Rocky Mountain President

More than a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt took a hunting trip to Colorado. What most people don’t know: There was much more at stake during those weeks than simply riding horses and tracking bears.

January 2012

April 1905, colorado: Theodore Roosevelt had just been elected president of the United States; there was increasing turmoil in Europe; and the man known colloquially as Teddy had just recovered from malaria. And so, of course, the larger-than-life president decided to go bear hunting. It was irresponsible to go to Colorado, much less to hunt, some argued, but Roosevelt was stubborn and insistent. He left the White House, arrived in Glenwood Springs, and then he and his hunting party set up “Camp Roosevelt” in the steep, high mountains outside New Castle.

Roosevelt had been here before, and he called the Centennial State a “great, wild country,” of which he was clearly fond: “In the creek bottoms there were a good many ranches; but we only occasionally passed by these, on our way to our hunting grounds in the wilderness along the edge of the snow-line. The mountains crowded close together in chain, peak, and tableland; all the higher ones were wrapped in an unrent shroud of snow.”

Every morning, Roosevelt and his hunting companions would ride out after breakfast. He seemed to love the cold and the snow and the solitude, even if the experience did not always seem comfortable: “Each day we were from six to twelve hours in the saddle, climbing with weary toil up the mountains and slipping and scrambling down them. On the tops and on the north slopes there was much snow, so that we had to pick our trails carefully, and even thus the horses often floundered belly-deep.” For several days they hunted bears “perseveringly, but unsuccessfully.” Other Colorado wildlife caught his attention, however: the four-striped chipmunks, white-footed mice, pack rats, woodchucks, pine squirrels, Clark’s Nutcrackers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets that sung “with astonishing power for such tiny birds.”