Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Hero of San Juan & His Friend from Deadwood

On July 1, 1898, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, commanding officer of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry led the charge up Kettle Hill outside Santiago, Cuba. Aboard his steed, Texas, T.R. led his men, and the men of other units, in an assault that drove the Spanish troops from the entrenchments atop the hill. Pausing only briefly, T.R. led a second charge to support the flank of U.S. troops advancing on a neighboring height. Casualties were heavy for the Rough Riders. By the time the battles of Cuba ended in the following days, the Rough Riders had accumulated casualties, killed or wounded, of fully twenty percent of the enlisted men and thirty percent of the officers.

Today, we began our day with the Lead-Deadwood American Legion Wooden Bat Baseball Tournament in Deadwood, hometown of Captain Seth Bullock. Bullock was a T.R. friend and compatriot, one of Grigsby's Cowboy Regiment who spent the war training in Louisiana, preparing for a next phase of the war that never was needed. Inspired by the national past time, Jenny and Sam joined me for a hike up nearby Mt. Roosevelt, where on July 4, 1919, Seth Bullock and the Black Hills Pioneer Society erected the first posthumous memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, less than six months after his death.

The rocky path leads to the old stone tower which rises above the Black Hills Forest. Made of red rock and mortar, the tower is on the order of twenty feet or more high and perhaps twenty feet in circumference at its base. Reminding one of Roosevelt, the tower sits stout and strong atop a five foot pedestal. The entrance to the tower is gated, though the bottom six inches of three iron bars have been removed and a burrow leads into the old concrete stairway.

The interpretive legend nearby reminds us that the view to the north is of land where Billings County Deputy Sheriff Theodore Roosevelt first met Deadwood Sheriff Seth Bullock in 1884, and beyond, where rancher Roosevelt worked beside his men on the Chimney Butte and Elk Horn Ranches. The memorial is posted locally as Friendship Monument, and it is certain that the friendship memorialized is that of TR and Bullock, though TR friend General Leonard Wood was also present at the dedication. On another level, the tower is a monument to the friendship shared between TR and the American people. Forged in the battle for the right and based on a mutual belief that the welfare of individual citizens counted for something and that government could get good things done for the prosperity of the people, the conservation and wise management of our natural resources and the peace and advancement of the nation.

For Roosevelt & Bullock and for the American people, it is fitting that a deliberate ascent into the wild is required to visit the memorial. More than a decade earlier, while a Territorial Senator in Montana in 1871 and 1872, Bullock played an important role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park. In 1901, when McKinley was President and Roosevelt Vice-President, Bullock was appointed the first forest supervisor for the Black Hills Forest Reserve. The men shared a great respect for the world of the out of doors, for the hunt and the adventure of open spaces.

Our next Deadwood ascent was Mt. Moriah and the cemetery there, resting place of Seth Bullock, Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane. Seth Bullock died just nine short months after his friend, Theodore Roosevelt. Bullock’s Mt. Moriah resting place had a view of the Roosevelt Tower, now obscured by mature pine.

The friendship of Seth Bullock and Theodore Roosevelt lasted through decades. Roosevelt children and cousins stayed with Bullock when visiting South Dakota. Bullock brought a troop of cowboys, including Tom Mix, to TR's 1905 inauguration, all riding in the parade on horseback with wild west attire and side irons, staging a rodeo in the nation’s capital before departing.

Bullock served as the U.S. Marshall for South Dakota during the Roosevelt Administration. At its end, when TR’s tennis cabinet met for a luncheon at the White House for the last time in 1909, Seth Bullock was the man to cast the flowered center piece aside to surprise President Roosevelt with a beautiful bronze cougar.

Bullock was an enterprising businessman, a founder of the community of Belle Fourche and a man of solid virtue and courage. He was a TR kind of man.

While our transmission is being fixed in Rapid City, we’ve lodged with Deadwood’s best landscaper, Sewanee friend Jim Startz, his beautiful bride Tina and their boys. Jim coaches two of his sons in baseball and presides over the town's organized youth baseball program. The boys who play learn leadership, teamwork and responsibility. Several of the youngsters work for Startz & Startz Landscaping, learning crafts like masonry and skills with machinery in addition to things botanical.

Just as Seth Bullock made a great host to TR a century before, Jim and Tina have been awesome hosts in Deadwood. Finally, it was awesome to meet singer, comedian and first person reprisor Gordy Pratt, whose Seth Bullock portrayals have been entertaining Deadwood visitors for years. Check out

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