A Bully Year for Blogging

A year ago, I wrote my first blog post.

So it is fitting that this one will be about not just one Theodore Roosevelt – but several of them.  Last weekend was the second annual gathering of TR re-enactors in Medora, North Dakota.  I was invited to do a book talk as part of the program, and didn’t have to think too long about an answer.



Larry and Julia Marple, of South Charleston, Ohio, as Theodore and Edith Roosevelt.   Mrs. Roosevelt served tea and lemonade to guests in front of the Von Hoffman House, explaining etiquette of the day.

It was “dee-lightful” from beginning to end.  We learned more about phases of the twenty-sixth president’s life with enthusiasts who traveled from eight states.  The re-enactors themselves were treated to a class given by Martin Jonason, acting studio director from Fargo, North Dakota.  He designed the session to strengthen their Theodore voices, gestures, and personas.


 Mike Thompson, of San Angelo, Texas, as TR in the Badlands.  With a stunningly realistic collection of western clothing and tools, he is the author of a book about the Maltese Cross cabin.

Adam Lindquist of Lonsdale, Minnesota, as the conservationist president who toured Yellowstone and Yosemite in 1903.

Margaret Porter Griffin's photo.

Derek Evans, of Wilmette, Illinois, performed “Do What You Can, With What You Have, Where You Are.”  He began as himself, in a white shirt and dark pants, and gradually transformed into the president.

My book talk helped bolster what they already knew about TR’s childhood.  They asked good questions; it was gratifying to have my opinions of his early years valued.

Theodore Roosevelts, standing: Joe Wiegand (Solana Beach, California, the resident Theodore Roosevelt at the TRMF in Medora), Arch Ellwein (Sidney, Montana), Larry Marple, Brian Haggard (Flint, Michigan), Adam Lindquist, Steve Stark (Fargo, North Dakota), and Gregg Harris (Portland, Oregon).

In the coming year they will bring back Theodore Roosevelt for the young and old at schools, clubs, and special venues.  Audiences will get to know an American who once enlivened the country and the world, and with every performance a little more of the efforts he made to improve their lives today.


If you missed reading some of the blogs from the last fifty-two weeks, I’ll tell my favorites.  Go to http://www.amazingbirdcollection.wordpress.com or click on “View all posts by Margaret” at the bottom of this page, and the format I recently switched to will allow you to click on a picture and its title for easy access.

  • Edwardian – 6.7.15
  • Unshelved – 6.2.15
  • “What Do You Think?” – 4.2.15
  • Sunday Dinner – 1.26.15
  • The Morrises – 10.28.14
  • Fleet – 10.21.14
  • Finding Freddie – 10.9.14
  • 1861 Day – 9.26.14
  • There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters – 9.24.14
  • Reading, Writing, and Roosevelt – 8.28.14

Big Fish in a Small Pond

The Marquis de Mores was not the only celebrated person to get caught up in Dakota Territory’s wild west. In 1883, a few months after the Frenchman’s first scouting trip there, young Theodore Roosevelt stepped off the train at the depot. Planning to hunt buffalo, he too was more than a little curious about tales he’d heard.

                              Theodore Roosevelt

The Marquis de Mores

He got his buffalo, one of the last from the indigent herds, and had a small cabin built south of town named the “Maltese Cross” (he did not own the land). Investing money his father left him, he later bought the rights ($400) for a larger ranch house, the “Elkhorn,” in the river bottom to the north.  They were set up with cattle, cowboys and foremen.  The Albany assemblyman became acquainted with other ranchers, the Marquis, and the local newspaper editor before going back to his wife and his work in the east that fall.

Tragically, Roosevelt’s wife and mother died in February.  He returned to the badlands indefinitely to mourn and to oversee his ranches.  Meanwhile the Marquis was setting up a stagecoach line from Medora to Deadwood.

Both frontiersman enjoyed the wide open spaces; both had several photographs taken in western costume.  The life and its image appealed to them.  Rossevelt dined with the de Mores family, and the two twenty-five-year-olds shared leadership of the stockmen’s association.  They even traveled together to Miles City, Montana to try to form a vigilante group against cattle rustlers.  But on one occasion the Marquis reneged on a price he’d quoted for Roosevelt cattle, so they were backed up and returned to the ranch.  A surviving letter from Roosevelt sounds very much like he’d been challenged to a duel, but it never materialized.

The Marquis had other problems.  A group of men, angry at the fences he put up, ambushed him.  It ended in the death of a hunter and more than one civil trial.  De Mores was eventually acquitted of murder charges.

