Theodore Roosevelt’s love affair with Dakota Territory began with a North American bison. That infatuation never stopped. His first Badlands sojourn in 1883 was to hunt the disappearing western symbol. Throughout his life he exhibited fealty to habitat, protection, and wildlife, which included what TR called “The Lordly Buffalo.”
Roosevelt’s conservation philosophy promoted both pleasure hunting and animal habitat, though he lamented the effects of callous slaughter of bison herds that European settlers exploited for their sport, while Native Americans relied on them for their lives.
In May of 1908, President Roosevelt established the National Bison Range in Montana, which, for the first time, used federal funds to purchase land solely for wildlife protection.
TR also promoted the bison as a multiple-state symbol across the nation, and he would no doubt have approved of the bison recently being named the national mammal – with no small thanks to North Dakota Senator John Hoeven.
In a 1916 speech to architects he gently scolded his audience about building design with a little poke at a Gotham landmark.
“I earnestly wish that the conventions of architecture here in America would be shaped as to include a widespread use of the bison’s head.
Let me give one small instance. The lion, because of the way his mane lends itself to use in stone, has always been a favorite for decorative purposes in architecture.
But we happen to have here on this continent the bison with its shaggy fontlet and mane and short curved horns, at best which equally lends itself to decorative use and which possesses the advantage of being our own!
And in a case like that of the New York Public Library, there would be an advantage from every standpoint in substituting two complete bison figures for the preposterous lions, apparently in the preliminary stages of epilepsy. Which now front on, and disgrace, Fifth Avenue!”
Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.