apache words
that students sometimes hear in the Philosophy classes (or is he faking it)?
Tom also receives criticism about the fact that he charges for his classes,
or that he charges too much. People have made claims that he is actually very
rich, and point to calculations of the fee for classes multiplied by the average
number of students in a class, multiplied by the number of classes per
year. But no one outside of the inner circles of the Tracker School know how
much expenses are actually incurred in running the Tracker School.
Some feel that as a wilderness survival instructor Tom should be living in a
primitive wilderness living situation, particularly because he talks a lot about
the negative impact our modern lifestyle is having on the Earth.
Others simply feel that he should at least be living a relatively simple
lifestyle, free of elements of conspicuous consumption that plague our western
lifestyle, such as SUVs, fancy houses, and Rolex watches and myriad electronic
gadgets, particularly as he frequently lectures about the damage and disrespect
we are doing to the Earth.
There are certain people who have a problem with the spiritual element that
permeates the classes. They feel that his Earth-based
spirituality has no place in a survival school. However, since most prehistoric
people who lived close to the Earth had a very strong spiritual element in their
lives, many modern day people feel that it is entirely appropriate to
Some criticisms of Tom arise from misunderstandings of his ways. For example,
there is the story of how he attended the Wintercount event one year, and acted
like he didn't know anything about survival skills. He also
did not fraternize around the campfire in the evenings, preferring instead to keep to himself. Thus others came to think of him as aloof and
snobbish. Out of this incident arose a very intense contempt of Tom from the
primitive survival community, who believed that Tom didn't know anything yet
went on to write books and pretend that he knew all about wilderness survival.
This rift in the primitive survival community was partially healed when Tom and
Larry Dean Olsen (a main proponent of that rift) met and reconciled their
differences in March 1998 (click here for more
about this). So, the question arises: did he really learn all his skills from an
elderly Apache, or did he learn them from other survival experts?
Tom also blows away people's preconceptions of him when they come to take
classes. After reading his books many believe they will meet an enlightened and
gentle nature lover. But Tom can be an arrogant angry redneck at times. He
smokes, drives a Hummer and wears a Rolex watch. He can also break down sobbing
at the destruction that is happening of the Earth at the hands of humans. Is it
all an act? Who knows? He appears to be a complex, contradictory and angry, yet
loving and compassionate human being. He is definitely not easy to figure out!
Is it all a ruse to deflect people from coming too close and finding out he
really knows very little? Or is his behavior simply a shield against adoring
multitudes (yes, they are out there) who want to get too close?
In the end...
No one can ever meet Stalking Wolf today to verify his existence first-hand,
as he has passed on. And no one can ever meet his childhood friend, Rick, whom
the books say is
also dead, and whose name was also a pseudonym -- see "Walk
Like an Apache".
Only Tom knows the truth about himself. Only Tom knows whether or not he has
experienced the things he says he has. And only Tom knows what his abilities
And no, Tom Brown is not perfect. Far from it.
The Bottom Line is:
To paraphrase Tom Brown ... "Take what I've taught you out into the
wilderness and try it out ... prove me right or prove me wrong." Whether
this is simply another of his seemingly arrogant challenges or if it is a
genuine request of his students, again, who knows?
What counts is ...
In the end, it's the results of what he teaches that counts. Whether it's all an
elaborate fiction or a personally experienced reality, he has inspired many
thousands of people to think about the damage we are doing to this beautiful
Earth. And further prodded his students to
attempt to slow and reverse that destruction, whether or not he himself lives this
philosophy fully. He has taught wilderness survival
skills, tracking, and earth-based philosophy to thousands, and has given his students the confidence to at least begin to
survive in the natural world. He has inspired his students to try to walk more
gently upon the Earth. Whether or not they follow through is entirely up
to them. And for these things alone, if nothing else and aside from all
criticisms, Tom is to be applauded.
This is not an apology or an excuse for Tom, just an attempt at a simple objective statement
about the good he has accomplished, along with his flaws. But he is most definitely not a perfect
human being, nor should he be placed up on a pedestal and regarded as some sort
Many say that Tom is also a "coyote teacher" in the true tradition and meaning of the phrase
(again, see "Walk
Like an Apache"). This means that the truthfulness and factualness of what
he teaches is not as important to him as the lessons that the teachings impart.
He sees himself as pointing his students towards discovery and realizations,
rather than dry repetition of facts. Or, is it just a cover for lack of
On the other hand, there is a lot about Tom Brown that absolutely begs the listener/reader
to ask, "Did he really do that, or experience that??" Most of the stories he
tells are not verifiable by anyone aside from Tom. And quite frankly they do
stretch our credulity!
Make up your own mind about Tom Brown Jr.
A final word:
This Tracker Trail website is most definitely not a "love fest" of Tom Brown
Tracker School. It is not an apology for Tom Brown, nor a defense of him. Nor is
it a critique of him or his school. It is not an advertisement for the Tracker School,
nor is this site sponsored or endorsed in any way by Tom or the Tracker School. This
particular section of the website is an
objective presentation of criticisms and controversies about Tom Brown and the
Tracker School. Tracker Trail is a completely independent website.
This website has no official or
informal connection to the Tracker School or Tom Brown Jr. whatsoever