Teddy and the Tree Huggers

The hunt [in Mississippi in 1902] had been scheduled as a 10-day excursion, but [President Theodore] Roosevelt was impatient. “I must see a live bear the first day,” he told Collier [his guide]. He didn’t. But the next morning, Collier’s hounds picked up the scent of a bear, and the president spent the next several hours in pursuit, tracking through mud and thicket.

After a break for lunch, Collier’s dogs had chased an old, fat, 235-pound black bear into a watering hole. Cornered by the barking hounds, the bear swiped several with its paws, then crushed one to death. Collier bugled for Roosevelt to join the hunt, then approached the bear. Wanting to save the kill for the president but seeing that his dogs were in danger, Collier swung his rifle and smashed the bear in the skull. He then tied it to a nearby tree and waited for Roosevelt.

When the president caught up with Collier, he came upon a horrific scene: a bloody, gasping bear tied to a tree, dead and injured dogs, a crowd of hunters shouting, “Let the president shoot the bear!” As Roosevelt entered the water, Collier told him, “Don’t shoot him while he’s tied.” But he refused to draw his gun, believing such a kill would be unsportsmanlike.

Collier then approached the bear with another hunter and, after a terrible struggle in the water, killed it with his knife. [The barrel of his gun had been bent when he bashed the bear…] The animal was slung over a horse and taken back to camp.

News of Roosevelt’s compassionate gesture soon spread throughout the country, and by Monday morning, November 17, cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman’s sketch appeared in the pages of the Washington Post. In it, Roosevelt is dressed in full rough rider uniform, with his back to a corralled, frightened and very docile bear cub, refusing to shoot. The cartoon was titled “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” believed to be a double-entendre of Roosevelt’s sportsman’s code and his criticism of lynchings in the South. The drawing became so popular that Berryman drew even smaller and cuter “teddy bears” in political cartoons for the rest of Roosevelt’s days as president. [Smithsonianmag.com]

Hmmm. To reiterate, here’s the “context” of the first “teddy bear”:   “a horrific scene: a bloody, gasping [235-pound] bear tied to a tree, dead and injured dogs, a crowd of hunters shouting, ‘Let the president shoot the bear!’ …Collier then approached the bear with another hunter and, after a terrible struggle in the water, killed it with his knife. The animal was slung over a horse and taken back to camp.”

Not quite the cheery little cutesy pic of the cartoon. That one seems to have a “happy ending” with Teddy “sparing the ‘cub’s’ life.”

teddy cartoon

Sounds like the spawning of a Victorian Urban Legend to me! Indeed, the happier version of the story is the one that stuck, and within hours it became immortalized.

Back in Brooklyn, N.Y., Morris and Rose Michtom, a married Russian Jewish immigrant couple who had a penny store that sold candy and other items, followed the news of the president’s hunting trip. That night, Rose quickly formed a piece of plush velvet into the shape of a bear [a miniature of a cute little cub, not a miniature of an “old, fat 235 pound mature bear”], sewed on some eyes, and the next morning, the Michtoms had “Teddy’s bear” displayed in their store window.

That day, more than a dozen people asked if they could buy the bear. Thinking they might need permission from the White House to produce the stuffed animals, the Michtoms mailed the original to the president as a gift for his children and asked if he’d mind if they used his name on the bear. Roosevelt, doubting it would make a difference, consented.

Teddy’s bear became so popular the Michtoms left the candy business and devoted themselves to the manufacture of stuffed bears. Roosevelt adopted the teddy bear as the symbol of the Republican Party for the 1904 election, and the Michtoms would ultimately make a fortune as proprietors of the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. In 1963, they donated one of the first teddy bears to the Smithsonian Institution. It’s currently on view in the American Presidency gallery at the National Museum of American History.

Here’s that Smithsonian bear.

original bear

The main point of that bear story was to emphasize how important “sportsmanship” was to Roosevelt. Let’s consider some more background on his dedication to that “quality,” so vital to upper class gentlemen of his era.

Roosevelt had been elected to serve as vice president for William McKinley in 1900. When McKinley was assassinated after less than a year in office, TR became president in September 1901 and served the rest of the three years in the term. He then won the election for president on his own in 1904. At the end of his full term as president, he decided not to run for a third term of office, supporting the election of Republican William Taft instead. So…

Immediately following Taft’s inauguration in 1909, T.R. set out for Africa to hunt big game and collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. His decision was based on his desire to leave the political stage to his successor and on his natural need for action.

