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.
During the three-week foray, Roosevelt writes of switching camps, being amused by the dogs, riding over difficult terrain, and running into curious locals. Apparently, he’d been skipping lunch for months and had lost weight; he was proud of his physical stamina. The hunting finally improved, and Roosevelt’s first Colorado bear kill, as he describes it, was “a big male, weighing three hundred and thirty pounds.” Indeed, another riding companion noted that the kill “naturally put a new life and ginger into the members of the party” and put the president “in the best of spirits.”
But not all was well. One evening, Roosevelt went to bed ill; his companions woke later to find him pacing barefoot in the snow, clearly disoriented with Cuban fever, which was responsible for thousands of deaths across America at the time. Two members of his party led him inside, gave him lemon juice and quinine, and put him back into bed. They sat with him through a high fever and subsequent delusions. To make matters worse, a telegram arrived from secretary of war William Howard Taft (whom Roosevelt had more or less left in charge in Washington, D.C.) about the Russo-Japanese War. Tensions were escalating. Roosevelt telegraphed Taft back to say he was cutting the trip short, no doubt a result of his health and the increasing pressure for him to step in as a mediator in the conflict.
And then, Colorado being Colorado, a blizzard hit. In his writing, Roosevelt describes this roadblock calmly, noting that there “came a spell of bad weather, snowstorm and blizzard steadily succeeding one another.” According to other accounts, however, the storm was so serious the party couldn’t leave camp. By May 6, the group was finally able to descend to Glenwood Springs, and Roosevelt recounted the trip in typical poetic fashion: “The green of the valley was a delight to the eye; bird songs sounded on every side, from the fields and from the trees and bushes beside the brooks and…the air was sweet with the spring-time breath of many budding things.”