Yes, we’re going old school this week, taking a look at the heroics and rather fascinating life of Theodore Roosevelt, our nation’s 26th president. You’ve undoubtedly heard of Teddy and his Rough Riders, but do you know the story of the horrible heartbreak and agonies he went through prior to his presidency? Do you know how many seemingly insurmountable obstacles he not only climbed but beat into submission along the way? Theodore Roosevelt is one of those presidents we’re all aware played a role in history, but not many understand just how notable he was. Well, today we’re going to find out.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., was born on October 27, 1858, the second of four kids born to a socialite mother whose name was, amusingly, Martha Stewart – no, not that one – and philanthropist Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. Right from the start, young Teddy had it rough. He was born suffering from severe asthma, and in the 19th century the illness could easily be a death sentence. Despite his poor health he was as active as possible and began showing interest in the very things that would later fill his adult years, starting with zoology and taxidermy (and the hunting that goes along with it). His first subject was a dead seal he came across at the market; seven-year-old Teddy took an immediate interest and began planning how to get the important parts home. The most important part was, of course, the head. Yes, young Teddy promptly beheaded the seal, used his rudimentary knowledge of taxidermy to mount it, and started his own museum. He called it the Roosevelt Museum of Natural History and set about filling it with animals he both killed and captured, continuing to expand his abilities as both a hunter and a taxidermist along the way.
Due in large part to his health, Teddy was homeschooled, but it didn’t slow him down; he enrolled in Harvard in 1876. His father had a great impact on his dedication to his studies, and when the senior Theodore Roosevelt passed away in 1878, Teddy poured all his grief and energy into school. Aside from flourishing as a naturalist and in the field of ornithology, he got into rowing and boxing. That’s right, he wasn’t about to let his health get in the way, and, in fact, he did so well he was the runner-up in one boxing match at Harvard. He was also the member of a number of clubs and fraternities, graduating Phi Beta Kappa on June 30, 1880, with an A.B. magna cum laude.
It was during his time at Harvard he began studying the U.S. Navy. Although the only real focus he could have at the time was the War of 1812, he took it quite seriously, digging so deep he ended up publishing a book about it, titled The Naval War of 1812. And while many praised the book as a sign of his devotion to history as well as his prowess as a scholar, there was more to his interest than the written word. He said it best himself: “It must be a poor-spirited American whose veins do not tingle with pride when he reads of the cruises and fights of the sea-captains, and their grim prowess, which kept the old Yankee flag floating over the waters of the Atlantic for three years, in the teeth of the mightiest naval power the world has ever seen.” Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t only interested in military history past, you see, he was interested in its future – and the idea of being a part of it had most certainly taken root by that point.
His political career started early; by 1882 he was a member of the New York State Assembly, a seat he held for three years before moving on to bigger, better political things. He became known almost immediately for fighting corruption, and he didn’t care who you were; corruption was corruption, regardless of stature. With that mindset he not only took on corporate corruption by taking down rotten financiers but also once famously took on a judge, exposing him for who he really was – not a nice guy – and making it clear he felt upright morals and strong ethics were an important part of politics, which isn’t something you see today.
In 1883, Teddy took a brief break from politics to build a log cabin in Medora, North Dakota. He wanted a country getaway from the rush of city life (one can only imagine what he’d think of New York City today) and proved himself more than capable of handling anything, and anyone, that got in his way. An excellent example took place in a saloon in the town of Mingasville, which was close to where he was building the aforementioned cabin. As he walked in, no doubt looking for a stiff drink and not expecting random acts of violence, a drunk cowboy decided to use him for target practice and fired off a few shots at him. As Teddy approached him, probably with more than a slight hint of don’t-mess-with-me steel in his eyes, the cowboy proceeded to aim his pistol at the future president’s face. The drunk who apparently liked to take his life into his hands then called Teddy “four eyes” and flat-out ordered him to buy a round for everyone present. Teddy didn’t respond as expected by the drunken cowboy, though, he simply started to laugh, and while an amused reaction alone may have shocked the pistol-wielding idiot, it was what came next that really startled him. Probably still laughing merrily, Teddy beat the daylights out of the cowboy, who fired one more wild shot – which missed entirely – and then fell unconscious after having his head repeatedly slammed into the wooden bar. Understanding the cowboy would most likely come around in a bad mood, Teddy then deposited his sorry ass in a shed outside, locking the door for the night and hopefully uttering something memorable like “happy hour’s over.”
Before he entered military service or became heavily embroiled in politics, though, he was going to suffer one of the worst kinds of loss imaginable, and at the same time as he experienced one of life’s greatest joys. Teddy married a young socialite by the name of Anne Hathaway Lee on his 22nd birthday, and just a few short years later the young couple had their first child, a daughter they named Alice Lee Roosevelt (interestingly, Anne said no the first time Teddy proposed, but he persisted, and she finally agreed to marry him). But Teddy’s joy was to be short-lived; just two days after giving birth to Alice, Anne passed away from kidney failure. It was not his only loss of the day, either, for only 11 hours prior to Anne’s death, Teddy’s mother, Mittie, succumbed to typhoid fever in another part of the same house. Both deaths took place on Valentine’s Day, 1884. He was overwrought with grief and ended up handing Alice over to his sister, Bamie, who lived in New York City. It wasn’t until Alice turned three that Teddy would return for her.
There’s quite a bit of information about Teddy’s political years and ascent, but being we prefer to focus on the badass moments, we’re going to do just that. You do, after all, know the basics of his political fame, and it’s the stories of his badassitude we wish to impart. With this in mind, we’re leapfrogging ahead.
