Leadership

The government is us; we are the government, you and I. -Theodore Roosevelt

B&C Member Spotlight - Theodore Roosevelt

In 1887, Theodore Roosevelt returned from his Elkhorn Ranch in the Dakota Territory with an idea. He would assemble a group of like-minded, influential men to turn the tide in favor of conserving our nation’s resources, which, at the time, was vanishing quickly. This is how he did it. 

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Roosevelt photographed in a New York studio in the mid- to late-1880s, with his favorite Model 1876 .45-75 rifle. Theodore Roosevelt National Park located in North Dakota is shown in the background.  It was established in honor of the landscape's influence on Roosevelt who, as a young man, hunted and ranched in the Little Missouri Badlands.

 

Like any good coach, Theodore Roosevelt hand-picked an all-star team that comprised the very first members of the Boone and Crockett Club. With these men, Roosevelt shared his vision to achieve unprecedented milestones in conservation, and then he allowed the team to carry out the plan. The great achievements of the Club—the creation of national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, fish and game laws, etc—were not Roosevelt’s ideas alone. Rather, he served as a sounding board for those ideas and encouraged his fellow Boone and Crockett members to act upon them. Then, while serving as president of the United States from 1901-1909, Roosevelt became the best ally the Club ever had. His influence on lawmakers, connections to Club members, and strategic legislative mind built our country’s conservation legacy that still exists today. 

The Early Years 

At a young age, Roosevelt developed a fire in his belly that would never be doused. Born with severe asthma, he was, for a while, a scrawny little kid. Instead of allowing the affliction to slow him down, it only served to fuel the fire. By his early teenage years, he took up weightlifting and gymnastics, embracing the “strenuous life” that would come to define him. In 1872, on his fourteenth birthday, he got a shotgun. Eight years later, he graduated from Harvard and was married to his first wife Alice Hathaway Lee. By 1881, Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Assembly. He was 23 years old. 

In 1883, Roosevelt went west to the Dakota Territory for a two-week hunting trip, and he was in heaven. There, he hunted bison and relished that strenuous life. He invested in cattle, and soon found himself straddling an existence in two worlds—one in the politics of the East Coast and the other in the myth and open spaces of the West. Eventually, those worlds come together. But first, tragedy would strike, and it would hit hard. 

His first child was born on February 12, 1884. Two days later, both the mother of his child and his own mother would die only hours apart. A few months later, he returned to the West and bought an old ranch for $400. At his Elkhorn Ranch he would tend cattle during the day and spend his evenings writing about ranch life. He embraced life on the range, punching cattle and a few cowboys. (Records indicate he got into a bar fight in 1884 in present-day Wibaux, Montana.) For the next few years, he continued to chase political ambitions in the East and big game in the West. 

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Roosevelt near Medora, Dakota Territory in 1884.

Even though he hadn’t spent much time west of the Mississippi, Roosevelt already could see the landscape and its inhabitants disappearing. He may not have realized it at the time, but his days on the prairie and in the mountains were shaping his personal conservation ethic. He would come to believe that conservation was an individual's responsibility of citizenship, and Roosevelt took it seriously.  

Building the A-Team 

In 1885, Roosevelt was in his late 20s and fancied himself, among other things, a writer. That year he was proud of his recently published book, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman. George Bird Grinnell was 10 years older than Roosevelt and the editor of Forest and Stream magazine when he wrote a less-than-stellar review of Roosevelt’s book. TR was not happy. “Upon reading Grinnell’s review in Forest and Stream, he called at Grinnell’s office, red in the face from the midsummer heat and with his famous teeth bared,” writes John Taliaferro in Grinnell. One can only assume that the conversation remained civil enough. Had the meeting become raucous (or worse), our country would likely look vastly different today. Instead, Grinnell and Roosevelt became lifelong friends and launched the greatest conservation movement the world would ever see. 

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Artist's interpretation of that first meeting between George Bird Griinnell and Roosevelt. Taken from The Legendary Hunts of Theodore Roosevelt.

In the ensuing two years, both men would build the foundation of a club aimed at honoring hunting and conserving the wild animals and wild places of the hunt. By 1887, Roosevelt still was energetically pursuing his passions of politics and hunting. As a member of the New York Assembly, he hosted a dinner one December evening at his sister’s Madison Avenue home. The invitation list included New York elites like John Jacob Astor’s son-in-law and Rutherford Stuyvesant, the wealthy real estate investor. While not exceedingly wealthy, George Bird Grinnell was there as well. At the meeting, Roosevelt was elected president and Archibald Rogers would serve as secretary. They would call it the Boone and Crockett Club, named after Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. 

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Roosevelt called Yellowstone, "A veritable wonderland" during a speech in the Park while he was president.

By the time the Club held its first official meeting in 1888, the founding members convinced others to join the team, including Arnold Hague of the U.S Geological Society, landscape artist Albert Bierstadt, and Madison Grant—to name a few. Roosevelt would serve as president of the Boone and Crockett Club from 1888 to 1894 and would help the Club with its first project— protecting the geysers and wild animals in a place called Yellowstone. Boone and Crockett Club members William Hallet Phillips, Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q.C. Lamar, Jon W. Noble, and Arnold Hague secured congressional enactment of the Timberland Reserve Bill, which added one million acres to Yellowstone and essentially established the national forest system in 1889. 

