- Publisher: The Dakota Institute
- Available in: Hardcover
- ISBN: 098255978X
- Published: August 15, 2011
This book emerged from a hotel project. My friend Randy Hatzenbuhler of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation commissioned me to write approximately 70 Roosevelt “stories” to adorn the walls of the rooms of the new Rough Riders Hotel in Medora, North Dakota. This was a project I loved. I tried to concentrate on Roosevelt in the American West, not only because his life was transformed by his three-year sojourn in the badlands of Dakota Territory, but because it was in the American West that TR fashioned his larger than life persona.
The hotel project was so useful to me as a Roosevelt scholar that I decided to turn it into a book. The long introduction to the volume is, I believe, the most important essay I have written about Theodore Roosevelt. Among other things, it addresses the problem of Roosevelt’s authenticity. Were all those stories about punching out gunslingers in bars, bringing boat thieves to justice, hanging upside down to take a photograph of Thompson Falls out on the Montana-Idaho border country, wading into a circle of baying dogs to kill a mountain lion with his knife, true, or were they delightful embellishments of stories that at their core were much less heroic? When I started working on Roosevelt, I vowed that I would never let him become a caricature—the toothy extrovert who said “bully” at the slightest provocation. But in working on Roosevelt all these years I have discovered that he cannot really be caricatured, or rather that he was the inventor of the caricature of Theodore Roosevelt.
Many of the photographs in this book came from the revolutionary Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. I conceived of the TR Center while hiking the badlands of the Little Missouri River nine years ago. Nobody would give us TR’s original papers, but thanks to the digital revolution we would probably be able to talk host institutions into permitting us to digitize those papers. Our partners include Harvard University, the National Parks System, including Sagamore Hill and TR’s birthplace in lower Manhattan, and the Library of Congress, among others. I had the luxury of exploring our large and growing digital photograph library for images to illustrate the panels in the Rough Riders Hotel rooms and to grace the pages of my book.
To read Clay’s introduction to A Free and Hardy Life, click here.
“The story of Roosevelt punching out the gunslinger in the bar in Wibaux has a kind of dime novel quality to it. But lest one think Roosevelt was making these stories up, or weaving a mock-epic upon very slender foundations, it should be remembered that in August 1889 in the Big Hole Basin in southwestern Montana, TR and his guide John Willis found themselves in a roadhouse where a group of tough lumberjacks were carousing. When TR asked a woodsman to pass the porridge, the fellow made the mistake of calling Roosevelt a ‘four-eyed gink.’ Roosevelt erupted from his chair and, according to John Willis, knocked out two hardened loggers with his fisticuffs. Nobody likes to be called a gink.”