His business ventures slowly failed.  Eastern markets preferred corn-fed over grass-fed beef, and packing plant owners in Chicago were against the competition he posed.  In the fall of 1886, the huge butchering facilities, which had never run at full capacity, closed.  The stagecoach line had to be abandoned partly because it could not get a contract to carry the mail.  The de Mores family left for New York and, a year later, France.  After re-adapting to life in the European aristocracy, Medora and the Marquis went to India to hunt tigers.

TR’s photograph of his Elkhorn ranch house

Theodore Roosevelt returned to New York, married his childhood friend Edith Carow, and began a political career that took him to the White House.  His cattle investments failed, too, after a disastrous string of blizzards in 1887.

The Marquis tried to build a railroad in Indochina but it was blocked.  Mixed up with a questionable group of politicians, he killed another man in a duel and tried to help his homeland dominate Africa.  He was assassinated in 1896 in Tunis, the land of the Touaregs, betrayed by native guides.

Medora brought her husband’s killers to justice but wasn’t able to do the same for the government officials she felt were really responsible.  She carried on raising her three children.  In 1903 two of them accompanied her on one last visit to the North Dakota town bearing her name.  Theodore Roosevelt by then had become President of the United States, often remarking that without his experience in the west, he would not have achieved that office.

During World War I Medora turned her French estate into a hospital for wounded soldiers.  She died in 1921 at 64 and is buried in Cannes.

Tourists in Medora, North Dakota, today can see the smokestack from the burned-down packing plant, and tour the “Chateau de Mores” on a hill outside of town.  Most of Medora’s furniture, rugs, linens and china are still there — even original bottles of mineral water in the scullery.  The land where the cattle grazed is now Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Two ambitious men once lived in the same county in Dakota Territory.  Their stories ended differently, but for a little while, they ruled the frontier they’d dreamed of.

Marquis of the Wild Frontier

Later this summer we’re taking a road trip to the town of Medora, North Dakota.  Ever hear of it?  There is a national park there, not large, but with enough wildlife – buffalo, wild horses, prairie dogs – to satisfy nature buffs.  The area is, in addition, appealing to lovers of history.  The town is named after an auburn-haired beauty who once upon a time married a French nobleman.

Images: Historical Society of North Dakota

Medora von Hoffman was born on Staten Island, New York, in 1856 to a Wall Street banker and his wife.  She led a privileged life, spending quite a bit of time with her family at a villa in Cannes, France.  She was accomplished not only in sewing, piano playing, and painting; but also horsemanship and shooting.  Her adventuresome spirit caught the eye of Antoine Amadee Mari Vincent Manca de Vallombrosa, whose title was the Marquis de Mores.  They were married in 1882.

The new son-in-law tried the banking business in New York, but craved the outdoors.  A relative who’d visited Dakota Territory brought back stories of the badlands (not to be confused with those further south), and soon Antoine was planning a unique ranch and meat-packing business.  He thought he could butcher beef on site and ship it east on the railroad, bypassing the cost of transporting live animals.  And his young wife was in favor of moving west.

The venture, and adventure, became a reality.  Backed by von Hoffman finances, the Marquis built a large slaughterhouse in the shadow of the rimrock just outside the Montana border.  The Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Company took shape, as did the town, which he gave Medora’s name.  On an overlooking hill, he built a large twenty-six room hunting lodge that the locals called the “Chateau.”

Medora and the couple’s baby daughter visited the settlement in October 1883.  She moved to New York for the winter, but returned in the spring.  By all accounts she loved life in the west.  She filled the new, spacious home with furniture, rugs, curtains and dishes from St. Paul and New York City.

Tourist postcard from the 1920s showing the Chateau de Mores.

The couple had a special wagon built for hunting, which took them and their out-of-town guests to places like the new Yellowstone National Park.  It was fitted with the comforts of home, including Minton fine china.  A private railroad car to take them to more distant places was at their disposal, too.

Medora oversaw the building of the first Catholic church of Dakota Territory, in front of one of the buttes.  By all accounts she was an excellent administrator of the home grounds and hired help, as she would soon have two more children, both boys.  The townspeople thought she was more down-to-earth than her husband, who had the habit of tossing a weighted walking stick from arm to arm as he walked about town.

The Marquis’ dreams were being realized very quickly.  The town, population 250, was booming.  He had contracts for icing stations in cities all the way to Chicago.  Furthermore, he made arrangements with boats on Lakes Superior and Michigan to carry his goods (which soon were to include butter from a creamery in Minnesota) farther east.  He was also looking into shipping salmon from the Pacific Ocean in his refrigerated railroad cars.

At home in Medora, his company was buying cattle from local ranchers to butcher.  Only not quite as many as he’d hoped.  The first fall more sheep than cattle went through the stockyards.  Some of the animals were not as fat as they should be, so a feedlot program was designed.

The spring of 1885 looked very promising for this unusual frontier family.