Meanwhile, Roosevelt’s life was a mix of politics and downright adventure. By 1887, he all but abandoned his ranching aspirations in the Dakotas. He was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy in 1897, only to resign that post in 1898 to join the Spanish-American War where he led the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment—a hodgepodge of Ivy Leaguers, cowboys, Native Americans, and prospectors known as the Rough Riders. In Cuba, he led the famous charge up San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill). The resulting media storm from this brave—some might say foolish—act portrayed him as a war hero and helped vault him to the top of the political hierarchy. It undoubtedly helped him become governor of New York in 1898. 

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Roosevelt as a Rough Rider in Tampa, Florida.

As governor, Roosevelt marched to the beat of his own drum, and he wasn’t willing to appoint big donors to various government positions. To get him out of their affairs, the Republican party in New York nominated Roosevelt for vice president, which he won in 1900. In September 1901, McKinley was assassinated, and at 42 years old, Roosevelt would become president of the United States—the youngest ever to hold the office. 

The Presidency 

With Roosevelt’s presidency, all of the seeds of conservation planted by the Boone and Crockett Club would soon blossom into a full-fledged movement. While the Forest Reserve Act passed in 1891, no agency was established to oversee those forests. With help from his friend, colleague and fellow Boone and Crockett member Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt would change that. But first, he needed to save some birds. 

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Roosevelt on a trip to Breton National Wildlife Refuge in 1915.

One of Roosvelt’s first official acts of conservation was setting aside Florida’s Pelican Island in March 1903. Egrets and other exotic birds were being hunted en masse to fuel the world’s desire for their feathers, which would adorn the hats of high-society ladies in the late nineteenth century. Pelican Island would serve as refuge to those birds. It would become the first unit in the nation’s National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses more than 150 million acres today. 

In the 1904 presidential election, Roosevelt won 56 percent of the popular vote. With that victory, Roosevelt’s fellow Boone and Crockett members looked to him for support at the highest level. Among them was John F. Lacey, an eight-term Republican congressman from Iowa and Boone and Crockett member. While Lacey is known for the Lacey Act of 1900 (and rightfully so), he also was largely responsible in getting the Antiquities Act passed in 1906. Once passed, this gave Roosevelt the power to protect key areas of historical and archeological importance, and set aside places that were simply awe-inspiring. They would be called national monuments, and Roosevelt was happy to set them aside. Many of these places would become iconic national parks, such as Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Zion, Olympic, and Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

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President Roosevelt and Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot on the river steamer Mississippi. This picture was taken on the trip of the Inland Waterways Commission down the Mississippi River in October 1907.

Roosevelt and Pinchot would create a system of national forests managed under a new edict they called conservation. Pinchot led the Division of Forestry in 1898, and he would become the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. Together, the two men would use their collective ingenuity to head off potential legislation in 1907 that would have restricted the creation of new national forests in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming. Roosevelt couldn’t veto the legislation. Instead, he proclaimed 21 new forest preserves and expanded 11 of them, establishing 16 million acres of national forest. These would become known as the midnight forests. Today, the U.S. is home to more than 188 million acres of national forest. 

At the time, it’s important to understand that that word—conservation—wasn’t exactly used in natural resource management in 1900. “The word ‘conservation’ as it applies to natural resources did not come into the English language until 1907,” writes James Trefethen in An American Crusade for Wildlife. Pinchot especially needed a word other than protection or preservation that would describe the wise use of resources, so they settled on conservation. When Pinchot pitched the use of that word to Roosevelt, he embraced it with bully enthusiasm. He liked it so much that in 1908, conservation was the theme of the White House Conference of Governors, which would spawn a National Conservation Association. 

In 1909, Roosevelt’s presidency came to an end. He had made a campaign promise that he would not run for a third term, and he kept it. Three years later, he would be shot in the chest by a delusional saloon keeper, but that didn’t stop him from giving his 90-minute speech. The bullet had passed through a stack of papers in his pocket as well as a metal glasses case and came to rest in the muscles of his chest. All that weightlifting and strenuous activity likely saved his life. Doctors were afraid to remove the bullet, so he carried it with him until he died in his sleep on January 6, 1919 of an arterial blood clot. Theodore Roosevelt was 60 years old. 

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Roosevelt and his hunting party with three fine bulls during his 1909-1910 African safari. From left: RJ Cunninghame, Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Heller, and Hugh Heatley.

If you’ve made it this far in the story, there’s no need to tell you Roosevelt did more for the wild animals and wild places of our country than any president before or after him. But he didn’t do it alone. Roosevelt had a vision for what he wanted his country, our country, to look like long after he left it. He surrounded himself with those who shared in that vision. By creating the Boone and Crockett Club early on in his political career, he was able to eventually hand the reins over to those he trusted. And they delivered. Numerous times they delivered legislation to his desk that accomplished conservation on a landscape scale. It was a grand plan, perfectly executed. And to think, this never may have happened if it wasn’t for a bad book review. 


Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here


As president of the United States Roosevelt designated: 


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt