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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Teddy Roosevelt an admired president, conservationist, American icon of freedom

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Jr. (1858 – 1919) was one of America’s most popular, admired and beloved presidents.

The two-term Republican (1901-1909) was an outdoorsman, war hero, conservationist, book author and journalist, and naval historian.

His likeness was carved into Mount Rushmore alongside other America icons of freedom — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

His likeness was carved into Mount Rushmore alongside other America icons of freedom — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. (Photo from National Park Service)

The teddy bear, a soft cuddly toy, celebrated in story, song and film, was named for Roosevelt. Teddy bears are among the most popular gifts for children and are often given to adults to signify love, congratulations, or sympathy.

During this week of President’s Day, let’s take a look back at Roosevelt’s remarkable life in service to his country:

• Born in New York City, Roosevelt was a sickly child with severe asthma.

He overcame his health problems by physical exertion, including hiking, and boxing, to teach him to fight, to discourage bullies, and strengthen his body.

He was homeschooled and cultivated an early interest in zoology, and taxidermy.

In college he excelled in sports and literary pursuits, and graduated in 1880, 22nd in his class of 122, at Harvard College.

• His early adult life got off to a tragic start.

In 1878 while at college, his father suddenly died.

In 1884, four years into the marriage, his wife, Alice H. Lee, gave birth to their daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt. Two days later, Roosevelt’s wife died due to an undiagnosed case of kidney failure, which had been masked by her pregnancy.

His mother, Martha “Mittie” Roosevelt, had died of typhoid fever eleven hours earlier at 3:00 a.m., in the same house.

Distraught, he left his daughter in the care of his sister, and headed West, embracing the life of a cowboy — learning to ride horses and rope cattle and hunting at Chimney Butte Ranch and Elkhorn Ranch, on the Little Missouri River in North Dakota.

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Jr. (Photo from Wikipedia)

• In 1887, Roosevelt founded The Boone and Crockett Club, named in honor of hunter-heroes of the day, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, who hunted extensively while opening the American frontier but realized the consequences of over-harvesting game.

America’s oldest wildlife and habitat conservation organization, the Boone and Crockett Club is a nonprofit organization that advocates fair chase hunting, sportsmanship, and support for habitat conservation.

• Soon after the beginning of the Spanish-American War in April 1898, Roosevelt resigned from his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and formed the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, with Army Colonel Leonard Wood.

Nicknamed the “Rough Rivers,” the unit was composed of college athletes, cowboys, ranchers, miners, police officers, and military veterans from Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, hot climates similar to Cuba, where they would be fighting.

After training in San Antonio, Texas, the unit was shipped to Cuba, where they took part in several important battles.

For his gallantry at Kettle Hill (San Juan Heights), Colonel Roosevelt was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commanders.

In the late 1990s, Roosevelt’s supporters again brought up talks about commendation.

On January 16, 2001, President William Jefferson Clinton awarded Theodore Roosevelt the Medal of Honor posthumously, the only president to have received the Medal of Honor.

The United States Navy named two ships for Theodore Roosevelt, a submarine that was in commission from 1961 to 1982, and an aircraft carrier that has been on active duty in the Atlantic Fleet since 1986.

• In his political life, Roosevelt was: a member of the New York State Assembly, 1882-84; Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1897; Governor of New York, 1898, and Vice President, 1900.

On September 6, 1901, while President William McKinley was visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, he was shot by a Polish-American anarchist.

McKinley died on September 14, and Roosevelt was sworn in as the nation’s 26th president of the United States. At age 42, he was the youngest person to ever become president.

• To many Americans, Roosevelt’s legacy is his lifelong commitment to conservation.

Roosevelt often used executive orders to bypass regional divides and the influence of special interests on Congress, to do what was right, to protect our nation’s natural resources, its land, and wildlife.

Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service, about 150 national forests, 51 bird reserves, four other wildlife reserves, and 18 national monuments.

Renamed Roosevelt elk, to honor Teddy, who helped ensure the elk were protected, the Roosevelt elk is the largest of the four remaining subspecies of elk in North America. (Photo from National Park Service)

In all, he extended federal protection to some 230 million acres.

He also helped save the remaining herds of Rocky Mountain elk in the West from extinction.

Elk could not have re-established in Kentucky, and other states east of the Mississippi River, without the restoration of western herds in the early 20th century.

By 1907, only 41,000 elk remained in North America.

Roosevelt helped bring back herds of elk in several western states, most notably Washington state, on lands that would eventually become Olympic National Park.

In 1909 Roosevelt established Mount Olympus National Monument, and 29 years later the land became a national park.

The subspecies of elk in the park were renamed Roosevelt elk, to honor Teddy, who helped ensure the elk were protected.

The Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) is the largest of the four remaining subspecies of elk in North America.

The park’s herd is one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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