In April 1909, he landed in Mambasa with his son Kermit. Roosevelt, at the head of a safari including 250 porters and guides, trekked across British East Africa, into the Belgian Congo and back to the Nile ending in Khartoum. The ex-president thoroughly enjoyed himself. The expedition collected 1,100 specimens, including 500 big game. “The most noteworthy collection of big animals that has ever come out of Africa” he exclaimed.

Unfortunately for the animals, “collected” in those days was an euphemism for shot and killed. Between the two of them, Theodore and Kermit slew 512 beasts including 17 lion, 11 elephant and 20 rhinoceros. The remaining animals were no doubt happy to see T.R. leave the plain. After the year-long hunt, Roosevelt proceeded to England for the funeral of King Edward VII and then on to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the Russo-Japanese War. He returned to the U.S. in June, 1910. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/tr.htm

Here’s is TR’s description of just one of the very “sportsmanlike” episodes of that safari, the “collecting” of a black rhino.

The huge beast was standing in entirely open country, although there were a few scattered trees of no great size at some little distance from him. We left our horses in a dip of the ground and began the approach; I cannot say that we stalked him, for the approach was too easy. The wind blew from him to us, and a rhino’s eyesight is dull. Thirty yards from where he stood was a bush four or five feet high, and through the leaves, it shielded us from the vision of his small, piglike eyes as we advanced toward it, stooping and in single file, I leading. The big beast stood like an uncouth statue, his hide black in the sunlight; he seemed what he was, a monster surviving over from the world’s past, from the days when the beasts of the prime ran riot in their strength, before man grew so cunning of brain and hand as to master them. So little did he dream of our presence that when we were a hundred yards off he actually lay down.

“Walking lightly, and with every sense keyed up, we at last reached the bush, and I pushed forward the safety of the double-barreled Holland rifle which I was now to use for the first time on big game. As I stepped to one side of the bush so as to get a clear aim, with Slatter following, the rhino saw me and jumped to his feet with the agility of a polo pony. As he rose I put in the right barrel, the bullet going through both lungs. At the same moment he wheeled, the blood spouting from his nostrils, and galloped full on.

“Before he could get quite all the way round in his headlong rush to reach us, I struck him with my left-hand barrel, the bullet entering between the neck and shoulder and piercing his heart. At the same instant Captain Slatter fired, his bullet entering the neck vertebrae. Ploughing up the ground with horn and feet, the great bull rhino, still head toward us, dropped just thirteen paces from where we stood.

“This was a wicked charge, for the rhino meant mischief and came on with the utmost determination.” [from Roosevelt’s African Game Trails, 1910)

So that’s what “sportsmanlike” meant to TR. The rhino was a full-grown male, he was not “cornered” or stuck in mud or water, and he was given a “fighting chance.” The rhino COULD have squashed him flat with his charge, if TR didn’t manage to aim his double-barreled Holland rifle carefully enough.

Although given the bounteous success of the safari, it would seem that maybe the odds were stacked in favor of the Holland.


Here are a few other pics of the fruit of TR’s “sportsmanship” on safari back in his heyday.



treletr leopardstr hippo

To sum up, here’s the Animals’ Eye view of Roosevelt’s arrival in Africa, in a cartoon from 1909.

Yes, Theodore Roosevelt had a HUGE reputation as a Mighty Hunter. And such a Manly Man couldn’t possibly just hang out with men who spent their whole lives behind a desk or playing lawn tennis! He had to have Hunting Buddies. They got together regularly and swapped stories of their mighty hunts, and tossed down a few brewskies. Here’s a description of a dinner for ten of his Manly friends he hosted in 1887.

After the plates were removed, the guests began spinning tales of their hunting exploits and frontier adventures. Teddy was enjoying it all immensely, and it occurred to him that it would be bully if the group could meet on a more regular and formal basis. He proposed that they form a club for big-game hunters who would gather to discuss matters of common interest and to share hunting lore. The club, according to Roosevelt, would be “emphatically an association of men who believe that the hardier and manlier the sport is, the more attractive it is, and who do not think that there is any place in the ranks of true sportsmen … for the man who wishes to … shirk rough hard work.”

This proposal was applauded by his guests, one of whom wryly suggested that the club be named “The Swappers,” since they were obviously going to be spending the bulk of their time swapping stories, “true or otherwise,” of their escapades. Roosevelt was not amused, and convinced the group to call their new association “The Boone and Crockett Club” in honor of “those two typical pioneer hunters Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett, the men who have served in a certain sense as the tutelary deities of American hunting lore.” [from: Spiro, Jonathan. Defending the Master Race. University Press of New England, 2009. Kindle Edition. This book will be the source of much of the information in future entries in this blog series. I will just use the name of the author, Spiro, in future citations.]

