Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States 1901-1909

The way to study a man, I find, is at close range, when he is not on the platform or under the limelight. Better than any other is his vacation time, when the armor has been laid aside and the man himself stands forth. My card of introduction proved a ready passport to the country seat of Theodore Roosevelt, near Oyster Bay, Long Island. As I drove up, one bright July morning, the shore of this sequestered inlet was framed in a background of heavy green. No painter could do justice to the mirrored loveliness of the water, or the graceful line of sailboats lazily floating over it. The beach was a silver mat in an emerald frame, and every tree on the opposite shore was inverted in the clear depths. The Roosevelt house stands on a hill overlooking a magnificent view of Long Island Sound. It is three miles away from the railway station, just the sort of place one would choose for complete rest. The dreamy beauty of the scene was conducive to indolence, and so, sure enough, I found Mr. Roosevelt in outing attire, surrounded by his children and entering with zest into their out-door sports.

Little Theodore was prancing up and down the road on his favorite black pony, a genuine rough rider in horsemanship, brown as a berry, and an unmistakable cadet of the Roosevelt house. The president's warhorse, "Texas," whose right ear was clipped by a Spanish "Mauser," was out for an airing. Over the veranda flared a pair of great antlers, a trophy of the chase, while in the big reception hall were other antlers. The sword worn by Colonel Roosevelt in Cuba has found a resting place across the mantel mirror, its leathern strap all ready to be buckled on again should a military emergency arise. Tlie overcoat is there, too, with the hat and boots.

I found him averse to politics as a topic for discussion, but I hinted that I would be pleased to quote his views on young men in politics, —their chances and their duties.


"That opens up," said he, as he smiled graciously, "such a vista of human thought that I know you will excuse me from its contemplation this hot weather."

The shade of the veranda where we sat was deliciously somnolent, and I was beginning to regret my question when the president relented for a moment. "You know I have always advocated an earnest, intelligent study of political subjects by young men'. Our American politics offer a clean, wholesome field, after all is said and done, for the young man of character and ability; but never should one enter politics for a living."

"Now, we know that you approve of college education for boys, but want your own words about it."

"It depends somewhat on the boy. I don't believe in every boy going to college."

"But do you not think it makes them less practical than they would be if they grew up in business pursuits ?"

"Not at all. The best kind of college graduates are the most practical, and they are becoming more numerous every year. Don't you think I'm practical?"

"Do you think the boys in towns like this have as good a chance for success in life as those who live in large cities ?"

"Certainly, and often better chances. I have always been glad to have been raised in the country. Of course it is often a good thing for a boy to go to the city when he is grown. He sometimes does better there than in a small place; not always, though. It depends upon the boy."


"Are you a believer in opportunity, Mr. Roosevelt?"

"To a certain extent. Many of the great changes in our lives can be traced to small things, a chance acquaintance, an accident, or some little happening. A time comes to every man when he must do a thing or miss a great benefit. If the man does it, all is well. If not, it isn't likely that he will have the chance again. You can call that opportunity if you wish, but it is foresight that leads a man to take advantage of the condition of things. Foresight is a most valuable thing to have."

"Some men," I remarked, after a time, "have a talent for working themselves, while others have a talent for setting others to work. Which is the more valuable?"

"I think a man ought to have both. If he can't, I think he ought to be able to work himself. The ability to work hard is, perhaps, the most valuable aid to success. One can't have much success without it."

"They say it isn't a good thing for a young man to have too many talents, Mr. Roosevelt. Is it true?"

"That's very hard to answer. I have managed to do many different things in a lifetime. I might have done better by doing only one. Still, that is another thing that depends very much upon the young man, and his capabilities."

"I know you must believe in recreation for people who are working, since you are yourself indulging in it now."

"Oh, yes, one must have some change. A man who has no outdoor exercise is likely to wear himself out in short order. I love to be out of doors. I always have, and that is one thing that has helped me to do some things that I have. I go out for a time every day when I am here at home. I enjoy being in the open air."

"I know you think that the young man of today has a better chance to make a success in life than those who lived twenty-five years ago."

"Certainly. The young man of today has greater opportunities for advancing himself and achieving a real success than any men have ever had before. Everything offers better chances, and all a boy needs is education enough to appreciate them when they are here. That is one of the chief values of a good education. It aids a young man in many things that would be invisible to the uneducated fellow. It helps him to weigh things in his mind before deciding what to do. It is mind-training that we need. The power to think is almost absolutely necessary to success. Without it, a man is sure to be unequal to the great struggle for supremacy that is going on constantly in certain professions and lines of business."

