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.
Despite the view of some that this trip might not have been the right thing for the time, America was falling in love with its president, and this adventure only helped to seal his reputation. His outdoorsman status increased his presence in the public’s imagination, and he continued to build on the image of himself as a once-sickly child cured by his own extreme physical program.
Today, we might call the trip a publicity stunt—not only for the American electorate, but also for the international community. One historian, in fact, argues that Roosevelt was positioning himself as “above it all,” thus oddly increasing his desirability as a peacemaker and negotiator for an ongoing Russo-Japanese war. Indeed, most of the telegrams coming in and out of “Camp Roosevelt,” often in code, were from Taft relaying various requests that Roosevelt step in as peacemaker, as when Taft wrote “…Japanese Foreign Office says they are anxious to effect peace through you.” What was happening, then, was not simply a trip to Colorado: Roosevelt was carefully considering how to play his political power.
The rest of the story, as they say, is history: In a decisive naval battle, Japan got the upper hand, which apparently brought Russia to the peace table; the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed on September 5, 1905, which ended Russia’s expansionist policy in eastern Asia and gave Japan effective control of Korea and much of Manchuria. The next year, Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize—the first American to earn the honor—for his diplomacy in the matter.
As a native Coloradan, I like to reflect on what Colorado gave Roosevelt on this trip: the gift of solitude to prepare for one of his greatest foreign-policy achievements, a snowstorm and a disease to focus him, and the ever-majestic landscape. And he gave us something, too, besides a peace treaty. He also gave us the gift of his observation and language—he was, after all, quite a naturalist. Of his final day in Colorado, he writes: “On the last day we rode down to where Glenwood Springs lies, hemmed in by lofty mountain chains, which are riven in sunder by sheer-sided, cliff-walled canyons. As we left ever farther behind us the wintry desolation of our high hunting grounds we rode into full spring.”