Teddy Belonged to the West
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If there ever was a President of the United States that truly belonged to the American West, it was Theordore Roosevelt.
Born in an elite family in New York, “Teddy” Roosevelt longed to travel to the western states and following a trip to what is now Yellowstone National Park, he purchased a ranch in the North Dakota Badlands near the small town of Medora.
His ranch was located just a few miles north of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Roosevelt relished living in the “Wild West,” a far cry from his native surroundings in New York.
It was his friendship with Seth Bullock that led to Roosevelt’s frequent visits to the Black Hills, as well as to Wyoming and Montana.
After TR returned to the East Coast at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he volunteered to lead a unit of the Army he called the “Rough Riders” against Spanish troops in Cuba.
TR looked every bit the part of a westerner fighting in the war that freed Cuba and the Phillipines.
After that war, TR entered politics and was eventually elected as America’s 26th President.
TR never changed his drive to be an “active” President, traveling to the Panama Canal to personally inspect the progress of that major project.
Following his Presidency, TR traveled the world, visiting South America and going on a safari in Africa.
Even rising to the highest office in American politics, TR never forgot his South Dakota friends. He asked Seth Bullock to gather up forty “true cowboys” to ride in his inaugural parade in 1905. This included future Western movie actor Tom Mix, and Theo Shoemaker, the man who would later become Sheriff of Custer County, South Dakota.
Roosevelt later named Seth Bullock the U.S. Marshall for the Black Hills.
While he never returned to the Dakotas after his political life was over, he never forgot what he called, “The happiest days of my life,” ranching in the rugged West and enjoying the Black Hills and Badlands that he ever forgot.
And South Dakotans loved TR back… so much so that they included his image on Mount Rushmore where he proudly takes his place among other great Presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
Interview with Gary Enright, director, 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer
Host: Lori Walsh