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The Death of TR


Today marks the anniversary of the death of Teddy Roosevelt, who died in his sleep in 1919 while at his New York home at Sagamore Hill on Long Island. As a young man, Roosevelt faced the staggering experience of losing both his wife and his mother on the same day in the same house. It was Valentines Day, 1884. His wife, Alice Lee, had given birth to their first child two days before.

Roosevelt’s profound grief was one of the things that brought him to the Badlands, where he eventually built himself a ranch. About his home in North Dakota, Roosevelt later wrote:

“It was still the Wild West in those days, the far West, the West of Owen Wister's stories and Frederic Remington's drawings, the West of the Indian and the buffalo-hunter, the soldier and the cow-puncher... We worked under the scorching midsummer sun, when the wide plains shimmered and wavered in the heat; and we knew the freezing misery of riding night guard around the cattle in the late fall roundup.

“In the soft springtime, the stars were glorious in our eyes each night before we fell asleep; and in the winter, we rode through blinding blizzards, when the driven snow-dust burned our faces.”

In addition to ranching, Roosevelt also served for a time as a North Dakota deputy sheriff. Once, while passing through Fargo, he told of an experience in which he and the sheriff were holding a horse thief at Mandan. They had to stay overnight, but there was only one room with two beds. Being second in command, Roosevelt had the honor of sleeping with the prisoner.

Roosevelt eventually went back east and became governor of New York. When he returned to North Dakota, it was aboard a train as he campaigned for the Vice Presidency.

Henry Pringle, who later wrote a biography of TR, sensed the significance of Dakota in Roosevelt’s life as the train moved into the Badlands. Roosevelt went up onto the observation car platform alone, and anybody who came looking for him found the way blocked by a Pullman porter, who said, “The governor don’t want to see nobody for a while.”

Nephew Nicholas Roosevelt wrote, “TR obviously was engaged in what was for him a rare experience, indulging in reveries of the past. … I am certain that one of the main reasons that his work in conservation seemed to him so important was the realization of the need for making it possible for countless millions of Americans to derive from their own contacts with unspoiled segments of the American scene the same kind of solace and satisfaction that had been his when he ranched in the Bad Lands.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm