Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Rough Riders Go Ashore in Cuba and the Rough Rider Legacy Lives on

On this day, June 22, 1898, the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry went ashore at Daiquiri, on the southeastern tip of Cuba, east of Santiago de Cuba, the strategic port city of Spain’s colony and harbor to the Spanish Fleet. With limited transport, the Rough Riders had been ordered to leave the enlisted men’s horses and one third of the troopers behind in Tampa.

The transport ship Yucatan launched its wooden boats loaded with the remaining Rough Riders toward the rickety steel and wood structure that made the claim of dock at the remote landing site. The landing force encountered no resistance, but the swell of the sea. One of Theodore Roosevelt’s two horses “Rain in the Face,” was killed being unloaded. “Texas,” outlasted the action in Cuba to join T.R. at Sagamore and the White House.

Here’s the action at Daiquari in T.R.’s own words.

“There was plenty of excitement to the landing. In the first place, the smaller war-vessels shelled Daiquiri, so as to dislodge any Spaniards who might be lurking in the neighborhood, and also shelled other places along the coast, to keep the enemy puzzled as to our intentions. Then, the surf was high, and the landing difficult; so that the task of getting the men, the ammunition and the provisions ashore was not easy. Each man carried three days’ field rations and a hundred rounds of ammunition. Our regiment had accumulated two rapid-fire Colt automatic guns, the gift of Stevens, Kane, Tiffany, and one or two others of the New York men, and also a dynamite gun, under the immediate charge of Sergeant Borrowe. To get these, and especially the last, ashore, involved no little work and hazard. Meanwhile from another transport, our horses were being landed, together with the mules, by the simple process of throwing them overboard and letting them swim ashore, if they could. Both of Wood’s got safely through. One of mine was drowned. The other, little Texas, got ashore alright. While I was superintending the landing at the ruined dock, with Bucky O’Neill, a boatful of colored infantry soldiers capsized, and two of the men went to the bottom; Bucky O’Neill plunging in, in full uniform, to save them, but in vain.”
(The Rough Riders – Theodore Roosevelt – 1899)

As we remember the Rough Riders in Cuba, I pause to say thanks to all of the amazing people we’ve met at places in America that keep the Rough Rider legacy alive. Here are a few, with more to come in the months ahead:

By far, the most impressive collection of Rough Rider artifacts that we have seen to date are enshrined at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City. At the birthplace, one can walk back in time, and, if listening closely, hear the battle in its horrific glory. Ranger Amato and his staff are a national treasure, too!

We expect that Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt home on Long Island, will display some treasures as well. Our visit in February was on a Monday, a day when the historic Oyster Bay home is closed, though the grounds are open. Perhaps you might like to be in Oyster Bay in late October, when the entire community will celebrate TR’s 150th birthday. Check out

Gianna Russo was a gracious host at the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa, Florida. Now a part of Tampa University, the old Plant Hotel is where one journalist wrote before the Army sailed for Cuba that the U.S. had an army of occupation and it was occupying the front porch of a grand hotel in Florida.

Ray & Gerry Coffey and Melissa Beasley hosted a service day at Pond Spring, the home of Gen. Joseph Wheeler near Hillsboro, Alabama. Joe Wheeler, a veteran of Lee’s Confederate command, led the cavalry in Cuba and was instrumental in getting the Rough Riders into action. The Coffeys invited us to their beautiful home, an old school house and shared refreshments and insight. Delightful!

In San Antonio, Texas, we enjoyed the hospitality, tour and stories shared by Ernesto Malacara of the Menger Hotel, across the street from the Alamo, a place overflowing with T.R. and Rough Rider history and lore

San Antonio was a “two-fer” for who could pass up the Ft. Sam Houston Military Museum, a fantastic display of a century and a half of national service and sacrifice run capably and shared generously and enthusiastically by John Manguso and Jacqueline Davis

Most of T.R.’s Rough Riders were men from New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma and the Indian Territory. Throughout our time in the Southwest, the legacy of the Rough Riders was always near. In Las Vegas, New Mexico, Linda Gegick has a gem of a municipal museum with what is likely the largest Rough Rider memorabilia collection in the world.

Finally, a trip to Prescott, Arizona, where Mayor Buckey O’Neill rallied the men of Arizona Territory to enlist with him and get to the front lines in Cuba. Captain O’Neill commanded Troop A, overwhelmingly horse and rifle men from Arizona and New Mexico with a sprinkling of T.R.’s friends from New York, Massachusetts and Chicago tossed in. O’Neill was killed by a Spanish bullet right before Roosevelt led the first charge up Kettle Hill on July 1, 1898. In his hometown of Prescott, Arizona, a splendid Rough Rider memorial graces the north lawn of the Yavapai County Courthouse. Nearby, history is kept alive at the Sharlot Hall Museum by the talented director, John Langellier, a re-enactor himself.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are certainly tremendous places to visit to learn more about the enthusiasm with which men sacrificed their lives that the people of Cuba might throw off Spanish chains and that the United States might claim greater dominion for the cause of Liberty in the Western Hemisphere.

One hundred and ten years ago today, two men in the 10th Cavalry died by drowning at Daiquiri. Risking his own life, Captain Buckey O’Neill dove in the surf in a vain attempt to save Private John English of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Corporal Edward Cobb of Richmond, Virginia. It mattered not to this son of Irish immigrants that the soldiers he was trying to save were colored or Negro troopers. They were brothers in arms and men for whom risking one’s own life was the right thing to do. We remember them, and a hero named Buckey O’Neill today.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Theodore Roosevelt - Candidate for Vice-President of the United States

On June 21, 1900, Theodore Roosevelt was nominated by the National Republican Convention to join President McKinley as the Vice-Presidential candidate on the G.O.P. ticket. His rise to national prominence had indeed been meteoric.

Theodore Roosevelt vaulted to national fame two years before as the Hero of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. A thirty-nine year old father of six, his youngest newly born, T.R. demanded an opportunity to lead men on the front lines in Cuba, resigning his post as the provocative Undersecretary of the Navy. The 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry – Roosevelt’s Rough Riders – followed him up Kettle Hill and the San Juan Heights, and the clamber of New York Republicans soon followed him when that “splendid little war” was quickly over. In the fall of 1898, T.R. was nominated and elected Governor of New York.

For his political independence, his dedication to the eradication of corruption and his pushing a progressive agenda on regulation and taxation, T.R. was on the outs with Senator Thomas Collier Platt, the New York Republican boss. With Vice-President Garret Hobart dying in office in 1899, Platt saw the way clear to add a war hero to the Republican ticket while ridding himself of the reform governor.

At the Republican convention in Philadelphia, Platt secured Roosevelt a unanimous nomination; except one vote…Roosevelt’s own. “I would rather be a history professor,” said Roosevelt of the Vice-Presidential opportunity. Once nominated, he considered it his duty to campaign with all his might. With William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson on the Democratic ticket, the election certainly wasn’t assured. “Use me to your fullest,” wrote the forty-one year old T.R. to the Republican leadership. In the four and a half months that followed T.R. travelled over 21,000 miles by rail, making several speeches a day. Meanwhile, citizens and voters travelled to Canton, Ohio, where President McKinley campaigned on his front porch. McKinley and T.R. were elected. On the eve of Roosevelt’s nomination, McKinley’s political mentor, Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, Chairman of the Republican National Committee forebodingly told Republican associates, “Don’t you realize that there’s only one life between this madman and the Presidency?”

With regards to the Wiegand family's 2008 T.R. Tour commemorating Theodore Roosevelt’s 150th birthday, we have logged nearly 20,000 miles ourselves as we celebrate the great Rough Rider President. From Chicago, to D.C. to Boston and New York, from Roswell to Tampa, New Orleans and San Antonio, from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite to Seattle to Yellowstone to Crater Lake and Lassen Volcanic National Parks, we have seen this beautiful country, reluctant to shrug off its winter mantle, now embracing the late spring and early summer with its usual vigor and beautiful surprise.

Today, we go back a way we came. While some of our tour has recalled Grapes of Wrath, the current leg’s Steinbeckian theme reminds us that “best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.” Twelve days ago, while filling air in the Saturn’s front tire, Jenny leapt for her life as a moving van slowly tore through the tire and front quarter panel where she worked away. Less you think me a heathen, I had just separately finished draining the RV’s waste tanks. With a Herculean effort, we’ve made good our way while the Saturn has been undergoing repairs in Spokane.

As we retrace some miles through Oregon, Washington, Idaho and more, we are thankful that Jenny was unhurt and that stuff can be fixed. As we pushed through an amazing itinerary, I found myself thinking about the pace at which Theodore Roosevelt drove himself and the volume of work he got done. It reminds me, as we charge ahead up a hill of my own making, to value all that Jenny and Sam do to keep the T.R. Tour on pace.

As we arrived quite late to Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California, we set up our tent and gathered kindling by the light of the stars and the new moon. We toasted marshmallows and built ‘smores. We laughed. At the end of a long wisp, my marshmallow caught fire and I wiggled the treat with the intent of blowing out the flame. When the flame persisted, I wiggled my stick some more and more vigorously so. Half of the molten marshmallow, still aflame, catapulted across the fire pit and onto Jenny’s “it’s-chilly-in-the-mountains” bedtime sweatpants. As she danced a fire dance, we all broke out in laughter, a little mad from the road and the race to capture yet another experience at another legacy spot of Theodore Roosevelt’s. She put the flames out quickly, and I sat amazed at this woman who shares my passion, who home schools our daughter with patience, who drives an RV through mountain roads while I make a record of a journey. Thank God for family.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Great Lion Hunter Returns

On June 18, 1910, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt returned from nearly fifteen months overseas to an overwhelming reception in New York City. Out of office since March 4, 1909 and out of the country since March 23, 1909, T.R. returned to the United States prepared to fight for the values and policies he pursued as President from September 1901 through March of 1909.

T.R. had gone hunting in Africa, primarily Kenya, Sudan and Egypt, collecting specimens for the collections of the Smithsonian Institute. When T.R. left the United States, he left the powers of the executive in the hands of his own chosen successor, William Howard Taft. The African hunting trip was as much for the benefit of Taft as the enjoyment of T.R. Roosevelt might finally get his lion, and Taft might be able to step out from behind a huge shadow and govern in his own right.

For nearly a year, T.R. and son Kermit hunted for big African game, and they got their lions. As T.R. left Alexandria for Naples on March 30, 1910, he had already received letters and reports that Taft was reversing many of Roosevelt’s progressive policies. In Europe for the next two months, T.R. met with Gifford Pinchot and others who encouraged him to return to the United States and lead the fight for a Progressive agenda. T.R. was received in Europe with a popular fervor and official reception unknown to any former American President. He lectured at Oxford, the Sorbonne and the University of Berlin. He accepted his Nobel Peace Prize and marched as a citizen, representing the United States at the funeral of King Edward VII.

When T.R. returned from Europe, Captain Archie Butt, his former military aide, now Taft’s, extended President Taft’s official welcome home. Butt wrote privately of a conversation held the next morning with a New York newspaper man, telling the man that the papers missed it: “…none commented on the fact that this great outpouring of people, this wonderful enthusiasm seen on all sides, was just to see one man pass, to see him lift his hat, and to hear him address them as fellow citizens. They had stood in the heat for hours for this, and they would have stood just as long in the rain. Nothing could have daunted their spirits yesterday. He was back. That was enough for them. And now where it is going to end is a matter for the future – not for the present. The chapter has been written in the lives of both Taft and Roosevelt and in the history of American politics.”