Next post: a famous neighbor, and a turn of events.

Worst Ex-President?

Someone wrote an article last week about the best and worst performances of presidents after leaving office.  Well, I suppose I can name the who and what — Justin S. Vaughn, in the May 23 issue of the Sunday Review.  Usually Theodore Roosevelt hovers somewhere near the top of lists, but he tanked on this one.



As he wondered what Barack Obama’s legacy would be, Dr. Vaughn, assistant professor of political science at Boise State University, gave his criteria for the best ex-presidents as: “engaging in important work, sometimes at a level that exceeded White House accomplishments.”  His four picks and his reasoning were John Quincy Adams (Congress), Jimmy Carter (Habitat for Humanity), William Howard Taft (Supreme Court), and Herbert Hoover (humanitarian aid to Europe following World War II).

His criteria for the worst ex-presidents were “taking strong positions against the national interest, and undermining their successors for personal and political reasons.”  For these reasons, he named John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and “Teddy” Roosevelt to the bottom of the roll.  Not having read extensively on Mssrs. Tyler, Fillmore, or Pierce, I reserve judgment.  But on Theodore Roosevelt, I differ.  I checked a bit further on what I already knew about this period of his life.

First, we should remember to beware of brief summaries which justify an opinion, very common in this day of electronic news.  TR’s rating in this instance was backed up by less than 120 words.  It cited the transgressions of killing animals in Africa, splitting the Republican Party, and lobbying against the League of Nations.

Maybe a big part of this evaluation was the comparison of achievement during his White House years with those afterwards.  Theodore Roosevelt’s record in his almost-two terms was large: trust-busting, coal-strike settling, Nobel Peace Prize winning, nature-conserving, navy-building, food and drug-purifying.  Out of office, he could not make the kind of indelible change he did with what he called his “bully pulpit,” the  powers of chief executive.  (Several presidents, of course, were eliminated from being chosen best or worst ex-presidents because they did not live past or much past their administrations).

Here are some details of what happened between 1909 and 1919:

Theodore Roosevelt collected specimens for the Smithsonian and American Museum of Natural History on trips to Africa and South America, almost dying on the second, and his “last chance to be a boy” led the party to discover the source of a major river.

The former president delivered the 1910 Romanes Lecture at Oxford University, “Biological Analogies in History.”  He had taken the advice of a friend whose opinion he valued, who suggested he omit some of its controversial content.   One listener gave the speech a “beta minus” but its deliverer an “alpha plus.”  He wrote editorials for the Outlook magazine on many subjects, including anti-lyching and pro-suffrage; and completed his autobiography and more books on natural history.

TR ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1912 and was defeated by William Howard Taft, who was backed by the Old Guard.   Before that vote, Roosevelt said, “Conservatives are taught to believe that change means destruction.  They are wrong…life means change, and when there is no change, death comes.”  Henry Pringle, in his Pullitzer Prize biography of the 30s, said that “Roosevelt, out of office, typified an ideal.  Taft, in office, was imperfect reality.”

The ever “compulsive idealist” was quoted: “Our own party leaders did not realize that I was able to hold the Republican Party in power only because I insisted on a steady advance and dragged them along with me.  Now the advance has stopped…Republicans needed to concede to the hypothesis that business should be subordinates to, rather than partner of, the government.”  So Theodore Roosevelt accepted the nomination of the new Progressive Party, and though he knew he could not win, saw the campaign to its end, but not before being wounded by an a would-be assassin.  Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, won; Roosevelt placed second, and the incumbent Taft came in third.

Author Louis Auchincloss has been prompted to say, “What he may have done to his party may still affect it today.  Has the Republican Party ever really recovered the liberal wing which abandoned it to follow TR in 1912?”  It is up to the individual to decide whether this was bad or good.  Many believe Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal came straight from his fifth cousin’s New Nationalism and Square Deal.

With New Nationalism, Theodore Roosevelt tried to show the public to look ahead.  He thought without more reform there would be a major revolt of labor against management.  In one of his last speeches, he also said, “I will do everything I can to aid, to bring about, to bring nearer, the day when justice, the square-deal, will be given us between black man and white.”

Preparedness continued to be his theme on the verge of the first world war.  He hotly disagreed with the appeasement of Wilson (“that skunk in the White House”), and hated the idea of being too proud to fight.  “I did not believe that a firm assertion of our rights means war, but it is well to remember there are worse things than war.”  He backpedaled when the United States entered the conflict, and wanted to lead a division in France, but Wilson turned him down.  The current chief of the armed forces described the former Rough Rider: “…a splendid man and a patriotic citizen, but he is not a military leader…he as well as others have shown intolerance of discipline.”  TR had to settle for watching his four sons leave for battle, with only three to return.

