I have always been fond of the West African proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt, the first Cowboy environmentalist. A man who would inspire generations of outdoorsmen to protect their local and national wilderness for their own children, so that they might one day hunt, fish, and hike those the same hillsides.
Roosevelt was born in 1858 into a wealthy family with good connections in New York City. Since Theodore was a sickly kid, he spent a great part of his childhood on his own, collecting small wildlife specimens. He was motivated by a love of the outdoors, spending long hours observing and cataloging local insects and birds.
He often described himself as lacking in education compared to other children, due to the fact that he spent so much time out of school. Yet at age nine he wrote an essay titled, “The Natural History of Insects.” He became a master at observation, a skilled hunter, and was clearly inspired by the amazing gifts of his outdoor world.
Theodore overcame his childhood health issues, and was even a top boxer at Harvard. He graduated in 1880 and headed towards law school at Columbia - for a couple of terms. But the political life was calling to him, and he ditched Columbia to become a New York State assemblyman.
One of the key lessons of Roosevelt took from his college years was that while a man must take individual responsibility for leading a good life and building his own future, all humans must have a collective responsibility for each other. Otherwise our society would risk disintegrating into “a riot of lawless business individualism which would be quite as destructive to real civilization as the lawless military individualism of the Dark Ages.”
In 1883 Roosevelt went buffalo hunting in Dakota Territory. The journey changed his life.
Sacrifice comes in many forms. When President Roosevelt set out for that hunting expedition he was not there as a conservationist. He’d heard that life on the American plains was changing, and that if he wanted to see the Badlands the way generations of Natives and cowboys had seen it, then he’d have to go soon. He went there not intending to stop the march of American modernization, but only to be a witness of a lifestyle that was rapidly disappearing. He cannot have known how profoundly he would be affected. One buffalo died that day, as a sacrifice to a great man, who would from that moment forward work to protect the sanctity of U.S. wilderness areas. It was the experience of hunting that buffalo, and witnessing the amazing culture of the Badlands which altered the course of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, changing him from an urbanized city guy to an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, and thereby plotting a course which would protect great swaths of American land from the plundering of industry. If it were not for that buffalo and that moment in Mr. Roosevelt’s life, the national park system may...