TR's Wild Side

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The 42-year-old Roosevelt took more than just a Remington bronze to the White House in September 1901; his wilderness values and philosophy came with him, along with his saddle bag. Besides continuing to collect myriad White House pets, Roosevelt used his executive power to save such national heirlooms as the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, Devils Tower, Mesa Verde, and the Dry Tortugas. On July 1, 1908, to help commemorate his “crowded hour” of battle at Santiago, President Roosevelt created 45 new national forests scattered throughout 11 western states. He also initiated many innovative protocols for range management, wildfire control, land planning, recreation, hydrology, and soil science throughout the American West. It was exactly a decade since his moment of military glory. His “crowded hour” 10 years later put much of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest beyond the lumberman’s ax. Adding to the conservationist theme, TR hired as forest rangers men who had served with him in combat. These ex-Rough Riders now protected wild America from ruin under the banner of Rooseveltian conservationism.

What particularly worried President Roosevelt at the dawn of the 20th century was that citizens of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston could not understand the splendor of the American West. “To lose the chance to see frigate birds soaring in circles above the storm,” Roosevelt wrote, “or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad of terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in the shifting maze above the beach—why the loss is like the loss of a gallery of masterpieces of the artists of old time.”

Adapted by the author from The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America , published by HarperCollins, © 2009