Our presidential election is coming up in a few weeks, and it’s interesting to note just how much influence the West has had on this nation’s leaders. Of course, in George Washington’s time, there wasn’t much of a West to note, but as the nineteenth century rolled into the twentieth, several presidents indulged in the fantasy . . . of being a cowboy.
For example, Calvin Coolidge possessed an electrically-operated horse. He also invited Tom Mix, a cowboy movie star at the time, to dinner at the White House. And while visiting the Black Hills in 1929, he decked himself out in a tall Hoot Gibson-style hat, neckerchief, shirt, and batwing chaps strapped on over his dark, very president-like suit pants, then had his picture taken to show it all off.
We all remember Ronald Reagan. As a handsome actor with a disarming smile, he appeared on the big screen and television, landing notable western roles in Santa Fe Trail , Death Valley Days and Zane Gray Theater. He owned a 688-acre ranch in California.
Yet of all of them, it was a born-and-bred New Yorker, a magna cum laude Harvard graduate and a Nobel Prize laureate that can truly and proudly claim he was more cowboy than any president before him–or after.
Can you guess who it is?
Theodore Roosevelt headed west for the first time in 1880 to partake in a hunting trip with his brother. So enraptured with the bountiful game and the beauty of the wide-open lands, he returned several years later to hunt buffalo in Dakota Territory. He got off the train wearing a Derby hat, a Brooks Brothers suit and thick eyeglasses. His reputation for disdaining hard liquor, tobacco, and all but the mildest of cursing inspired much eye-rolling from the locals, but he soon endeared himself to them with his love for the open range. He invested his fortune in cattle and in purchasing two ranches.
After a childhood fraught with sickness, he’d found an idyllic and robust life in the West and a rising political career in the East. In 1884, while working in his Albany, NY, office, he received word his beloved wife had given birth to their daughter. Shortly thereafter, however, he received another message–this one frantically urging him to return home. His mother lay in the grips of typhoid fever and his wife’s kidneys had begun to fail. Within hours of his return, both were dead.
He struggled through his sorrow by journeying West to work his ranch, rope steers, and hunt. He served a term as deputy sheriff in Billings County, Montana, and rode with a posse to hunt down criminals. He earned his dream of military glory by pulling together a group of roughened riders from the West. And as they say, the rest is history.
I could go on and on about this man. How he created national parks and forests, wildlife refuges, bird sanctuaries and bison preserves. How he was a prolific author (35 books). How he was a big-game hunter and explorer. How he’s credited with building the Panama Canal.
To ride in an airplane
To delve underwater in a submarine
To have a telephone in his home
To own a car
To invite an African-American to the White House (Booker T Washington)
To be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize
Yep. He was one heck of a cowboy. One heck of a president, too. Ironically, he’d be 150 years old this month.
There was one more pretty darn famous thing about Teddy Roosevelt that I didn’t mention. Can you guess what it is?
Who was your favorite president and why?
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