Who Was Theodore Roosevelt?

Theodore Roosevelt at age 10.
Theodore Roosevelt, age 10.

Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, Dickinson State University

Theodore Roosevelt as a Young Boy

Searching for Theodore Roosevelt on the internet brings up a lot of great photos and stories about the man. You will learn he was the 26th President of the United States. You might read about him leading the "Rough Riders" in the Spanish-American War. But this does not explain why there is a national park in North Dakota named for him. To solve this mystery, we have to learn more about Theodore Roosevelt's younger years.

Before he was president, before he was a Rough Rider, Theodore Roosevelt was a young boy growing up in New York City. He would explore the fields and forests around his home. He collected insects, bird eggs, mice, turtles and more to include in his "Roosevelt Museum of Natural History." Young Theodore made notes and sketches in his journal about these animals. He kept the animals in his room. His parents did not appreciate the strange sounds and smells of Theodore's room!

A sketch of a shrew by a young Theodore Roosevelt.
A sketch from one of Theodore's childhood journals, circa 1870.

Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library

As a young boy, Theodore Roosevelt had bad health and eyesight. He was near-sighted, so he had trouble seeing things far away. After getting glasses he declared "I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles." His health problems were caused by asthma, making it difficult for him to breathe. Encouraged by his father to "make his body," young Theodore exercised both at home and outdoors.

As a young man, Theodore Roosevelt went to Harvard University. His interest in nature and the outdoors continued; he went on hiking and hunting trips with his friends and family. Many things he collected were donated to museums. After college, Theodore entered politics in the New York State government. He was the youngest person elected to his office. By age 24, he was married to Alice Hathaway and expecting their first child.

Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt with glasses, circa 1885.
Theodore Roosevelt, around the time of his first trip west.

Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, Dickinson State University

Theodore Goes West

Growing up, Theodore Roosevelt read stories of frontiersmen like Davy Crockett. He wanted his own western adventure. In September of 1883, Roosevelt made his first trip to the American West. He rode the train from New York City, NY to Medora, ND. He came to hunt bison, hoping to find one before they went extinct. The local cowboys saw him as a scrawny eastern dude with glasses. They wanted no part in baby-sitting a rich tenderfoot on a bison hunt.

You might wonder about some of these terms people used to describe Theodore Roosevelt. In the 1880s, "dude" was an insult, meaning a person from the city who did not fit in with real Western culture. "Tenderfoot" was a worse insult, meaning someone who was not prepared for an outdoor lifestyle. "Four-eyes" (because of his glasses) was another insult Roosevelt received from strangers. Theodore dealt with these types of insults all his life. He overcame them not by fighting or arguing, but through his actions.

How a territory becomes a state.

Roosevelt hired a hunting guide in Medora. He had to buy a horse because no one would lend him one! The weather was terrible and rainy. The guide wanted to return to town. Theodore said he would stay out until he found his bison. His guide was afraid the other cowboys would make fun of him for not keeping up with the tenderfoot! After ten days Roosevelt got his bison trophy. During this time he learned about ranching in Dakota. Before returning to New York he invested in a western ranch.

Whew! That was a lot of information! It is important to learn about history. If you are researching this national park, then you have to learn about Theodore Roosevelt! Keep reading to find out more about Roosevelt's time in North Dakota.

You can also return to the main Learn About the Park page.

Go to the vocabulary page to review the blue words you learned here.

Last updated: August 19, 2015

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