From Kathleen Dalton’s research, we learn he believed in a modified League of Nations which touted national sovereignity and preparedness.  But he thought Wilson would be the worst choice for its leader: “I shall be delighted to support the movement for a League to Enforce Peace, or for a League of Nations, if it is developed as a supplement to and not a substitute for the preparation of our own strength.”  He had experienced very early in life that strength is respected and therefore discourages conflict.

Undermining Taft and Wilson?  To some, it may seem.  Looking at the reasons for, and the principles behind, his attacks, is revealing.  In his mind he was not against the national interest.  It was the national interest which motivated him to act.

Theodore Roosevelt was brash.  He said what he thought, spoke with emotion, and shot from the hip.  The consummate “stick to your guns” leader, he never gave up.  After his death, Henry Cabot Lodge eulogized him as Valiant-for-Truth from Pilgrim’s Progress.  Lodge and Elihu Root had disagreed with him over the Progressive Party, but he never lost their respect or friendship.

He also had dark moments of depression.  Asthma and heart trouble had plagued him all his life; his health was made worse by malarial fever, abcesses from the Brazilian trip, and gout.  The aerial combat death of his youngest child, Quentin, hit him very hard, but he was ready to take on the 1920 Republican nomination if offered, and it seems that if he’d lived, it would have been.

Accompanying the Sunday Review article about the ex-presidents was a cartoon portrait of TR.  It showed a mustache, middle-parted hair, and pince-nez .  In this case, I believe the illustrator represented him far better than the author.


With assistance from William Henry Harbaugh, Power and Responsibility; Nathan Miller, Theodore Roosevelt, a Life; Kathleen Dalton, Theodore Roosevelt, a Strenuous Life; Louis Auchincloss, Theodore Roosevelt; and Henry Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt.

Ten Terms Apart

A six year-old boy and his small brother looked out from an open window of their grandparents’ home onto a somber scene: lamp posts and citizens dressed in black, as a hearse leading a long funeral procession passed by.  There had been three children at the window, but the little girl cried, so the boys made her retreat to another room.  It was the last week of April 1865, and the city of New York was paying final respects to Abraham Lincoln.

New York Historical Society photo

The boys with the second story view were Theodore and Elliott Roosevelt.  The little neighbor girl, Edie Carow, who grew up to marry Theodore, confirmed the story to biographer Stephan Lorant in an interview late in life.

The Roosevelt family had reason to grieve a personal friend.  During the long years of the Civil War, Theodore Sr. worked closely with Lincoln to form the Allotment Commission, which routed soldier pay to their families rather than sutlers in the field.  The Lincolns welcomed him into their social circle.  Mary Lincoln invited him to dinners and asked his opinions on bonnets.  When Roosevelt attended St. John’s Church with John Hay, the president’s secretary, many mistook the tall bearded man with the top hat for the chief executive.

This photo was signed and presented to Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. http://www.mharchive.org

Lincoln was the sixteenth president; Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. would be the twenty-sixth, with much transpiring in the country during the forty years between.  The Industrial Revolution, automobiles, telephones, electricity.  In Manhattan, the stately mansion of C.V.S. Roosevelt, pictured above, torn down to make way for a sewing machine factory as residential areas shifted closer to Central Park.  Two more American presidents assassinated.  Economic recession.  A brief war in Cuba that made the go-get-em Roosevelt so popular he was easily elected governor of New York and assigned to the William McKinley presidential ticket in 1900.


When McKinley was assassinated only a few months into his second term, Roosevelt became president.  In 1904 he was elected in his own right.  John Hay, now Secretary of State, wrote a note with a gift the night before the inauguration, saying, “Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understands and appreciates (him).”  Enclosed was a gold ring containing several strands of Abraham Lincoln’s hair.

“I am mighty glad you like what I have been doing…I do not have to tell you that my great hero is Abraham Lincoln, and I have wanted while President to be the representative of the “plain people” in the sense that he was…according to my lights…” Theodore wrote friend Bill Sewall in 1906.

A Lincoln portrait hung in his office in the White House; after his presidency was over, he said this in a speech at The Great Emancipator’s birthplace: “His great and tender heart shrank from giving pain, and the task allotted him was to pour out like water the life-blood of the young men, and to feel in his every fibre the sorrow of the women…unbroken by hatred, unshaken by sorrow, he worked and suffered for the people.”

Theodore Roosevelt did not have the crisis of America at war during his administration, as Lincoln did.  Perhaps his “Big Stick” diplomacy held off the Great War.  But he did fight poverty, big business, and the depletion of our natural resources.

Lifelong friend, hunting guide, and Dakota ranch foreman William Sewall.  http://www.cache.boston.com

The same William Sewall, to whom Theodore wrote the letter, later said of him, “Wherever he went, he got right in with the people.  He was quick to find the real man in a very simple man….He valued me for what I was worth.”

