Title: In the West, Theodore Roosevelt Won His Health and Strenuousness

Periodical: Success

Date: January 1902

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In the West, Theodore Roosevelt Won His Health and Strenuousness


"Where Nature's chemistry distills the foundations and the laughing rills, I love to quaff her sparkling wine, and breathe the fragrance of the pine."

To my thinking, his inherent manliness, his independence of thought and action, his firm determination to do his duty as he sees it, found early expression in the character of Theodore Roosevelt when, as a youth, in search of health and strength, he went to the great West. It is probable that, while yet a young man, he was ambitiously inspired to do something out of the ordinary, and was shrewd enough to know that, to win success in life's undertakings, vigorous health is a prime requisite. He elected the arid plains and mountains of our western country, as a likely locality wherein he might build up a constitution sturdy and strong.

He Dashed into the Vortex of the Chase

It was in the summer of 1883 that he entered the then "wild and woolly" town of Little Missouri, situated on the Northern Pacific Railroad, in the very heart of the "bad lands" of Dakota. Little Missouri contained at that time some of the worst "bad men" and outlaws to be found outside the borders of civilization. But it was not in the town that he expected to find the health and strength to carry him through the strenuous life he, perhaps, had already mapped out, but in the saddle camp, and chase, by living close to nature and taking "pot luck" with the rough and rugged men who became his companions, and who understood him and whom he understood from the outset. During that summer, with one man and a pack outfit, he hunted over the country, from Yellowstone Park to the Black Hills, from the Black Hills to the Big Horn Basin to Jackson Hole and in the majestic Rocky Mountains, back to Yellowstone Park, down Clark's Fork to the Yellowstone, the Big and Little Horn Rivers, through the Crow Indian Reservation where General George A. Custer, the gallant and lamented soldier, went to a heroic death. Back again to the "bad lands" of the Little Missouri, went Theodore Roosevelt, having hunted buffaloes, elk, deer, antelopes, mountain sheep, bears, lions, and the smaller game of that country. He fished in the numerous mountain streams, and lived the rough, hardy life of a frontiersman. For five months, the heavens were his only canopy. He caught and killed game for his own use, saddled his mounts, did his own cooking, was his own scout, and performed his half of the night-work. The capacity to do for himself and meet men upon an equal basis—self-reliance and personal courage,—came to him as the fruition of this and similar experiences in the Far West. I know that this democracy still influences him.

He Showed Pioneers how to Winter Cattle

Having studied the conditions of the wild animal life of mountain and plain, he found that the fattest and best wild game inhabited the "bad lands" of Little Missouri. Although without food or shelter, save what they could gather from the grasses that grew there, the wild game was in splendid condition. As a result of these conditions, the young hunter made up his mind to engage in the business of raising cattle. Old frontiersmen told him that the cattle could not be wintered in the "bad lands." This he disputed, and he argued, as proof of his contention, the fact that the finest wild game was to be found there, and he could not understand why cattle would not thrive under the same conditions. The following spring, Theodore Roosevelt shipped to Little Missouri, by the Northern Pacific Railroad, several hundred head of cattle, hired vaqueros, purchased mess-wagons and provisions, and drove the cattle from the cars to his range in the very heart of the "bad lands." There he took up the life of a western ranchman, and asked of his men nothing that he would not undertake himself. He faced the most violent blizzards while rounding up the cattle for safety. I remember this intrepid son of fortune, participating in the stampedes, doing his share of the night-herding, breaking his own horses, sleeping at night with his saddle pillow, and, perhaps, the snow for a blanket, eating the same rough, substantial fare as his employees, and evidencing the indomitable will, courage and endurance which brought to him the affection and respect of his men.

