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Train Wreck


The late summer of 1906 was a busy time for President Theodore Roosevelt. The one-time North Dakotan faced pressing issues both at home and abroad. The Cuban President requested American troops to quell a rebellion after a disputed election. Plans were underway for Roosevelt's Panama trip to witness the progress of the canal; the first time a President would leave the US while in office. The administration was also preparing to sue Standard Oil under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. At the same time, he faced ridicule for his endorsement of a new system to simplify English spelling.

So, when his son Kermit asked the President to take him camping in South Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt turned him down. Kermit had long been fascinated with his father's stories of the West and desperately desired a similar adventure. Instead, the President made arrangements for a long-time acquaintance to accompany his 16-year-old son. In mid-August, Kermit Roosevelt and a young friend arrived in South Dakota with plans to explore the state, then end their journey by traveling north on horseback to TR's former ranch in the North Dakota Badlands. After a seven-day overland ride from the Black Hills to Medora, they spent the afternoon at the ranch before boarding a train headed east on this date in 1906.

While traveling through North Dakota on the North Coast Limited, young Kermit was startled by a loud crash. Five coaches of the train had derailed at Berea, a small station west of Valley City. According to newspaper accounts, the accident was caused by a split switch. None of the passengers were seriously injured, although Kermit and his friend, who occupied a compartment in a sleeping car, were quite shaken up. Less than 24-hours later, the two boys had safely reached St. Paul and were busy touring the city by motorcar.

Over the next several weeks, newspapers around the nation carried stories of Kermit's train wreck. Reading of the accident surely shook up the President and First Lady as well, but thanks to the courtesy of their son, who immediately sent a telegram, they knew Kermit was “all right.”

Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall

“Kermit Roosevelt Finishes His Ride.” The New York Times August 27, 1906, 2
“Kermit Roosevelt in Wreck.” The Adair County News, Columbia, KY September, 12, 1906, 2
“Kermit Roosevelt Visits Father's Old Ranch.” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette August 17, 1906, 1
“Shaken in Train Wreck.” The New York Tribune August 27, 1906, 1