TR's Blessings on Us (U.S.); or, the Origin of the Cowboy

by cowboylands

A patriotic theme for a patriotic day—Happy July 4th!

On July 1, 1898, Roosevelt was cursing the fact that he had to dismount from his steed, Little Texas, to lead the cavalry charge up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill in Cuba.  But he knew that if he could get up to the top and strike the right pose, people’s imaginations would do the rest. After all, hadn’t he gathered the best of his western friends and Ivy League pals to join the “Rough Riders”? Wasn’t the media already agog at this volunteer force that was busy putting the Cowboy in cowboy? But then—what can happen when you take the Cowboy thing a little too seriously–things got Western when the troops who followed him suffered heavy casualties. Yet what image has stuck in the collective unconscious? TR on a horse, racing to victory! Bully!

It was the public imagination of the Rough Riders with Roosevelt at the head, brandishing guns and cowboy hat and spurs and whatnot and epitomizing the romantic and dashing West, that helped Roosevelt continue his ride to the White House as vice president, and then, after the assassination of President McKinley, gave Roosevelt popular support during his term at the head of the U.S.

Roosevelt’s exploits are legendary; his character a disconcerting amalgam of arrogance, a sense of honor, work ethic, racism, compassion, Big Stick, and Good Deed Doer (his statue outside the American Museum of Natural History in NYC has got to be seen to be believed—very un-PC).

Yet, despite some of the more hard-to-swallow elements of his life, it’s fitting that on this Independence Day Cowboylands gives a shoutout to the man who created 42 million acres of national forests, 53 wildlife refuges, 8 areas of “special interest” like the Grand Canyon; co-founded the American Bison Association; inspired the establishment of the Forest Service, and organized the first National Governors Conservation Conference. Very Cowboy of him!

That’s why I can’t resist featuring one of my favorite/least favorite photos of our own world leader, our own Cowboy, who in 2005 was borrowing TR’s buckskinned image to invoke the blessings of the Cowboy-deity as he defended the classified eavesdropping program. (New York Times, Dec. 17, 2005)

No way no how Cowboy!

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Copyright NYTimes Company 2005





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