He Civilized many "Bad Men" by his Influence

The country at that time was the habitat of horse thieves, stage robbers, desperadoes, and criminals in general. Surely this "tenderfoot" from the East would prove an excellent subject for imposition! Other men had been made to feel that lawlessness and depredation were united as a common lot visited upon each newcomer, the only apparent, quick redress being in the power and ability of the offended party to protect himself and chastise the marauders. Mr. Roosevelt's salutatory to such persons came early, and was effective. His influence and example did much toward civilizing the "bad men" in his locality, who found him to be an absolutely just man, possessing nerve, and handy with gun and fists. No person ever stole a hoof of his cattle or horses, but was captured and punished according to the laws then existing in that country.

Theodore Roosevelt early acquired the reputation of being abundantly able to protect himself and his interests, his aptitude along such lines being brought out in bold relief by what is remembered in the West as the Marquis De Mores incident. Marquis De Mores was a Frenchman by birth and a western ranchman through preference. He went West heralded as a dualist of great reputation, and located upon a ranch some miles distant from that of the subject of this article. Although thoroughly an honorable man, he believed in governing the country by force, and it was the popular impression that the cowboys in his employ were "killers" and ready to fight at the drop of the hat. Soon after De Mores had established his headquarters in a town called Medora, Roosevelt's cowboys and those in De More's employ became involved in a dispute over some cattle, which resulted in a pitched battle between the disputants. Victory, and a decisive one, perched upon the Roosevelt standard. De More's anger and chagrin were boundless when he learned of the outcome of the affair, and he informed his men that, if they could not whip Roosevelt's cowboys, he, personally, could whip their boss, and that some day he would go to Roosevelt's ranch and accomplish such a task. Roosevelt heard of this threat and sent immediate word to De Mores that he need not trouble to undertake the journey to his (Roosevelt's) ranch, but that he would meet him halfway, at any designated point, when any differences could be speedily, if not peacefully, adjusted. Marquis De Mores did not choose to seriously consider our friend's message, and the impression became prevalent and widespread in that section of the country that the Frenchman's hand had been "called" and that he had been found bluffing.

"Gameness" Was Needed: Roosevelt Had Plenty

In those days, if there was one attribute of character and make-up more thoroughly acceptable than another, to the average westerner, it was the "gameness" a man possessed and displayed at an opportune time, such qualities always proving the open sesame to the regard and affections of the men of the camp. The De Mores episode gained for Roosevelt no little distinction. Contrary to predictions, his cattle industry proved to be a financial success. The cattle wintered well in the "bad lands," and, from there, he shipped some of the finest beeves ever placed in the Chicago market. He remained in the business for about three years, when he found himself the owner of several thousand head of cattle, splendid ranch houses, and corrals, and no doubt he could have remained in the business and become one of the cattle kings of the West. But by that time he had obtained what he went West for,—vigorous health and an iron constitution, the result of his labor and life on the plains, had come to him and he was ready for greater things. He gave to the people of the West an example of splendid integrity and forceful character, early winning their esteem and loyalty, the possession of which he has never forfeited but rather increased by the continued exercise of the sturdy independence which found such early expression among a people whose pluck and perseverence in the upbuilding of a great and new country has been immortalized in song and legend.

His Frontier Life Was amply Worth the While

As a legislator, police commissioner, governor, and soldier, he has proved his capacity and worth, performing his work well and conscientiously. His fellow citizens, regardless of geographical distribution, believe that he will not be found wanting in the discharge of the exacting duties of his present exalted station, and his career may well be an inspiration to American youths. To all who have ever lived the untrammeled life of plain and mountain, the sweet memory of it abideth forever. To our President the freedom of it still strongly appeals, and we find him making occasional excursions into a country where the pleasures of the camp and the chase are still to be found, and where democracy prevails. To live as he did, and accomplish what he has, meeting the conditions of a new country, gaining health, strength, and a knowledge of men, was indeed worth while.

Title: In the West, Theodore Roosevelt Won His Health and Strenuousness

Periodical: Success

Source: Harvard College Library, Widener Library, Roosevelt 332.C64i

Date: January 1902

Topic: Congress of Rough Riders

People: Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919

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