President Theodore Roosevelt Returns to California

"These cowboys were toothless, illiterate, with a roughness in grammar, they didn't go to the opera, knew no Latin, but they were men of gumption"

by / May 11, 2005

President Theodore Roosevelt returned to California during GTC. Roosevelt, portrayed by scholar Clay Jenkinson, looked at the audience, and remarked that many had "shoulders like those of a champagne bottle" and suggested they get away from their desks and take a brisk walk up to Nevada City. Roosevelt -- who camped for four days in Yosemite with naturalist John Muir and woke up one morning covered with snow -- was an advocate of the strenuous life and an enemy of "ignoble ease."

"I was born in 1858," said Jenkinson in character, "so frail that physicians thought I would not live." His asthma was so bad his father drove a carriage at breakneck speed to try and force air into his young son's lungs. Later, a physician at Harvard College told him not to expect to live long, and urged him to adopt a sedentary life. But Roosevelt and his family rejected that advice, instead forcing in a regimen of exercise, hiking and horseback riding and slowly Roosevelt's body responded.

When his wife and mother both died on the same day, February 14, 1884, Roosevelt went west to the badlands of Dakota, and threw himself into hard work and long days herding cattle. He resolved to never speak unless spoken to, never stop work first, never go for food first, never call attention to himself, never turn away from any work, and never be the first to sleep. Work and solitude began to repair his spirit. Nevertheless, the ranch hands ridiculed his fancy clothes, meticulous grammar, and Tiffany-inscribed knife. "They called me the punkin' lily, storm windows and four eyes," he explained. Birth and wealth counted for nothing in the West, he discovered, what mattered was gumption and character.

Roosevelt showed character when he confronted a drunken Montana cowboy shooting up a bar and who "shot the only clock in Montana." Roosevelt stood up and hit the man in the chin, the man went down, and both revolvers discharged. The locals began to take this strange "Eastern Dude," with the thick glasses more seriously

"These cowboys," said Roosevelt, "were toothless, illiterate, with a roughness in grammar, they didn't go to the opera, knew no Latin, but they were men of gumption."

Roosevelt had no patience with "whiners and victims" His goal was to make sure that everybody had a chance, that there was a fair deal as much as possible, so that hard work paid off. That was part of the role of government, he said.

Roosevelt went into politics, and learned more lessons about life. "If you are marooned on a desert island, and need to build a boat, but only have a hatchet, screwdriver and chisel; you may want a saw, but you will never get it. Don't whine about the saw," said Roosevelt, "use the tools you have and build the boat." Similarly, said Roosevelt, use the men and women you have to work with, even if they are flawed.

Jenkinson gave the standing-room-only GTC audience lessons in life and politics from Roosevelt, closing his formal presentation with a quote from the "In the Arena" speech given by Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in 1910: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Wayne Hanson

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.

Platforms & Programs