Also true of his predecessor, ten terms before.

How Far to Go

Last time I applauded the work of Jacob Riis, an early photojournalist who made the public aware of just how bad the slums of New York City were in the Nineteenth Century.  When a friend said her book club had discussed the orphan trains which went to western states many years ago, I shot back that yes, I knew about them.  I’d written a short Christmas story about the efforts of the Children’s Aid Society to move homeless “street Arabs” into lodging houses or to completely new locations.

I started looking at more details.

My story told about Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (anyone surprised?) taking his sons to visit the Newsboys’ Lodging House, which he and his minister friend Charles Loring Brace started.  The men went weekly, encouraging the boys to work hard so they could become good citizens.  Eventually there were several such homes in the city for boys and for girls.  But the more ambitious program of the CAS was to “put faith in the kindness of strangers,” and move the children by rail to “Christian homes in the country.”


The trains carried needy children westward for 75 years, from 1855 to 1929.  Three times a month, groups as small as six and as large as 150 boarded coaches or box cars with small suitcases and new changes of clothing.  A card with a number was pinned on each child.  Some placements had been arranged in advance, notably by the priests of the Foundlings Home.  The trains stopped in Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, and eventually 40 other states.

Fortunate children had families waiting with a corresponding number.  Other boys and girls were lined up on a stage to be surveyed by “kind Christian people” who had read advance handbills or newspaper notices.  Of course I’m being sarcastic, because all the adults weren’t what Brace had hoped for.  Some of the children remembered how farmers poked their muscles or looked at their teeth and passed them by.

Reminiscences from some of them late in life are tough to read.

It is no excuse to say that of the 150,000 children placed, some were bound to be in worse situations than others.  We know that children were treated as indentured servants, doing farm work or housework.  Some were beaten, mentally abused, or both.  Agents followed up with visits, and supposedly the children had the opportunity to return to New York.  Many ran away.  Sometimes the parents of the host family died, and a new family agreed to take the child or children on.  Siblings were separated.  Sometimes children were shunned by schoolmates who knew they were illegitimate.

“They said I had bad blood.  How could anyone have blood that is bad?” one lady remembered, many years later.

Orphan train


Some stories, though, met with Brace’s vision.  How many is difficult to tell.  “I have a father and a mother and brothers and sisters and they are kinder to me than my own ever were,” a girl named Anne wrote.

Another, Alice, said, “I got a chance to do what I was capable of doing, making something of myself.”

One man reflected in Guideposts many years later, in 1991.  His first two placements were not successful, but the third was, with a devout family who treated him as their own.  “I had found not one but two new fathers, and I could talk to both of them.

Some of the children, reports the Children’s Aid Society, which is still active today, grew up to be very visible citizens.  John Brady, taken in by an Indiana judge (who called John “the most uncompromising of the lot”), became governor of Alaska; Andrew Burke became governor of North Dakota.  Others were businessmen, teachers, office workers, journalists, bankers, ministers, physicians, and members of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.

Brace investigated disturbing reports in the 1880s, and found that some communities were not thorough in the screening process for host families.  He died in 1890, the year How the Other Half Lives came out; the Children’s Aid Society continued to send children on the trains until 1929, when the government began foster care.

In his diary, Brace noted, “The human soul is difficult to interfere with.  You hesitate how far to go.”  A century and a half later, those truths still haunt us.

Some information in this post comes from “Orphan Trains” on PBS’s “American Experience,” and www.childrensaidsociety.org.

From Here to There

Finally, Spring!  Time for car washes and maybe even a shiny new ride, and for fortunate young people a memorable graduation gift on wheels.  The sixty years in which Theodore Roosevelt lived were remarkable in terms of the changes in transportation.  In the 1870s his father drove through Central Park behind four horses, high on a phaeton like the one above.

Dog Cart Mills Design


While at Harvard, Theodore Jr. sent for his horse and dogcart so he could court beautiful Alice Lee.  He was so obsessed with her that he nearly drove the poor animal lame.

Theodore in Rough Rider uniform on horseback, in stereoview (http://www.collectorsweekly.com)

As cowboy, hunter, and soldier, he was enamored with horses all of his life.  A list of them begins with Pony Grant which he and his brother and sister rode at their summer homes: also, Lightfoot, Boone, Crockett, Wire Fence, Manitou, Peacock, Little Texas, Rain in the Face (drowned in transport to the Cuban shore), Bleistein, Yagenka, and Algonquin (son Archie’s pony, which Quentin put in the White House elevator to visit his brother recovering from a serious illness in his bedroom).


