Theodore Roosevelt, sans trademark spectacles, poses in his Dakota Badlands hunting duds for a New York studio photographer in 1885. (Library of Congress)
Share This Article

He was a sickly child raised in New York City but became a substantial man of the West. As a young man he had a sizable inheritance and might have enjoyed the easy life among Eastern blue bloods, but he gravitated toward the resilient and self-reliant people of the frontier and embraced his own cowboy persona. He entered politics always prepared to put up an honorable fight without fear of the failures that inevitably came with that territory, but it was out in Dakota Territory he had tested himself against nature and learned valuable lessons about survival and fighting for what he believed in no matter what anybody else thought. The Badlands cowboys and cattlemen at first viewed him as a dude—wholly out of place in their world—but he rode as long as they did and worked as hard alongside them, not shying away from the strenuous life. “Theodore came to earn their respect and trust, until they considered him one of their own,” Michael Blake writes in his 2018 book The Cowboy President: The American West and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt. The “Cowboy President” is how newspapers and the public often referred to him. He has also been called, for equally good reason, the “Conservation President.” Theodore “Don’t call me Teddy” Roosevelt used his authority to establish 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments encompassing some 230 million acres of public land.

Roosevelt had ventured to Dakota Territory in 1884 to grieve and seek restoration after the Valentine’s Day deaths of his wife and mother within hours of one another (see Roger Di Silvestro’s award-winning article “Teddy Roosevelt’s Ride to Recovery”). TR left his footprint there and later across the entire West (think Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon for starters), in Cuba during the Spanish-American War (think Rough Riders and San Juan Heights), in Washington during his 1901–09 presidency (think “Speak softly and carry a big stick”) and in libraries nationwide (having written such books as Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, The Winning of the West and The Rough Riders). In this issue we present three articles about Roosevelt’s connection with notable Western figures.

As Blake details in “Roosevelt’s Posse,” TR surrounded himself with such Wild West standouts as Bat Masterson, whose “popularity as a truly legendary Westerner drew Roosevelt like a moth to a flame”; Seth Bullock, the former Deadwood, Dakota Territory, lawman who appealed to the president more than any other Westerner because he “was practical, no-nonsense and as honest as the day is long”; and Ben Daniels, a former Dodge City lawman and Rough Rider. In “Rough and Ready” author Daniel Seligman has much more to say about Daniels, who, despite a prison record and a forced resignation from his position as U.S. marshal for Arizona Territory, remained a favorite of Roosevelt until the 26th president’s death in 1919. Another Western icon, Pat Garrett, received a federal job from Roosevelt in 1902 but proved a disappointment and an embarrassment to the president.

And then there was the unusual Western legend “Catch ‘em Alive Jack” Abernathy, whose unique skill captured Roosevelt’s attention (see the full story in Ron J. Jackson Jr.’s “Bully for Jack Abernathy!”). The Oklahoma Territory cowboy turned hunter could catch live wolves with his hands. TR had hunted buffalo, bears, pronghorns, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and mountain lions, but in 1905 Abernathy took him on his first wolf hunt. In a letter to one of his sons Roosevelt wrote of having witnessed Jack “thrusting his hand into the wolf’s mouth in such a way that it lost all power to bite.” The next year the president appointed his newfound friend U.S. marshal for the Western District of Oklahoma Territory. A man who wasn’t afraid to put his hand into a wolf’s mouth was clearly Roosevelt’s kind of man.

Wild West editor Gregory Lalire wrote the 2014 historical novel Captured: From the Frontier Diary of Infant Danny Duly, and his Our Frontier Pastime: 1804–1815 is due out in July 2019. His short story “Halfway to Hell” appears in the 2018 anthology The Trading Post and Other Frontier Stories. His article about frontier baseball in Roundup, the membership magazine of Western Writers of America, earned him a 2015 Stirrup Award.