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Boat Thieves

On this date in 1886, Theodore Roosevelt was preparing to set out in pursuit of three men who stole his boat on the Little Missouri near his Elkhorn Ranch. His friends Will Dow and Bill Sewall quickly built a pursuit boat, and the following day, the trio of began the chase. It took days of trudging through the rugged and bitter weather of the frigid river valley, but the flinty cattlemen finally caught up with the three boat thieves, and they were soon headed home with the bad guys in tow. Leaving Sewell and Dow behind, TR enlisted a stranger to drive his wagon as he took the culprits to Dickinson.

TR wouldn’t bind the men’s hands, being worried about potential frostbite. He walked along behind in a brutal stomp through freezing mud and terrain for days into early April; finally reaching Dickinson.

All the while he read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which he had brought along on the chase.

TR wrote to his sister Corrine that day:

“I have been absent just a fortnight. It has been very rough work as we got entirely out of food and had an awful time in the river as there were ice gorges, the cold being intense. Sewell and Dow went on downstream while I took the prisoners on to here overland and I was glad enough to give them up to the Sheriff this morning, for I was pretty well done out with the work, lack of sleep and the strain of constant watchfulness. But I am as brown and as tough as a pine knot and feel equal to anything! I took Anna Karenina along on the trip and have read it through with great interest.”

And then, as only TR could conjure, he finished his sister’s letter with insightful critiques and commentary about Tolstoy’s writing, plot and character development, with twice as many words than he used to describe his own hundred-mile frostbitten ordeal in the Badlands.

Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

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