Tag Archives: Teddy Roosevelt

The Latest Theodore Roosevelt Scholarship

I’m sitting here with a couple fresh biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, getting a little downtime around the 10:04PM hour. To my right is Edward P. Kohn, Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt (Basic Books, 2014) and Paul Grondahl, I Rose Like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt (Free Press, 2004). Being from North Dakota, these are nourishing reads since, naturally, North Dakota has claimed Theodore Roosevelt because Theodore Roosevelt claimed North Dakota.

They are nourishing reads because Kohn’s central idea challenges traditional TR scholarship (a Great White Battleship’s worth) which accepts TR’s ideas about himself as being a cowboy and American westerner. Kohn says no. He says TR was a New Yorker through and through. Kohn opens the introduction by saying, “Theodore Roosevelt’s path to the White House may have gone through the West, but it did not start there.” This is true.

Grondahl’s work situates TR as a young man in his freshman year with the New York State Legislature. In 1882, TR entered the assembly chamber in Albany, New York. In the second paragraph of the prelude, “Practical Politics,” he sets the stage for the reader, at least what TR was facing, using the present tense for added reality and to situate the reader in 1882:

“The atmosphere in Albany during the legislative session is part carnival, part college fraternity. Some of the city’s denizens are just passing through, looking to ride along on the political parade for a while. Others arrive full of idealism and a burning desire to make meaningful change. A few seem perplexed to be elected public officials in the state’s capital, as if they had awoken from a Rip van Winkle-like slumber to find themselves holding a seat in the Assembly or Senate. It’s a dream job for some, a nightmare for others. Many build their reputations here. A few sacrifice their respectability on the alter of politics, learning the rules only to abuse them. The Legislature is a closed system, a kind of political union shop. The principles of prep school secret societies guide its old boys’ network, clubby familiarity, oaths of loyalty, and rituals of initiation.” 

This is what TR faced when he caught wind of the plans of “Big John” McManus, one of Tammany Hall’s “persuaders.” McManus wanted to haze TR by tossing him in a blanket. TR, though, having fought his childhood through asthma and monetary privilege, made a bee-line for McManus and, flat out, said to him, “By God! McManus, I hear you are going to toss me in a blanket. By God! If you try anything like that, I’ll kick you, I’ll bite you, I’ll kick you in the balls. I’ll do anything to you — you’d better leave me alone.” This method, later popularized by Rooster Cogburn, worked.

While I’m only in the introductions to both, I don’t see the biographies by Grondahl and Kohn challenging the traditional TR scholarship so much as they do to humanize TR. Life is about change, and it is about evolving as human beings, and as circumstances warrant and dictate. It’s important to remember that, lest we think of historical actors as monolithic (a fancy way of saying 1 dimensional).


Western ND Roosevelt Notes

RooseveltThis afternoon I’m doing a bit of research and reading of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1884 diary from the digital collections of Dickinson State University’s Theodore Roosevelt Center. A very, very, very sad diary entry from February 14, 1884, the day his wife and mother died (on the same day!).

Teddy wrote an “X” on this page, and followed it with the short, heartfelt statement: “The light has gone out of my life.” Sad!

On June 9, 1884 he arrived at his Chimney Butte Ranch on the Little Missouri River in western North Dakota (then Dakota Territory). From here he proceeded to blow everything away for a while. For example, the June 13, 1884 entry reads, “One jack rabbit, one curlew. Both killed with double barreled express rifle, 50 caliber, 150 grains of powder.”

The next day, Saturday, he blew away two more cerlews. He must’ve took the day of rest on Sunday. But on Monday he was back in the saddle, blowing everything away again. He drilled “one badger; found out on [the] plains away from [his] hole, galloped up to him and killed him with revolver.” This hunting spree goes on for some time. I’m sensing a foreshadowing for future conservation efforts around the turn of the 19th century. We’ll see what happens next…


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.


Teddy Roosevelt’s Inaugural Home and Buffalo Wings

This past weekend Molly and I visited Buffalo, New York, primarily to attend one of our friend’s weddings. While in Buffalo, we enjoyed the hospitality of Rich and Susan Bring Tobe. Rich and Susan know the deep culture of Buffalo, New York, and they showed us a variety of historic architecture and landscape architecture (including homes by Frank Lloyd Wright, and parks designed by Frederick L. Olmsted). In addition to this, they also pointed out the home where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn into office, this after William McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet in Buffalo. Before Molly and I departed yesterday, we stopped to take some photos of the home. I thought I’d upload and share one here (the house is on the National Register of Historic Places, the site narrative linked to here).

A photo of the home in Buffalo, New York where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn into U.S. Presidential Office after the death of McKinley.

This also got me to thinking how altered the monopolistic trust-busting might have been had Teddy not become president through this awful tragedy (that’s kind of the way with life, though: redemption can result from tragedy, at least in this case). Of course, had McKinley survived, we would not even know how things would have been otherwise. But that’s another discussion entirely (arguably presented much more intelligibly by Doc in Back to the Future).

While in Buffalo, I also got to thinking about just how many chicken wings Teddy could have inhaled at the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the “Buffalo” wing (in Buffalo, they just call Buffalo wings “wings” much in the same way that the French refer to French onion soup as “onion soup.”).

Anchor Bar merchandise at the original birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing, this in Buffalo, New York.