Teddy Roosevelt on Halloween in Dakota Territory

I’m looking at some of the original Teddy Roosevelt documents this evening from Bismarck, this provided by the glorious Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in western North Dakota. I came across a historical Halloween gem. It is a November 3, 1885 letter of Teddy describing Halloween in the Badlands of western North Dakota. It is accurately titled, “Hallowe’en in the Bad Lands.” I’ll analyze it after this blog post. I want to just transcribe it here because we’re getting close to Halloween in general. So here is for your historical Halloween sense of time and place. Writing from the Badlands of western North Dakota, Roosevelt said (run-on sentences were his style of the times),

While the young people of Bismarck paid me extraordinary attention to the fair Hallowe’en, the cow boys of the Bad Lands favored the stars and gaudy buttes of that land of earthen goblins with a celebration, which for brilliancy and spontaneity surpasses any thing of the kind on record. True there were no maidens to add the feminine charm to the occasion, but the pistol decorated gentlemen of the ranges were equal to every emergency, and that the conventionalism’s of the occasion might be properly observed, a number of the bovine guardians agreed to don the female garb, and while away the early evening hours in waiting for the coming of the sign changing hoodoos. There were no signs to tear down in the Bad Lands, but they could skim the jagged pasture land on their half breed plugs and rip the ambient air up the back with shouts and whoops and leaden balls. The proper hour having arrived, the cowboys on the outside, as representatives of the masculine gender rode up to the ranch and entered, to find that their female impersonators had been faithful and fifteen of their fellow cowboys were seated about the room in skirts and waists and what scraps of ribbons they could gather from their tanks and neighboring ranches. A dance was immediately opened and everything was as pleasant as a Fifth Avenue social, until the whiskey reached its zenith and the hour for shooting had arrived. The cowboy girls seemed to forget the modesty which their positions demanded, and in language of the prairie, “they turned themselves loose.” A general fusillade was indulged in, the meeting adjourning when the lamps were shot to pieces and the narrowed and improvised dresses were obliterated. It is said that had the celebration lasted an hour longer the climax might have a row, but as it is, a few loud words, a parting drink and a desperate attempt to shoot the blinking stars closed the memorable event.


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