The club membership was to be by invitation only, and in the beginning was limited to 100 sportsmen. In order to qualify for membership, a prospective member had to have killed at least three varieties of North American big game (such as deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, bison, bear, and mountain lion) with a rifle, in a fair chase.

 …the trophies must have been killed “in fair chase,” which meant that such unsportsmanlike practices as “crusting” (killing game rendered helpless in deep snow), “jacking” (shining lanterns into the darkness to hypnotize passing animals), and “hounding” (driving prey into a lake with dogs) were verboten. Well-bred hunters like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell [editor of Forest and Stream from 1876 to 1911] were outraged by such uncouth practices, which were “unworthy of gentlemen or of sportsmen.” After all, anyone strong enough to pull a trigger could be a “hunter”; the true sportsman therefore had to find a way to set himself apart from the rude killers.

This was accomplished via an aristocratic code of ethics that held that the hunter measured his success not by the quantity of game he killed but by the quality of the chase. The point was that a gentleman did not hunt for crass economic reasons; he hunted for sport—and an activity is not a sport unless there are challenges to be overcome and a clear set of rules about how to confront those challenges…. the sport hunter willingly limited the technological sophistication of his weapon; he passed up the easy shot in favor of killing at the farthest possible range; he preferred the taking of a single fine specimen to the slaughter of a dozen inferior heads; and so forth. This was in direct contrast to the “market hunters,” those commercial hunters (members of one of the oldest trades in America) who supplied the urban markets with game. Driven by the profit motive, the despicable market hunters utilized the most effective weaponry, actively sought the easy kill, and had no qualms about shooting young or even female animals. “ [Spiro]

Theodore Roosevelt, of course, was no Davey Crockett or Daniel Boone in terms of “pedigree.” Daniel Boone was from a Quaker family, had very little formal education, and grew up in a log cabin in the Backwoods. And … he earned his living for many years as a “market hunter”! In lean hunting years, with a family of four children to support, “…Boone had difficulty making ends meet; he was often taken to court for nonpayment of debts. He sold his land to pay off creditors.” [Wiki: Daniel Boone]

And Davey Crockett’s family history was no better. He also grew up in the boonies, had little schooling, and spent several years in his youth either as a runaway, or “indentured” back home to other people to pay off his father’s debts.

And then there was Theodore Roosevelt. He was born in 1858 in a four-story home in one of the “best” neighborhoods of New York City at the time. The home was torn down in 1916, but a duplicate was reconstructed on the site, with many of the original furnishings added back into it, after Roosevelt’s death in 1919, and is now a National Historic Site. Here’s what the exterior and interior looked like back in the day.


theobirthp2theobirthp1As for education, he was home-schooled in his youth by tutors and his parents, and was reportedly well-educated in geography, history, biology, French, and German, although a little rusty with math and classical languages. His knowledge of geography may have been helped by the family tours of Europe in 1869 and 1870, and to Egypt in 1872.

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1880, and went to Columbia Law School afterwards. As would have been typical at the time, I seriously doubt that Teddy had many…if any…“friends” who were not graduates of Harvard or another Ivy League school. And very likely few, if any, who were not the sons of “old money” New York families.

Old money is “the inherited wealth of established upper-class families (i.e. gentry, patriciate)” or “a person, family, or lineage possessing inherited wealth.” The term typically describes a class of the rich, who have been able to maintain their wealth across multiple generations, often referring to perceived members of the de facto aristocracy in societies which for historical reasons lack an officially established aristocratic class (typically, the United States of America).

… “Old money” applies to those of the upper class whose wealth separates them from lower social classes. According to anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner, the upper class in the United States during the 1930s was divided into the upper-upper and the lower-upper classes. The lower-upper were those that did not come from traditionally wealthy families. They earned their money from investments and business rather than inheritance. In contrast to the nouveau riche [“newly wealthy”], the upper-upper class was families viewed as “quasi-aristocratic” and “high-society”. These had been rich for generations. They lived off idle inheritances rather than earned wealth. [Wiki: Old Money]

Yep…I am absolutely certain that if Davey Crockett and Dan’l Boone were alive in TR’s time, they would have not been invited to join the ranks of the Boone and Crockett club!