In a contributed article President Roosevelt gave his views of what constitutes good citizenship. My extract from this article is given herewith:


"After honesty as the foundation of the citizenship that counts, in business or in politics, must come courage. You must have courage not only in battle, but also in civic life. We need physical and we need moral courage. Neither is enough by itself. You need moral courage. Many a man has been brave physically who has flinched morally. You must feel in you a fiery wrath against evil. When you see a wrong, instead of "feeling shocked and hurt, and a desire to go home, and a wish that right prevailed, you should go out and fight until that wrong is overcome. You must feel ashamed if you do not stand up for the right as you see it; ashamed if you lead a soft and easy life and fail to do your duty. You must have courage. If you do not, the honesty is of no avail.

"But honesty and courage, while indispensable, are not enough for good citizenship. I do not care how brave and honest a man is; if he is a fool, he is not worth knocking on the head. In addition to courage and honesty, you must have the saving quality of common sense. One hundred and ten years ago, France started to form a republic, and one of her noted men — an exceedingly brilliant man, a scholar of exceptional thought, the Abbe Sieyes, —undertook to draw up a constitution. He drew up several constitutions, beautiful documents; but they would not work. The French national convention resolved in favor of liberty; and, in the name of liberty, they beheaded every man who did not think as they did. They resolved in favor of fraternity, and beheaded those who objected to such a brotherhood. They resolved in favor of equality, and cut off the heads of those who rose above the general level. They indulged in such hideous butcheries, in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity, as to make tyranny seem mild in comparison; —and all because they lacked common sense, as well as morality.

"Two or three years before that, we, in America, had a body of men gathered in a constitutional convention to make a constitution. They assembled under the lead of Washington, with Alexander Hamilton, Madison, and many other eminent men. They did not draw up a constitution in a week, as the brilliant Sieyes did, but just one constitution, and that one worked. That was the great point!

"It worked, primarily, because it was drawn up by practical politicians, —by practical politicians who believed in decency, as well as in common sense. If they had been a set of excellent theorists, they would have drawn up a constitution which would have commended itself to other excellent theorists, but which would not have worked. If they had been base, corrupt men, mere opportunists, men who lacked elevating ideals, dishonest, cowardly, they would have drawn up a document that would not have worked at all. On the great scale, the only practical politics is honest, politics. The makers of our constitution were practical politicians, who were also sincere reformers, and as brave and upright as they were sensible."


Nobody thought of calling Theodore Roosevelt "Teddy," when he was a boy. He was always known as "Tedie," —pronounced as if written "Teedie." But several years before he went to Harvard, when he was about fifteen years old, his mother thought that it was high time that the baby name was replaced by something more dignified, and so it was decided, in family council, that he should be addressed as Theodore.

Unfortunately, family decisions of this kind are not always respected at school or college, and, when young Roosevelt became a freshman at Harvard, he was promptly dubbed "Teddy" by his classmates. The nickname stuck; he has been "Teddy" ever since to his intimates, and today he is more generally known under that title by seventy-six millions of people than by any other. There is every reason to believe that he enjoys the little informality, justly regarding it as a tribute to his popularity.

When he was nine years of age, young Roosevelt was taken abroad by his parents, and he made another trip with them to Europe not long afterward, greatly enjoying a voyage up the Nile. At seventeen he entered Harvard, and promptly grew a pair of sidewhiskers, of which it may reasonably be supposed that he was very proud. The side-whiskers resembled those of Pendennis, as pictured by Thackeray. It goes without saying that he soon became extremely popular at college, where he acquitted himself fairly well in his studies. Old classmates recall the fact that he had a passion for animals and that he collected many queer natural history specimens, which he kept in his room.


On the whole, it is rather surprising that Theodore Roosevelt ever lived to grow up and become the President of the United States. He was an exceedingly delicate child, suffering such tortures with asthma that on many occasions his father was obliged to harness his four-in-hand in the middle of the night, take the boy from his bed, and drive many miles, in order that he might get his breath.

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.


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 Mountains, through 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, antelope, mountain sheep, bear, lion 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.


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 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 for a 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.


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 duelist 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 Mores' 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 Mores' 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 half way, 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 perseverance in the upbuilding of a great and new country has been immortalized in song and legend.


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.

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