Lew Freedman: Teddy Roosevelt And Today's Conservationists

Roundup: Talking About History

It was as if by walking through the door we had stepped into the past.

The greeter had his hair cut in a recognizable wave, glasses perched on his nose just so, with familiar thick mustache and deep voice. As Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, he made us feel at home.

Some months ago I attended a conference in Nebraska--not a seance--that included a TR come-to-life. James W. Foote, like TR, from Long Island, N.Y., was the channeler.

To listen to Foote is to listen to Roosevelt. And if you care about the outdoors, that is time well spent. Roosevelt is a wonderful role model for hunters. Not only was he an accomplished hunter with intense respect for undeveloped land, he essentially was the nation's first conservationist.

In a remarkable life, there were many Teddy Roosevelts, from the politician to the warrior. Roosevelt became president of the United States at 42, wrote 36 books, won the Nobel Peace Prize, lived on a ranch in the West, hunted widely and created the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Foote, a re-enactor in his mid-50s, resembles the Roosevelt that we know in his prime from photographs. He dressed in a khaki jacket, a button-up corduroy vest, a greenish tie and gray slacks and thought aloud as Roosevelt, quoting from his voluminous writings.

"Unless the average man and woman live lives of duty, civilization will perish," Roosevelt said. Americanism, he added, is "purpose, spirit and ideal."

Besides his presidency, the Roosevelt most Americans remember is associated with the Rough Riders and the battle of San Juan Hill. Hunters think of Roosevelt as one of them, a man who wrote books such as "Hunting Trips of a Ranchman" and "The Wilderness Hunter." One reprint edition combining those works shows us a picture of Roosevelt as a young man wearing buckskins and bearing a rifle.

At the start of "The Wilderness Hunter," written in 1893, he said, "The American wilderness [has] a character distinctly its own." In his mind the land was flush with game unknown to Europe. "No Old World representatives," he said. He singled out the wild turkey as the "king of American game birds."
The very idea of modern American conservation, Foote said, stems from the Roosevelt administration. "He knew he had to change things," Foote said.

Roosevelt wanted to assure the country would "last through the ages," protecting for heirs the "glorious heritage one might receive."

Revolutionary at the time, Roosevelt enunciated the position that wildlife and land belonged to future generations. As president, he established 51 wildlife refuges.

comments powered by Disqus