Teddy Roosevelt at Lawrence Train Station

 Trains were a standard in his life from birth to death.  They carried him to the seashore, to cities in Europe on a grand tour with his family after the Civil War, and on stump speeches as a young politician and again as president.  Sometimes he rode in a private car and dictated letters, once to the exasperation of his younger sister who was standing in for his secretary.
President Roosevelt on Way to Michigan Agricultural College

The automobile made quick travel accessible to the average American.  Though Theodore didn’t buy one to drive himself for awhile, he rode in many of them, especially in parades.  He was the also the first president to take a ride in a submarine and in an airplane, the pilot of which was killed in a crash shortly afterward.


On the sea, he saw steam paddleboats morph into modern ocean liners.  But he loved rowing a little boat on Oyster Bay, his home waters, especially with second wife Edith.

His favorite way to travel?  Walking.  He liked long walks especially, over mountains from valley to valley on the Swiss countryside, from West Fifty-Seventh Street in New York to law school, from the White House to the Dutch Reformed Church and his older sister’s home in Washington.  No one who has read his biographies can miss the point to point “walks” he took friends on in Rock Creek Park.

The man who coined the term “strenuous life” liked to get from here to there on his own two feet.

“I Think I’ll Go Ahead…”

One of the more interesting studies of Theodore Roosevelt is his initiative, the biggest arena for which was the natural world.

In 1866 when he was eight years old and couldn’t see much past the edge of his fingertips, he started a nature museum in his bedroom, studying what was close up: animal skulls, bird nests, and insects.  With two cousins he expanded the collection, which eventually included 1,000 specimens.

Then, at sixteen, he began a club for his friends who were by that time hunting and stuffing birds.  They met mostly at his house, and he was the one that was mostly there.  Minutes which survive tell of boyish expeditions and research papers;  Theodore wrote to his mother, who was away visiting, “Last night we had a group of fellows over, and made a considerable amount of noise, but did not break anything.”

After his freshman year in college he published a small book, the official first of thirty-five, which catalogued species of birds in the Adirondack Mountains.  He gave an upstart report to the established Nuttall Ornithological Club, saying that house sparrows, a species from England, were threatening native songbirds.  His first job was in the New York State Assembly where he was not afraid to initiate bills he thought would benefit the people, in spite of criticism by the establishment.  He was sideswiped for a time when his young wife passed away, but a few years later, with a new life partner, Edith, resumed making his ideas tangible.

(basspro.com image)

TR and George Bird Grinnell, editor of Field and Stream magazine, were responsible for forming the Boone and Crockett Club, with the purpose of protecting big game animals on the western plains and in the Rocky Mountains.  A letter Theodore wrote to a fellow member in 1894 is telling:  “Grinnell…seemed to think your proposal to found a New York Zoo was a very good one, but he also seemed a little doubtful as to whether I should appoint a committee when I have no explicit authority to do so.  However, I think I’ll go ahead and do it…”  As a result of that zoo and a buffalo family to which it came, a herd was moved west, and eventually repopulated their old home.

As a governor of New York in 1900 his conservation plans included a public park in the Palisades and a fish and game program.  These were among 500 measures initiated in his two-year term.  Some of them infuriated political boss Thomas Platt so much that he kicked him “upstairs” to the vice presidency, saying, “He’s not going to raise h— in my state anymore.”

In 1903, as TR sat at a table with his cabinet, he asked the person next to him, “Is there any law that will prevent me from declaring Pelican Island (about four acres off the east coast of Florida) a federal bird reservation?”

“No, Mr. President,” was the answer.”

“Very well, then I so declare it.”

Theodore Roosevelt displayed his vigorous campaigning style before the newsreel cameras.

TR makes a speech in New England in 1902.  (www.loc.gov)

An event during his second term would reach far into the future, for the children of all Americans, “and their children’s children.”   Before Congress could pass a bill to prevent it, Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot helped him put aside 16,000,000 acres so they could not be touched by loggers, miners, or developers.

The Theodore Roosevelt Association has totaled the amount of land he used his authority to protect, in our national parks, monuments, and preserves: 230,000,000 acres.  You can see the list broken down on their website, http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org.

Some say he was power-happy, foolhardy, or even a fool.  He created the Rough Riders volunteer unit to fight in the Spanish-American War.  He attacked monopolies without fear.  He used creative measures to settle a potentially disastrous coal strike, and later deal with leaders of Japan and Russia.  Instead of discussing Panama’s independence with Congress, he said, he helped free them first and let them talk about it later.  When Theodore Roosevelt set his sights on the path he thought was the right one to take, he followed through.

I second the ending of Edmund Morris’s three-volume biography of our twenty-sixth president.  Among stacks of letters and ephemera, he found that a student had written: “He was a fulfiller of good intentions.”

