Taking TR to the People

The quandry of how to get more people interested in history continues.  Everyone needs to realize that knowing names, places, and dates is just not the same as digging into fascinating lives which made our country what it is.  So last weekend in Medora, North Dakota, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation hosted the third annual “Gathering of TRs.”

My husband and I were happy to plan a free cabin-building workshop for children on Sunday afternoon (TR’s reconstructed “Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin” sits just outside the National Park Service visitor center there).  Twenty excited kids of various ages put together the scale models to get a feel for the place where a future president lived.  A few had help from someone very familiar with it.

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Most of the weekend was devoted to re-enactors who came from far and wide to showcase Theodore Roosevelt’s ideals and accomplishments, but they were not all him.  Edith Roosevelt was there, as well as their youngest son, Quentin.  University of North Dakota student Austin Artz received a standing ovation from the Old Time Theatre’s  packed house.

Julia Marple, Austin Artz, and Larry Marple as Edith, Quentin, and Theodore Roosevelt

The person in the selfie below took a turn as Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, telling stories about her older brother.  Used to presenting historical figures in classroom venues, she was taken by surprise when the stage lights prevented her from seeing the audience.  But they asked good questions, and it was even more enjoyable to be part of a discussion panel at the end of the day.

Small But Mighty National Park

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It’s hard to believe it was once a swamp, with gator-like dinosaurs crawling around among the water plants.  Fossil remains found by paleontologists testify that the “champsosaurus ” lived here 55,000,000 years ago.  But today the scenery, and the animals, are a bit different.

The site in western North Dakota is now 70,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  It is not as big as Yellowstone (2,200,000 acres), and there are no geysers, but visitors are treated to a peaceful drive-through with lots of wildlife. Buttes, trees, tall grasses and the Little Missouri River are their home.

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Rock formations are lined with red ignite coal, also known as scoria.  Geologists call it “clinker.”  Montana may claim the Big Sky nickname, but there’s plenty of it here, too.

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On a brief stay at in Medora, we drove the park’s southern loop in midmorning, slowing for a group of buffalo.  This was the animal that brought Theodore Roosevelt west in 1883.  He got one of the last from the wild but helped to re-establish their presence in their original home.

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“…where the deer and the antelope play”

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Feral horses roam the park, munching on abundant salt grass, wheatgrass, and bluestem grass.

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Prairie dog towns dot the roadsides; if you roll down the car window, you can hear some morning gossip.

The land was first surveyed for a park honoring President Roosevelt in 1924, five years after his death.  During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, trails, picnic areas, campgrounds and other buildings.  In 1946 it was given the name of Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge — the next year, President Truman signed a bill to call it Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park.  Finally, in 1978, it received the national park status that it retains today.

The visitors’ center at the park’s entrance has a number of exhibits.  They sponsor programs on birdwatching, stargazing, and Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross cabin, which stands a little way from the back door and houses TR’s traveling trunk and other authentic furniture.

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It is a good combination of nature, history, and western culture in America.  On summer nights, in an outdoor ampitheatre on the other side of the buttes, “The Medora Musical” celebrates it all with a fantastic show.  If they could just work in a song and dance number for the dinosaurs.

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.

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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.

Fleet

The name Arthur T. Packard was called out over the diploma line at the University of Michigan in 1882. As the young man came up to accept it, he didn’t realize he was halfway between friendships with two others who would be remembered in American history.  One was Theodore Roosevelt; and the other, Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black man to play major league baseball.

The Bad Lands Cow Boy

Packard put his college education to use by starting a newspaper in a small western town.  As proprietor of The Bad Lands Cow Boy in Medora, North Dakota, he had a couple of ranchers who made good copy.  The Marquis de Mores said he had claims to the throne of France, while Theodore Roosevelt gave such a stirring Independence Day speech Packard asked him if he didn’t aspire to be president of the United States.  De Mores and Roosevelt, each twenty-five years old, went their separate ways after a few years; and when his print shop burned down, Packard returned to the Midwest as a sports editor.  In the early 1900s he would write a memoir about the president’s cowboy days for Life Magazine.
Visiting Medora, today a tourist attraction, I learned that Packard had pitched for Michigan’s baseball team in 1882.  On the other side of home plate, catching without a glove, was Walker.  According to David W. Zang’s book Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart (University of Nebraska Press, 1995), Moses Fleetwood had already started playing professionally the summer before.

This was a fascinating sidetrack of my first Lilly grant.  I found out that Michigan wasn’t the first team Packard and Walker played for.  At the beginnings of intercollegiate play, they were among the “Baseball Nine” of Oberlin College in Ohio.  The Oberlin-Michigan game in the spring of 1881 included a Walker wallop over the roof of a nearby building, and Michigan recruited the both of them.  Questions in Ann Arbor about admitting Fleet to the school seem to have been smoothed over by a letter of recommendation from Packard, whose father was a Civil War general and congressman.

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The Toledo Blue Stockings of 1884: Fleet, seated left; Weldy, back row.

Fleet studied law at the university, but when baseball season rolled around, he was ready, batting .308 and helping the team to a 10-3 record.  That summer he joined the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League.  (In 1881, he had been paid to catch a few games for the White Sewing Machine Company team in Cleveland).  His younger brother Weldy also played for Michigan and Toledo.  Fleet never graduated from college like Arthur Packard, but he did make as much as $2,000 a season from his sport.  Some of the cities in his league included Peoria, Quincy, and Springfield, Illinois; Bay City and Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In April 1885 he was in a game in Kentucky, and promptly arrested as a representative of the team for breaking a Sunday no-play rule. Released on bail, he sat in the courtroom ten days later and listened to the hearing.  The judge noted that the report was the game had been a good one.  “Yes, it was,” the county prosecutor replied.  “I was there!”  The case was decided in the team’s favor.

Fleet played for six years, ending his career with a team in Toronto called the Syracuse Stars.  Manager Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings obnoxiously forbid his players on several occasions to share the field with a black man.  By all accounts Fleet was a class act, a gentlemen, a charmer who would show kids how to hold their hands while catching to prevent broken fingers and thumbs.

After baseball, his trajectory went up: owning a theater, writing a well-regarded book called Our Home Colony, and getting a patent on an artillery shell.  Then it took a downward turn: accusations of mail fraud and the murder of another man by stabbing which resulted in one jail sentence and one acquittal.  He was married twice, but his children had none of their own, so there are no direct descendants today.  A grand-nephew and grand-niece attended a memorial service when a headstone was placed over his grave in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1990.  It was his induction into the John Heisman Club’s Hall of Fame at Oberlin College.

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If Arthur Packard had only written a memoir about his college chum for Life, too.