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HIS Harvard graduate, this brilliant young statesman, needed another important factor to
make him the great man that he was, and that was, the tuition of nature herself. And so, impelled by his instincts and judgment, he entered the great university of the Wild West, graduation from which was as necessary as from Harvard, to make him the ideal leader of the century. He had a playful spirit which reveled in sport, and was passionately fond of nature. His father knew how good the country was for the boy's body and mind and he arranged it so that all his summers were spent in the country with the birds, with the flowers and fields, and forests, and river, and bay, and horse, and oar, and gun. And when he got older, he sought the solitudes of the mountains and of the woods, making hunting trips during his vacation at Harvard for deer and elk to the Adirondacks and the big woods of Maine. These trips were an excellent preparation for the limitless ranges of the Wild West, for the paradise of the nature lover or the “grizzly” hunter. While he was a member of the Legislature, he broke away, beguiled irresistibly by the charms of Western life, and made a hunting trip for Buffalo in North Dakota. In his “Wilderness Hunter" he thus states the impression made by Western nature scenes upon the one visiting them: “In after years there shall come forever to his mind the memory of endless prairies shimmering in the bright sun; of vast, snow-clad wastes, lying desolate under gray skies; of the melancholy marshes; of the rush of mighty rivers; of the breath of the evergreen forest in summer; of the crooning of icearmored pines at the touch of the winds of winter; of cataracts roaring between hoary mountain passes; of all the innumerable sights and sounds of the wilderness and of the silences that brood in its still depths.”
He liked the rugged hunters, ranchmen and cowboys, as much as he did the plains and mountains and the free air of the West. He hunted, camped, rode and mingled with them on their plains and fell in love with them, so much so that before he returned home from his trip he had purchased the Chimney Butte Ranch near Medora, North Dakota, for $45,000, giving his check on the spot for the first payment of $10,000.
In the year 1884 a double sorrow fell upon Mr. Roosevelt, the death of his mother, and within two months of that time, the death of his first wife, Miss Alice Hathaway Lee, of Boston, whom he married just after his graduation. She died after she had given to him a daughter, who is now Mrs. Alice Longworth. In his sorrow he flew to God's book and spirit for comfort, and then his impulses drew him out into the solitude and stillness of nature that he might commune with nature's God, and rest his spirit in the chase. In the same year his fight for Edmunds against Blaine in the convention had completely elimi
nated him as a political leader and he had the time and disposition to betake himself to the wide spaces, solitudes and the strenuous hunting of the West. So he went out to live with the cattle and with those hearty men and with those big beasts that roam the forests. On the place he bought, on a side overlooking the Little Missouri, he found the skulls of two huge elks with horns interlocked; both had died in their last desperate fight. Just here he built his log house and called it Elk Horn Ranch.
The late Julian Ralph in an interview with Mr. Roosevelt reports him as saying: “A man with a horse and a gun is a picture or idea that has always appealed to me. Mayne Reid's heroes and the life out West also always appealed to me. I wanted to see the rude, rough, formative life in the Far West before it vanished. I went there just in time. I was in at the killing of the buffalo, in the last big hunt, in 1883, near Pretty Buttes, when the whites and the Sioux from Standing Rock and Pine Ridge were doing the killing. I went West while I was in the Assembly, in the long vacations—went hunting-went to the Bad Lands and shot elk, sheep, deer, buffalo, and antelope. I made two hunting trips, and in 1884 I started my cattle ranch. After my term in the Législature, and until I was appointed Civil Service Commissioner, I lived most of the time out West in the summers and spent only the winters in New York. I never was happier in my life. My house out there is a long low house of hewn logs, which I helped to build myself. It has a broad veranda and rockingchairs and a big fireplace and elk skins and wolf skins scattered about, on the brink of the Little Missouri, right in a clump of cotton woods; and less than three years ago I shot a deer from the veranda. I kept my
books there, such as I wanted,--and did a deal of writing, being the rest of the time out all day in every kind of weather."
He was not a gentleman ranchman, but was an actual, practical cowboy, an expert cowpuncher, with long hours in the saddle, with strenuous and annoying struggles with contrary cattle in the round-ups and at other times. He never spared himself doing all that he required of the cowboys he hired, and more too. And for recreation he went out into the deep forests and rugged mountains and hunted for big game.
Colonel Roosevelt told me a story connected with his ranch life which was thoroughly amusing. He said, on returning from the East to his ranch, he found that the boys gave him condensed milk for his coffee. He asked the cook, “What does this mean, condensed milk with hundreds of cows with calves in the herds?” The cook replied, “Boss, will you go milkin' with the boys to get some cream for to-morrow?” And he said, "I certainly will.” “We got our ponies and ropes and went out to the herd,” he continued. “We picked out a fine, healthy-looking creature that we thought would give us the supply we needed. She looked right up into my face and in her eye said to me, 'I know what you are after, and you're not going to get me.' And in a flash she darted off, running as fast as she could, and we boys after her as fast as our ponies could go. One of the men threw the lasso, catching her head at the horns and held her; we threw her down on the ground, tied her legs together and by actual force took the milk away from her. I never had much more fun in my life than I did at that milking bee. The fun was worth all the trouble, but I never after that asked for milk fresh from the cow for my coffee." Whether this
is the same celebrated old roan cow, the story of which has made so many millions laugh, I do not know, but he told it with a relish and hearty laugh which made it one of the funniest I ever heard.
In his life on the plains he met with many tough characters, some of whom undertook to impose upon him, but always with damage to themselves. The following incident records one of these encounters:
In the public room of a frontier hotel where he was to spend the night, Roosevelt was reading one evening after supper, shortly after his arrival in the West. The room was dining-room, bar-room, office and living-room, and it was crowded. A swaggering fellow stepped up to the bar and ordered everybody to drink. Only Roosevelt remained seated. He continued reading.
“Who's that fellow ?" demanded the man at the bar. "He's a tenderfoot," was the response.
"Hey, you, Mr. Four-eyes !" shouted the Westerner, “I asked this house to drink. D’you hear →
No reply came from Roosevelt. The Westerner pulled his pistol, fired across the room and advanced on the tenderfoot with his smoking weapon.
“When I ask a man to drink with me I want him to do as I ask,” he declared.
The young Roosevelt, who had watched the advance across the room from under his eyelashes, glanced up and asked to be excused.
“Not much,” was the reply. "That don't go down here. Order your drink.”
The young man from the East got up easily from his chair, remarking: “Very well, if I must, I
With the pause in the words came a full right swinging jolt that took the Westerner on the point of the jaw and laid him on the floor. He was astride him and pinioned his arms.
Then he threw the bully's pistol across the room and, staring at him through his glasses, snapped through
teeth that later were to become so familiar to the American public: “And when I intimate that I don't care to drink with you, just understand that I don't care to drink.”
Referring to this incident Roosevelt himself made this