They were all moneyed sportsmen “whose large wealth,” noted George Bird Grinnell [co-founder of the Boone and Crockett Club], enabled them to “indulge to the fullest extent their fondness for hunting.” They were also the political and cultural leaders of the nation. Scions for the most part of venerable eastern families, and alumni of Ivy League schools, when they were not hunting together out west they were socializing together at the exclusive Century, Cosmos, Union, Metropolitan, and University Clubs of New York City and Washington, D.C. The members of the Boone and Crockett Club, explained Forest and Stream, were “men of social standing” whose opinion was “worth regarding” and whose influence was “widely felt in the best classes of society.” They were, in short, the patricians of the United States of America. [Spiro]

Wait…why would a New Yorker need a lot of money to hunt? Couldn’t you just take your huntin’ rifle out into the woods anywhere in the state and blast away? Yes, it was possible to get a white-tailed deer or an eastern black bear that way. But those would be the only Big Game species in the area. Otherwise you were stuck with hunting the lesser animals that held no interest for “real sportsmen.” Killing a rabbit or raccoon or squirrel certainly was no proof of Manliness! For that you needed to go after Big Game like a bull moose or antelope or mountain lion or a bison. And they weren’t just down the road from Anytown, New York. When it came to the kind of Big Game animal hunting that would allow you to be considered for the Boone and Crockett Club, your hunting range needed to include the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, the Great Plains…and there were no RVs and off the road vehicles to take you there quickly and conveniently back in the 19th century.

…only the wealthy could afford to indulge in such a pastime. To arrange a western big-game hunt in the 1890s involved a tremendous amount of planning and a large investment of time and money. Given the difficulty of transportation, the antelope ranges of the Dakotas were much more remote for these eastern hunters than the veldts of Africa would be to the next generation of sportsmen. Conservationist Robert Sterling Yard remembered in 1928 that “to us in the East, it seemed more of an adventure to cross the Mississippi than it does now to circle the world.” [Spiro]

The Boone and Crockett Club got off to a rousing start, quickly gathering up a membership of Manly true sportsmen. I don’t doubt that most of their early meetings were quite full of those sessions of swapping stories. But during the telling of the stories, I also don’t doubt that a troubling reality kept popping up: An America that used to teem with animals had been changing since well before the Civil War. Animals like the bison that had once roamed across the country by the millions were dying off, some almost to extinction. Not because of climate change or any other uncontrollable “natural” factor, but strictly because of encroaching humans. Lumbermen decimating forest habitats, market hunters taking game by the millions, the burgeoning spread of train tracks from sea to shining sea dividing up grazing ranges and migration paths.

And so quite soon much of the talk at the B&C Club no doubt drifted toward what these Manly aristocrats could do to assure that their Manly male descendants could enjoy the Manly challenge of Big Game hunting for generations to come. Strangely enough, their mutual interest in killing animals gradually forced them to consider investing time, energy, and lots of money saving animals! And animal habitats. And natural vistas of beauty.

And thus was born the American conservation movement. Literally! It was not some group of early dreaded “bleeding heart liberal” animal rights activists, nor Victorian mystic forest loving Wiccans or Gaians who spearheaded and almost single-handedly pushed forward legal efforts to impose governmental intervention and control of the living natural resources of the nation. It was the Boone and Crockett Club. Almost single-handedly for quite a while!

Historian John F. Reiger is absolutely correct when he says, regarding the Boone and Crockett Club: “Though almost ignored by professional historians, it—and not the Sierra Club—was the first private organization to deal effectively with conservation issues of national scope.” It is a fact that upper-class sportsmen were the progenitors of the nascent conservation movement in the United States (and it was for this reason that—until 1907, when the term “conservation” was originated—the movement to protect wildlife was called game protection). [Spiro]

The record of the B&C group was astonishing. Save the Redwoods? Check. Save the Bison? Check. Establish protected national parks like Glacier and Mt. McKinley (now called Denali)? Check. Establish wildlife refuges in many of these parks? Check.

We’ll learn more about all this in the next entry in this series, when we encounter the behind-the-scenes B&C Club mastermind who himself almost single-handedly instigated and coordinated many of these efforts. Strangely enough, the Boone and Crockett Club is still very active, and has a major website…

club logo

…but you will search that website in vain, including in its “our history” section, to find any description of this man’s astonishing, history-changing efforts. Why? The answer to that will take us back to the central topic of this series.


We’ll start with an entry about

American Royalty

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