Friday, May 15, 2009

The Rough Riders in San Antonio

On May 15, 1898, newly commissioned Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt reported for duty in San Antonio, Texas. Serving under the command of Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt took the next two weeks to train with the enlisted men and officers of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, soon to be known as the Rough Riders.

To take up arms and fight in Cuba, thirty-nine year old TR resigned from his post as the Assistant Secretary of the United States Navy. Roosevelt's sixth child had just been born the previous November and TR's wife, Edith, was recuperating from a very difficult surgery. What compelled Roosevelt to leave the safety and comfort of home? In his own words:

"During the year preceding the outbreak of the Spanish War I was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. While my party was in opposition, I had preached, with all the fervor and zeal I possessed, our duty to intervene in Cuba, and to take this opportunity of driving the Spaniard from the Western World. Now that my party had come to power, I felt it incumbent on me, by word and deed, to do all I could to secure the carrying out of the policy in which I so heartily believed; and from the beginning I had determined that, if a war came, somehow or other, I was going to the front."

The story of Theodore Roosevelt's leadership of the Rough Riders is an amazing and inspirational tale, for battle field promotions saw Wood in command of the brigade while TR led the Rough Riders on their assualt up Kettle Hill and San Juan Heights.

I've got some of my own battles to fight today, as I imagine you might, too. Take some encouragement from the man who was willing to fight and die for what he believed to be right. Throughout his life, TR overcame tragedy and hardship by redoubling his effort, by taking action.

So, ladies and gentlemen..."Charge!"

All the best.

TR Joe

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May 14-16, 1903 TR & John Muir Camping in Yosemite

I've always enjoyed hearing people answer the question, "With which four historical people would you like to have dinner?" I think Jesus Christ tops the list and everyone from Mother Theresa to Michelangelo and Abraham Lincoln pepper the answers. I recall PBS actually producing some of these for stage and television, of course using actors, and, today, Facebook gives one a chance to play the game with friends.

Today is the 106th anniversary of TR's visit to Yosemite and of the beginning of a three day adventure TR had there with the great naturalist John Muir. As I look forward to a summer with at least a few nights under canvass or under the stars, these two names start my list in answer to the question, "With which four historical people would you like to sit around a camp fire?"

David Brinkley, in The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, due out in June from Harper Collins and excerpted in the May 2009 issue of Vanity Fair, recounts some of the magical moments shared by the two iconic conservationists.

One evening, Muir built a fire of fern and cedar boughs at Yosemite's Glacier Point, where the men would camp for the night. Brinkley:

"At one juncture, Muir became animated. 'Watch this,' he said. Grabbing a flaming branch from the fire, he lit a dead pine tree which was set off on its own and protected on a ledge. With a roar, flame shot like a bonfire up the dead branches. Suddenly Muir did a Scottish jig around the pine torch. Roosevelt, leaping to his feet, hopped around the flaming tree as well, shouting 'Hurrah!' over and over into the night sky. 'That's a candle,' Roosevelt told Muir, that 'took 500 years to make. Hurrah for Yosemite!, Mr. Muir.'

So, "Hurrah!" for two men who spent their lives in service to their fellows and to the cause of conservation. Under Muir's influence, TR would charge the Interior Department to see through greater Federal authority and a greater Federal footprint for Yosemite, a park that pre-dated Yellowstone, though that under California state jurisdiction.

In other issues, like the conflict between preservation advocated by Muir and his Sierra Club and the resource management viewpoint advocated by TR and his ally, Gifford Pinchot, these men would have much about which to disagree. On these nights, in the midst of the grandeur of Yosemite, away from the reporters and the dignitaries, two luminaries agreed on much. May we remember their pine candle as a symbol of the great light shone by these men in the area of conservation.

Oh, by the way, add Jesus Christ and Abe Lincoln to finish my fivesome around the fire.

Have a bully day!

TR Joe

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The White House Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources

On May 13, 1908, Theodore Roosevelt ushered the conservation agenda into the modern era, when he hosted the three day White House Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources. The meeting was attended by governors and scientists and chaired by Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester of the United States. In 1908, many of the attendees were hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Roosevelt Administration had a tremendous record on conservation. Even the casual observor must be amazed at the record: 230 million acres of national forests, national parks, national monuments and wildlife refuges added to the public trust. The Newlands Reclamation Act, the Inland Waterways Commission and the establishment of an independent Forest Service all date to TR's time at the helm.

Today, we are called to meet new challenges. In 2008, the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy was held in Reno, Nevada, hometown, by the way, of Congressman Francis G. Newlands, author of the namesake bill which saw the rivers of the west tamed for the goals of settlement and agriculture. TR and later administrations saw to it that many of the reservoirs created by the works of the Reclamation Act became the backbone of our Midwestern and Western migratory bird refuges.

As in 1908, many of the attendees in Reno were hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. In 2008, thank goodness, there were many more women in attendance. The conference produced a series of recommendations, especially for the federal government and its departments and agencies that play important roles in wildlife management. In the spirit of TR and the 1908 conference, I commend your time and attention to the proceedings and the recommendations of the 2008 conference here:

Have a great, green day!

TR Joe

Friday, May 1, 2009

Celebrating the Battle of Manila Bay

"You may fire when ready, Gridley." On this day in 1898, Commodore George Dewey, aboard his flag ship cruiser, the U.S.S. Olympia, commanded the United States Asiatic Squadron as it destroyed the Spanish naval forces in the Battle of Manila Bay. According to many Roosevelt biographers, the young Assistant Secretary of the Navy had much influence on seeing the strategic command given to Dewey the previous year.

Today, you can see the U.S.S. Olympia, beautifully restored and cared for by the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. Tours are open to the public for a small charge which provides admission to the nearby museum as well. The museum features a great interpretive display about the ship, the Spanish-American War and the Battle of Manila Bay. In later years it was the Olympia that carried back from Europe the remains of World War I's Unknown Soldier whose final resting place would be in Arlington National Cemetery and the heart of every true American.

Any trip to or through Philly deserves a stop here.