Again this is another episode of this promising series that I have never seen - but the story line certainly is one worth thinking about.
In American History only one President was a cowboy - a real life, western ranch living cowboy. That was our 26th Prensident, Theodore Roosevelt. It may have added a degree of maturity to his national views of life in this country, or it's natural wealth in the West, but it certainly added to his colorful image and legend.
Up to 1884 Theodore Roosevelt had lived a pretty privileged and happy life. His worst problem had been his health - he was weak and suffered from asthma. But he built up his body and became physically strong. His parents were from the upper class of New York City (his mother also being from the Bulloch family of the state of Georgia). Because of his southern in-laws, Theodore's father had not fought in the American Civil War but hired a substitute (which was legal in that war). This kept the peace in the Roosevelt household, but left Theodore with the only flaw he ever considered in his father - that he did not prove his patriotism and manhood by fighting.
Roosevelt would go to Harvard University. He would publish an historical study, THE NAVAL WAR OF 1812, in 1882. In the early 1880s he entered the political world. Men of his class usually did not do so in 1881, but Roosevelt's father had been a leading voice in municipal and state reform groups, and had been mentioned for public office before his premature death in 1876. Roosevelt, under the "tutalage" of an Irish-American politician named Joe Murray, learned how to campaign for office, and what to look for in issues. In 1882 he was elected to the New York State Assembly. He quickly made a reputation as a reformer, working across party lines with then New York Governor Grover Cleveland. In 1884 Cleveland was elected President, and was replaced in Albany by the less reform minded David Hill. But Roosevelt was not there at the time. In February 1884, on a singularly tragic day, Roosevelt's wife Alice died after a lingering illness, and his mother also died of a sudden one.
Shattered by this, Roosevelt resigned from office, and went west. He bought a ranch in the Dakota territory. For the next year and a half he would work the ranch as a cowboy, herding cattle, chasing rustlers, riding the range. It was again an unheard of adventure for the young man, as he did not look like a cowboy (with his spectacles and carefully trimmed mustache). But he did a good job at learning how to behave like a westerner who lived and breathed in the saddle.
To be fair Roosevelt the lover of adventure and self-testing was not good as a ranch owner. He never was business oriented, and a terrible winter in 1887 destroyed most of his heard - so he had to sell his ranch holdings at a loss. But by then, he had returned East. In 1886 he married his childhood friend Edith Carow, and then (after a European honeymoon) returned to New York City to run for Mayor. In a strange "reversed mirror image" of his 1912 Presidential run against incumbent William Howard Taft and Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt was forced to run against Tammany Democrat candidate Abram Hewitt, and the economist and reformer (and father-in-law of William DeMille, Cecil B.'s brother) Henry George. Roosevelt came in third in the race (like Taft would in 1912) with George playing the spoiler against him as he would play against Taft. Hewitt would be elected - a would-be reformer who could not shake off Boss Richard Croker's Tammany Hall.
Roosevelt concentrated on his writing for the next few years including his historical masterpiece study THE WINNING OF THE WEST. Then in 1889 he was appointed head of the Civil Service Commission in Washington - the first of a series of appointed and elected jobs that took him to the White House. After he was nominated for the Vice Presidency in 1900 on the Republican ticket, with William McKinley, his reputation for honesty and reform (and his colorful stint in the Dakotas) followed him. McKinley's friend and campaign manager, Senator Marcus Hanna of Ohio (upon hearing of Roosevelt's nomination) would yell, "Don't you realize there is only one life between that crazy cowboy and the Presidency?!" The Republicans beat William Jennings Bryan in 1900. In September 1901 McKinley was assassinated. A saddened Hanna now said, "See, that cowboy is now in the White House". Roosevelt eventually won Hanna over by his pragmatism, but that took awhile.
But the image of the "cowboy" in the White House remained in the public's mind...and they liked it! By the way, Roosevelt's ranch in the Dakotas is still standing as a museum for that President's two years as a cowboy.
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