Archie Butt was a Georgian and a Sewanee man. He served both Presidents well. His letters are a treasure of insight into the personalities of these two men. Butt died when the Titanic sank, and survivors say it was Butt who calmly requested the ship’s band play “Nearer My God to Thee”.

Jenny and I met at Sewanee in 1985. I wish every Sewanee student was taught Butt's life story, an example of a man in the arena for generations to come.

The last couple days, the Wiegand family kept a Rooseveltian pace, visiting parks, forests and wildlife refuges in three states. Today, we caught up with mail and maintenance and spent a good portion of the day atop Pilots Butte in Bend, Oregon. Tomorrow, we visit Crater Lake National Park, where I’m honored to perform for rangers and volunteers honing their interpretive skills. Eric Anderson, the Park Ranger hosting me says this will be T.R.’s first visit to Crater Lake. I can’t wait!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Turning Water into Communities - the Newlands Reclamation Act

On June 17, 1902, the United States Congress passed the Newlands Reclamation Act, dedicating the nation to a system of dams, irrigation canals and hydroelectric power plants in the arid states of the West. Under T.R.’s leadership, the work of the Reclamation Service was to function as a revolving fund, with the farms and landowners benefiting from the increased land value and productive capabilities repaying the initial investment of the public treasury. When I was but an infant in the study of politics and public policy, I used to think that “Newlands” referenced the land, in the manner that “new, irrigable lands” were being created out of dry and dusty lands. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.

The chief work done on behalf of its passage within the Congress was done by the bill’s sponsor, Representative, later Senator, Francis G. Newlands, of Reno, Nevada. When Newlands was a member of the House of Representatives, he was Nevada’s only member, elected at-large. Newlands, a Democrat, is also remembered in history as the sponsor of the Newlands Resolution, which, when adopted by Congress on July 4 and signed by President McKinley on July 7, 1898, formalized the annexation of Hawaii as a territory of the United States. When Congress passed the annexation legislation, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, commanding officer of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry and formerly Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was still engaged in the siege of Santiago, Cuba. By the time the Newlands Reclamation Act was passed, T.R. had become our President, and he wasted no time in getting the national conservation movement on its legs.

To celebrate the anniversary of the Newlands Reclamation Act, the T.R. Tour visited the Snake River’s Minidoka Dam in Idaho, an earthen and concrete structure begun in 1904 and completed in 1906. Like dozens of other Reclamation Act projects in the western states, the Minidoka Dam changed the landscape and the demographics of the surrounding territory. The damming of the Snake River creates a lake of some 11,000 surface acres, an environment conducive to the enjoyment of many birds, human beings and other various forms of wildlife. The dam also produced the region’s first high volume, reliable electricity. The lake was eventually named Lake Walcott, in honor of Charles Doolittle Walcott, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1894 to 1907 and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute from 1907 until his death in 1927.

Typical of the multiple benefits often realized from Rooseveltian undertakings, the lake and its environs were soon identified as an important location for wildlife, and on February 25, 1909, in the last week of his administration, Roosevelt named Minidoka a national bird reservation. Today, Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge includes over 20,000 acres of land and water where the ducks, geese, and mule deer which dominate the reserve are often joined by diverse birds and mammals who thrive not only on the water and surrounding wetlands, but also on the hundreds of shade trees that were planted at the initial camp for construction workers and later when the Civilian Conservation Corps camped and worked in the reserve as well.

In his autobiography published in 1913, T.R. wrote:

“While I had lived in the West I had come to realize the vital need of irrigation to the country, and I had been both amused and irritated by the attitude of Eastern men who obtained from Congress grants of National money to develop harbors and yet fought the use of the Nation’s power to develop the irrigation of the West. Major John Wesley Powell, the explorer of the Grand Canyon, and director of the Geological Survey, was the first man who fought for irrigation, and he lived to see the Reclamation Act passed and construction actually begun. Mr. F.H. Newell, the present Director of the Reclamation Service, began his work as an assistant hydraulic engineer under Major Powell; and unlike Powell, he appreciated the need of saving the forests and the soil, as well as the need of irrigation. Between Powell and Newell came, as Director of the Geological Survey, Charles D. Walcott, who after the Reclamation Act was passed, by his force, pertinacity, and tact, succeeded in putting the act into effect in the best possible manner. Senator Francis G. Newlands, of Nevada, fought hard for the cause of reclamation in Congress.”