TR and Davy Crockett had more than a few things in common.   We can probably include this motto: “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”

While his level of initiative is unmatched by most, we can all take a lesson and try to make things better for somebody — without having to be pushed.

Quotations and other facts from Theodore Roosevelt: The Making of a Conservationist by Paul Russell Cutright; Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt by William Henry Harbaugh; and letters in The Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard University.

Remember the Alamo, the Maine, and…

President Theodore Roosevelt riding through the Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas, April 1, 1905. Photo: PhotoQuest, Getty Images / NARA

As president in 1905, TR, in carriage at left, revisits Alamo Square (Getty Images).

If you can bear with me through another post about the Rough Riders, you may find some light-shedding information on Crockett and Roosevelt, the Alamo and Kettle Hill, and things that pull unlikely people together.

San Antonio, Texas was called Bexar when David (known to most as “Davy”) Crockett explored and hunted buffalo in the vicinity.  He’d lost a fourth bid for Congress in 1835, and, disillusioned with the Indiana removal policies of Andrew Jackson, headed for Texas.  He liked the country very much, writing that it was “the garden spot of the world,” and had hopes of settling there.

Crockett and like-minded frontiersmen such as Jim Bowie joined Colonel William Travis, who was half Crockett’s age, to defend the Alamo against an enormous Mexican army.  Crockett was described as a natural leader to whom men looked for guidance.  In the final battle with Santa Anna’s army in March 1836, he jumped around to all sides of the walls to help the men.  They bought time for Sam Houston to form the opposition force that would free Texas, but sacrificed their lives doing it.

Sixty-two years passed.

In February 1898 Theodore (known to most as “Teddy”) Roosevelt, thought it imperative to help the American army remove Spain from the western hemisphere.  On the lush island of Cuba, rebels had been fighting against their rulers for thirty years.  The American battleship Maine had recently blown up in the Havana Harbor.  Many, including Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt, believed the Spanish were responsible, and newspapers were pushing for a conflict.

War was declared in April.  TR got the go-ahead to form his volunteer unit.  Contrary to what some published accounts say, he did have military experience, with the National Guard, and had just orchestrated a naval victory against the Spanish in the Philippines.

Secretary of War R. A. Alger sent telegrams to the governors of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Indian Territory, saying: “The president desires to raise volunters in your territory to form part of a regiment of mounted riflemen…the men selected should be young, sound, good shots and good riders…”

The 23,000 applicants were narrowed to 1,050.  Some of those who got the go-ahead to come to San Antonio for training in May:

Descendents of the Chocktaw, Creek and Chickasaw.  Pollack, a full-blooded Pawnee.  Colbert, Holderman and Adair, all Cherokee.  Daniels, former marshall of Dodge City.  O’Neill, Arizona sheriff.  Smith, bear hunter; McCann, buffalo hunter.  Stagecoach drivers, sharpshooters, bronco busters, trail drive cowpokes, and miners.  Wanderers for whom lean-to’s had been the most permanent sleeping quarters.

With Theodore Roosevelt publicized as the second in command, recruits of a different vein answered.  From Harvard: Dean and Wrenn, quarterbacks.  Yale: Waller, high jumper.  Princeton: Lamed, tennis player; Wadsworth, steeplechase rider; and Stevens, polo player.  Columbia: Fish, crew captain.

They gave each other nicknames such as Tough Ike, The Dude, Metropolitan Bill, Porkchop, Hell Roarer, and Prayerful James.  TR said they worked “hard and faithfully,” and that he could depend on them in both emergencies and routine work.  In spite of their roughness, they behaved well.  One night, though, a few decided to paint the town red and one had to be left behind in jail


The first and second buglers of the Rough Riders were Indian and Italian.  It was an eclectric group.

Each day as they were breaking, grooming and riding horses south of San Antonio, “the strong wind sifted dust through everything.”  Military adventures Theodore had read about as an asthmatic little boy were becoming reality.  He practiced giving commands by himself in the desert after the regular officers’ training at night.

“I had always felt that if there were a serious war I wished to be in a position to explain to my children why I did take part in it, and not why I did not take part in it,” he explained later.  “…It was our duty to free Cuba, and when a man takes a position he ought to be willing to make his words good by his deeds…”

A few years before, he and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge had collaborated on a book called Hero Tales, intending to peel away some common myths about twenty-six notable Americans. Roosevelt wrote about “fearless and resolute” Crockett.  He  accurately called him “David,” noting an account that said he and a few other men were captured by Mexican officers and presented to their general, who ordered them killed (affirmed in 1975 in a newly-uncovered diary of a servant who witnessed the battle).

“Remember the Alamo!” had been the rallying cry at the Battle of San Jacinto when Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna.

“Remember the Maine!” was the big block headline urging the country to war in Cuba.  The Rough Riders and 1,250 horses and mules left San Antonio for Tampa, Florida on a train at the end of the month.  During the four-day trip, citizens who had been part of the Confederacy waved the Stars and Stripes, and offered up watermelons and beer to the men in the passenger cars.

After parading in Tampa, the Rough Riders beat regular troops down to the water in cars of a coal train running in reverse.  Ironically, when they loaded onto the transport bound for Cuba with thirty other ships, all but five horses had been left behind.  The cavalry became infantry.  And to everyone’s dismay, four hundred of their number didn’t get to go.

This flag was carried up Kettle Hill in Cuba by the Rough Riders.  A handwritten, notorized document from one of the soldiers is displayed with it in a case at the historic Menger Hotel in San Antonio.

They were delayed a week before Generals Shafter and Wheeler and 17,000 troops sailed for Santiago.  Lieutenant John J. Pershing, future General of the Armies, and his company of black soldiers were among them.  Journalist Richard Harding Davis and artist Frederic Remington, and some newly-trained motion picture cameramen came along, too.

On July 1 newly-promoted Brigadier General Leonard Wood and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt took Kettle Hill, then San Juan Hill; subsequently the Spanish surrendered.  The Rough Riders had the heaviest casualties of any unit there, losing a third of their men to death, injuries, or fever in the jungle.  Crockett had died during his crowded hour in Texas, but Roosevelt survived in the Carribean.

It has since been concluded that the Maine was blown up by a malfunctioning boiler.

What should we remember?  Rowdies eager for a good fight?  Or the comradery and spirit of Americans, no matter where they came from, to join in a common cause they believed in?

Arguably some of both, but with a much higher percentage of the latter.

Sources: The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt, Hero Tales by Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, www.ushistory.org, www.tamu.edu (Texas A&M), www.historynet.com, www.loc.gov.


Margaret Porter Griffin's photo.

United States Volunteers.  How many times in our country’s history have men volunteered to raise an entire military unit?  Minute Men?  Davy Crockett’s men?  Rough Riders?  In a recent visit to San Antonio, Texas, we toured the Alamo, and a hundred yards to the right was an historic hotel where Rough Riders passed the time in 1898.  There were not a few new insights to be had into Theodore Roosevelt’s bully group of volunteers.

The Menger Hotel was built in 1859 to provide a place to stay for the many people who came to tour its owner’s brewery.  That was just twenty years after the massacre at the Alamo.  Then, when the hotel was about forty years old, two new commanders came to town: Colonel Leonard Wood and Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.

They chose San Antonio because nearby Fort Sam Houston would issue their army horses and mules.  The Rough Riders were a cavalry unit, and most of the horses had to be broken before they could use them for drills.  Most of the 1,050 men had already been decided on, but Wood, who arrived first, set up a recruiting station next to the hotel in the patio.  Roosevelt stayed at the hotel his first weekend in town.  Then he rode south a few miles to camp, for the rest of the two and a half weeks of training.

A Rough Rider officer’s uniform made by who else – Brooks Brothers.  The regulars wore navy blue shirts.  Notice the polka-dot kerchief.

TR was critical of the preparedness of the regular Army.  As assistant secretary of the Navy, he viewed his branch as ready for war.  So he put his heart and soul into getting the unlikely group of soldiers ready.  Famously, they were Southwestern cowboys and Indians (and at least one outlaw).  About a fourth were Ivy League football and tennis champions.  “The young men of the country should realize that it is the duty of every one of them to prepare himself so that in time of need he may speedily become an efficient soldier,” was the way he put it in his autobiography in 1913.

Troop K of the Rough Riders in San Antonio.  The flagbearer is from the Tiffany family, who provided extra guns for the regiment.

With Wood busy organizing, TR took charge of drilling the men.  He said that it took awhile for average citizens to become a good infantrymen or cavalrymen because they had to be trained to “shoot, ride, march, take care of themselves in the open, and to be alert, cool, resourceful, daring and resolute…”  His men already had accomplished most of these, so they spent time breaking and getting the horses ready.

Roosevelt got into a bit of trouble with his superior officer when he treated a group of soldiers to unlimited beer at the hotel after a day of hard work.  His apology later in Wood’s tent was classic: “I wish to say, sir, that I agree with what you said.  I consider myself the damndest ass within ten miles of this camp.  Good night.”

It has been said that the difference in the two men was that Wood asked for advice, but not information.  Roosevelt asked for information, but not advice.  That’s a pretty good indicator of the rest of TR’s career, which catapulted from Rough Rider commander, to governor, to vice president, and then president of the United States.

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Additional Sources: The Rough Riders and An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris, and The Theodore Roosevelt Association.