By 1886, Teddy built a second North Dakota ranch, this one substantially larger and containing a massive herd of cattle. On this property, 35 miles outside Medora, Teddy honed his western-riding skills and learned to rope while also becoming a stellar hunter. During his time on the Elkhorn Ranch he wrote several articles for magazines and also had three more books published: Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, and The Wilderness Hunter. It was also during this time he continued to express his disdain for poor morals and added more fuel to the fire known as his badass reputation.
In the early part of 1886, Teddy and his two frequent hunting partners, Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dew, bought a small boat to get across the Little Missouri River. The Elkhorn Ranch was, after all, right on the banks of said river, and it was icy cold this time of the year. Imagine the men’s displeasure when they returned from a particularly frustrating hunting trip empty-handed only to discover their boat was gone. Not just gone, stolen; the rope mooring it to the shore had been cut. We all know Teddy didn’t take kindly to such behavior, so rather than chalk it up as a loss, he and his friends set about building a very makeshift boat with which to pursue the thieves.
Tracking the thieves was no easy matter, either. The trio of men braved sub-zero temperatures, sticking to the water in part because Teddy believed the thieves would not expect to be followed by another boat. The lawless fiends had, after all, stolen what appeared to be the only boat in the river, and it had taken him and his friends three days to build the boat in which they gave chase. There were concerns of a shoot-out for obvious reasons, and ambush was another concern thanks to the hilltops and cavern walls they passed on their way, but Teddy refused to give up. They eventually found the thieves, a group of three men led by a known bandit by the name of Finnagin – a man known for his love of shoot-outs. Even so, Teddy and his friend were able to overpower and tie up the thieves. They ran into trouble on the way back, though, in the form of a formidable ice dam, which ended up taking them eight days to navigate. Teddy passed those days by reading aloud from a copy of Anna Karenina, a recitation no doubt unappreciated by his captives. Those present say Teddy stayed awake to watch his prisoners for stretches as long as 40 hours. When they finally returned to the ranch it would have been well within Teddy’s right to have them hanged – did we mention he was deputy sheriff? – he didn’t. Instead, he had them arrested and charged with the theft, which tells you quite a lot about the caliber of the man himself.
In between Teddy’s time in politics and the military (and back to politics) he spent a longer stretch in law enforcement. It all started in 1894, when reform Republicans asked him to run for Mayor of New York (again). Teddy said no, mostly because his second wife Edith was dead-set on remaining in the social life of Washington (the capital, not the state). It didn’t take long for him to regret his decision, though, and he headed for the Dakotas as he seemed wont to do when upset. But he did return in 1895, and became president of the board of the New York Police Commissioners, a role he stayed in for two years. At the time, the NYPD had a reputation as being horribly corrupt, and, according to NYPD’s own records, Teddy was “an iron-willed leader of unimpeachable honesty, who brought a reforming zeal to the New York City Police Commission.” He did this by implementing firearms inspections, physicals, and more intense mental testing, among other methods. Not only that, he took to walking the officers’ beats at night for the sole purpose of making sure they were doing their jobs. Saying Teddy took honesty seriously would be an epic understatement.
We fast-forward to his military career, the most famous moment of which took place in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. This is when he led the Rough Riders on the charge of San Juan Hill. It began with a charge of Kettle Hill; scores of men were killed in the charge, and the battle wasn’t over when they reached the crest of the hill, either. At the top, hand-to-hand combat ensued; despite losses and injuries, the Americans took the hill, but it still wasn’t over. Having taken Kettle Hill, Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt saw his fellow soldiers taking heavy fire on adjacent San Juan Hill, so he gathered 500 men and prepared to take on yet another charge. Teddy and his Rough Riders went tearing pell-mell down the ravine where they were then forced to wade across a waist-deep trench before finally ascending San Juan Hill. Upon cresting hill number two for the day, Teddy and his men assisted the other American soldiers in taking the hill from the Spanish, and the day ended with the Americans in control of the San Juan Heights. Interestingly, Teddy wasn’t honored for his courage under fire and selfless bravery of that day until 2001.
The final moment we like to remember Teddy for is perhaps his baddest-assest (yes, another made-up phrase; you should be used to it by now). It took place in 1912 during a campaign speech: Teddy was running for what would have been his third term as president by going through the Progressive Party, and that meant more speeches. And so, on October 14, 1912, he was in Milwaukee for a speech, and when he headed for the podium, he was accosted by a saloon keeper by the name of John Schrank. Schrank shot Teddy point-blank in the chest with what later proved to be a .32-caliber revolver, but Teddy wouldn’t be dissuaded. As Schrank was taken into custody, Teddy continued on with his speech, with one addition to his opening statements: “Ladies and gentleman, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a bull moose.” He gave his speech, which was 90 minutes long, before agreeing to head to the hospital. The bullet was lodged near his heart and surgeons decided it wasn’t worth the risk of removal, so maybe his logic in ignoring it was based on sound, rational reason – or not.
Theodore Roosevelt was a bigger badass than most people realize. He didn’t just dabble in politics, he worked hard to create change, and he didn’t just spend some time in law enforcement, he did away with serious corruption. He was a skilled hunter, a crack shot, and the kind of man willing to grin and charge a drunken, armed cowboy (and win the fight to follow). He suffered heart-breaking losses, and survived. He wasn’t only a gentleman and a scholar, he was a badass, and an American Hero whose legend all too often goes untold. One thing is for sure, his corruption-fighting ways could be used in Washington today. Just imagine, Teddy kicking political ass and taking corrupt names in 2015…
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.