T.R. goes on to give the greatest share of credit to Gifford Pinchot, and I’ll save that excerpt for another time, as Pinchot has been and will be a major part of the T.R. Tour.

Today, suffice it to say that the American people have much to be thankful for when it comes to acknowledging the Newlands Reclamation Act, the men and women who fought for its passage and the able public servants who have built and maintained the system of rivers, lakes and dams which water our produce and power the economies of the West. Today the United States Bureau of Reclamation operates 479 dams and 348 reservoirs with total water storage capacity of 245 million acre-feet. On those dams, the Bureau of Reclamation operates fifty-eight hydro-electric power plants, producing 44 BILLION kilowatt hours of electricity each year. Some ten million acres of farmland are irrigated by Bureau of Reclamation systems, with some sixty percent of our nation’s vegetables and twenty-five percent of our fruit and nut crop receiving Bureau of Reclamation water. Perhaps more importantly, 145,000 farmers are served by Bureau of Reclamation water.

As we travelled the Snake River Valley, I was struck by the myriad of flowing canals and ditches. On this eighty-five degree day, most of the fields within view were either spraying water across their fields or preparing behemoth irrigation systems for employment. As I passed one huge quarter mile long irrigation crawler, I noticed a sight that reminded me of the family farms back in DeKalb County, Illinois. High on a truck bed was a farmer, tools in hand, working on a nozzle. Serving as the “ground man” or “gopher” below was the farm wife, obvious by her diligence and patience, the backbone of the American farm.

I do think T.R. would look fondly on their hard work and their beautiful farm, and he would have something good to say about the men and women of the Bureau of Reclamation who make it all possible.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Celebrating T.R. on Fathers Day in Yellowstone

I spent Fathers Day with Jenny & Sam, tramping about Yellowstone, sharing T.R. with staff and guests at the various lodges. It was a lovely morning as we toured the Mammoth Hot Springs, a hot liquid mosaic. At the Mammoth Lodge, the Wooden Map Room begged for a performance of the Man in the Arena. The western wall of the room holds a gigantic parquet map of the United States, made with woods from all fifty states and from various foreign countries. Marked on the map are the major train lines and highways that crisscrossed the nation in 1937.

We traveled on to the beautiful vistas along the South Rim Road of the Yellowstone River Canyon. We stopped first at Artist’s Point where the view of the Lower Falls is simply invigorating. Back to the Tom Thumb Trails, a vigorous family hike and a beautiful view of the Upper Falls. My father reminded me that my late mother enjoyed sketching these falls when our family visited Yellowstone in the Spirit of 1976.

At Norris we visited the Museum of the National Park Ranger, which had some tremendous displays from the early years of our National Parks. Ranger Joseph Evans made a gracious host, and I do hope our next visit gives us some more time to enjoy the finer details.

Before we left Norris, we were right up close with a couple of big bull buffalo and not long thereafter joined a gaggle of tourists as we watched mother and cub grizzly bears search for bugs and other food beneath the buffalo pies. Into the woods they ran, and we went on to a picnic beside Lake Yellowstone.

We finished our day with over five hundred people from around the world in awe of Old Faithful, erupting to a chorus of ooohs and aaahs and exclamations from voices, young and old, in a dozen different languages. I shared TR with guests and staff at the Old Faithful Inn & Lodge, each being rustic and open spaces perfect for a TR show.

