I had thought about writing on this larger-than-life personality, who is one of my oldest heroes, when a strange coincidence occurred. It was this weekend (Saturday, April 9, 2011) when amidst a general chat, a close friend asked me to tell the name of someone who inspired me. Though this is a question to which I can name at least a dozen people, the only name that flashed first in my mind, and the one that was figured in my answer was President Theodore Roosevelt.
The term “colourful” should be defined as “like Theodore Roosevelt”. Born to money, he was a cowboy, soldier, big game hunter, police chief, environmentalist, writer, and just about everything else that made him bigger than life. He was, almost without question, the most colourful American president. He was also a jingoistic expansionist who was never afraid to exert a little military muscle. The first time he sent the newly-built and modern Great White Fleet off to foreign, hostile waters was when he was just the assistant secretary of the navy, and the secretary had taken the day off……. Lets me tell you more about him – the tale of a man who lived life to the fullest and did not back out from any challenge.
As an American author says, You cannot research the life of President Theodore Roosevelt without being carried away by the sheer exuberance and joy of life that characterised this exceptional man. He was not perfect and, by today’s standard, a jingo and an exploiter, but he was somehow bigger than life, knew it, and enjoyed it.
His daughter and eldest-born, Alice, said it best: “He wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” (What he said about Alice will come later).
Theodore Roosevelt was a statesman, politician, adventurer, naturalist, ornithologist, taxidermist, cowboy, police commissioner, explorer, writer, diplomat, boxer and the president of the United States.
Roosevelt didn’t begin life all that auspiciously. “Teedee” was a sickly child, his body weakened by asthma. It was his father who decided that he was not going to raise an invalid. Roosevelt was encouraged to swim, to take long hikes, to do everything he could to build up his body.
He was picked on my bullies, who took advantage of his weakened condition, so he asked his father to get him boxing lessons. They worked pretty well. By the time he entered Harvard he had the body and reactions of a trained athlete, and before long he was a member of the boxing team.
It was while fighting for the lightweight championship when an incident occurred that gave everyone an insight into Roosevelt’s character. He was carrying the fight to his opponent, C.S. Hanks, the defending champion, when he slipped and fell to his knee. Hanks had launched a blow he couldn’t pull back, and he opened Roosevelt’s nose, which began gushing blood. The crowd got ugly and started booing the champion, but Roosevelt held up his hand for silence, announced that it was an honest mistake, and shook hands with Hanks before the fight resumed.
It was his strength of character that led to his developing an equally strong body. His doctor. W.Thompson, once told a friend: “Look out for Theodore. He’s not strong, but he’s all grit. He’ll kill himself before he’ll ever say he’s tired.”
In fifty-nine years of a vigorous, strenous life, he never once admitted to being tired.
(Lets skip his studies, where he excelled, no doubt and earned a reputation for keeping wild animals that scared his landlady and everyone else… his foray into politics, and a big, big blow in his life – the death of his wife and mother, twelve hours apart).
The blow was devastating to Roosevelt. He put his former life, behind him and decided to loose himself in what was left of the Wild West.
He bought the Maltese Cross Ranch in the Dakota badlands. Then, because he was Theodore Roosevelt and couldn’t do anything in a small way, he bought a second ranch, the Medora, less than forty miles from the first ranch. He spent a lot more time hunting than ranching, and more time writing and reading than hunting. (During his lifetime he wrote more than 150,000 letters, as well as close to thirty books.)
To be continued……