Jenny and Sam joined me for a tramp through the geysers beyond Old Faithful, and we were amazed at what we saw: brilliant, bubbling cauldrons and steaming sulpheric plumes. As we ventured out, a massive rain cloud rumbled overhead. As the rain began to fall, adding to the hydro-technics of the geyser field, Jenny exclaimed at the sights. In the east, a waxing moon shone bright in a pale blue sky. To the west, a purple and pink sunset radiated through the cloud cover. Above, the grey rumbler poured forth a cold, refreshing rain that sent Sam to the vanguard of the shelter bound tourists. Jenny laughed that the atmospheric kaleidoscope would be complete if we only had hail, and, as if on cue, the little balls of hail began to fall and cling to our spring coats.

In his autobiography, T.R. writes of his father, Theodore Roosevelt, that he “…was the greatest man I ever knew.” On this Fathers Day, inspired by Theodore Roosevelt and his devotion to family, I pray that I am found a worthy father, loving and firm, devoted to teaching my daughter faith and values and child-like enough to join her in vigorous play.

I give thanks for a patient bride and a spunky daughter. God must love me, for he has given me some special people to love. That they are sharing this great T.R. adventure with me is a source of great joy.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remembering Edith Derby Williams on Flag Day

Today is June 14, Flag Day, 2008. On this beautiful Saturday morning, my family is travelling from Bozeman, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park in Northwestern Wyoming. Along for the ride are my wife of nearly 21 years, Jenny, and my daughter, Sam, just turned 10. The golden retriever, Faith, is part of the family, too.

June 14 has always been a big day in my family. My brother, Joshua, was born on this day in 1975. Two years later, little sister, Joy was born on the same day. Mom and Dad planned the home delivery in Hollywood, California, but they hadn’t planned on the doctor and the midwife being stuck in L.A. traffic. When Pops caught Joy it must have been a sign that she would be a handful. Josh thought it was a real swell birthday present. Flag Day was also my Grandpa and Grandma Prager’s wedding anniversary, the same for their son, George & Vicki Prager, married that same day, and the birth date in 1975 of their daughter, cousin Heidi, forever young as she died of Long QT in 1989.

Today, the nation remembers a patriot. Edith Derby Williams was born in 1917, the daughter of surgeon Richard Derby and Ethel Roosevelt Derby, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Mrs. Williams passed away on Sunday, nearly a week before her ninety-first birthday. Her life will be celebrated at her funeral today, on her beloved Vashon Island in the state of Washington.
Edith, named for her grandmother, Edith Carow Roosevelt, was the second of four children born to the Derbys, though her older brother, Richard, Jr., died in 1922 at the age of eight of septicemia. While Mrs. Williams was too young to remember her grandfather, who passed away on January 6, 1919, before she was two years old, she is the subject of a photograph which I believe is one of the tenderest of T.R., the grandfather. The photo shows T.R. holding Edith, his eyes closed, his cheek lovingly embracing the baby’s.

In her long life, Mrs. Williams did much to serve her greater community, often standing up and giving leadership to the conservation movement her grandfather championed a century before. At the 1960 Republican National Convention, she gave a rousing seconding speech for the nomination of Richard Nixon. In 2000, she was still publishing op eds calling for greater safeguards of America’s unspoiled national forests.

We offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the life and the legacy of Edith Derby Williams, granddaughter to a president, wife, mother and grandmother to a family that still lives up to the call of Theodore Roosevelt:

“The true Christian is the true citizen, lofty of purpose, resolute of endeavor, ready for a hero’s deeds, but never looking down on his task because it is cast in the day of small things; scornful of baseness, awake to his own duties as well as to his rights, following the higher law with reverence, and in this world doing all that in him lies, so that when death comes he may feel that mankind is in some degree better because he has lived.” - to the Young Men’s Christian Association of New York City, March 1901.

Arriving at Roosevelt Arch, Yellowstone National Park, we celebrate Flag Day and remember the life of Edith Derby Williams. We give thanks for this daughter of Christian duty. Today, the flag flies a little higher, and, yes, mankind is in some degree better, for the life she lived.