Presenting history while making history

Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone to the building that would house the Lincoln cabin on Feb 12 1909, the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.  To celebrate this event, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park allowed me the honor of giving the speech that Roosevelt gave on that historic day.

To be part of the 100th Anniversary of the National Park service celebration and more specifically to be given this privilege  on the 100th birthday of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park, was an amazing experience.  Roosevelt’s words were as poignant today as they were then.

As I spoke, I was fortunate to have something Roosevelt did not – the memorial in front of me, the 56 steps leading to a magnificent building that holds a small log cabin that reminds us that great leaders come often from humble beginnings.  A tribute to a true leader who forever saved this nation.

I was fortunate to be joined with many great speakers that day, including an amazing FDR, Einsenhower, Lincoln and Mark Twain.    More importantly, I was assisted by a park staff that was passionate, committed and who truly love their jobs, their parks and their country.

I will be forever humbled by the opportunity to recreate history while becoming part of the history of this amazing place.   Thank you Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park and the National Park Service.


America the Wonderful

Celebrating our heritage

Celebrating our heritage

The Declaration of Independence was a bold move by our forefathers to push forth an idea that has become an ideal across the globe.  Of course, jealousy of our system means that we must constantly defend it against those who would want to change it to their will.  This protection of our liberty is accomplished by brave men and women who serve our Country everyday. Elected officials and those who promise to protect and serve, both in the military and our police forces do an important job. Most importantly, by each of us, who are vigilant to remember that what we have is unique and worth saving and protecting.

This 4th of July, as you celebrate with family, food and fireworks, stop and take a moment to reflect on how truly fortunate you are.  America is an amazing place, and it is made up of mostly hard working people who care about their fellow man.  It is made of people of Character, who help those in need and celebrate differences.  It is made up of all colors and races and genders.  A common people who live, work and play together with an understanding that together we stand, divided we fall.

Celebrate your 4th with joy and appreciate America the Wonderful.


The future is ours to fix


I was teaching at a school the other day about Roosevelt when I decided to ask them about their perception of the current political turmoil.  This is a pretty common discussion among my adult programs, but I had never brought it up to 3rd and 4th graders before.

I decided to get the conversation started by asking them what they thought made a good leader.  Like all classrooms,  hands shot into the air:


“Good at giving directions”

“Tells people what to do”

“Has a following”

The words were painfully shy of the words and concepts I teach when I do Corporate programs on Leadership:




“Looking out for other’s best interests”

It made me realize that we are not teaching our children the baseline of what is important – the skills that make each of us not only influencer’s in our small local world, but leaders the greater world.   It concerns me when Honesty is not on a child’s list of important attributes for a leader.  Shouldn’t we start there if we want to have the best future for our next generation?

We teach our children how to compete in almost everything they do – perhaps it is time we find a way to make honesty a competition instead of an anomaly.


Springtime comes to Teddy Roosevelt Camp

TR writing table

TR writing table

I have to admit that while I enjoy traveling by snowshoe or ski in the winter, I find myself daydreaming for the spring, so I can spend some days in camp.

My first TR Camp of the season is usually in Nebraska at an Outdoor Expo.  Here, local school children are bused in to explore activities that hopefully will excite them into a life time of outdoor pursuits. These include kayaking, archery, fishing, identifying animal tracks, camping, shooting and many more.  During the day, TR Camp gets very busy, with children visiting me and sharing their adventures of the day as I share mine of a lifetime. By the time they visit me they get an idea of how those experiences can come together to create a life-long adventure, which helps in the overall development of that wonderful attribute – Character.  I try to embody that lesson so that they understand how those elements came together to create the leader we appreciate as Roosevelt, and the importance he placed on the natural environment in doing so. Based on the feedback, thankfully that message is being well received.  But as much as I enjoy TR Camp during the hustle and bustle during the morning and afternoon, I appreciate it as much for its solitude at the end of the day.

When the crowd leaves, camp becomes eerily quiet. I am often the only one there, other than the occasional Park Ranger making sure everything is secure.

This time of year, it is not unusual for a storm cloud to pass over, quickly cooling the air and dropping rain that taps lightly on my canvas roof. The cool air finds me stoking the wood stove and settling by my writing desk to read or jot my notes from the day. The view out my door is a park – an open field or river that gurgles as I read or write.  Sometimes, spring winds whistle through the tree branches or if the sun peaks out it alerts the birds to squawk and explore.

The crowd, including the other exhibitors have left. Most are booked into a warm hotel room back in town with a bath, electricity and multiple television channels of nothing to watch.  When they come back in the morning they find me sitting by my fire with a hot cup of coffee.  Each seems shocked when I answer “yes” to their question “Do you sleep here”?  I have never questioned my sanity for “roughing it”.

I invite them into my warm tent and pour them a steaming cup of coffee and we talk for a bit about the day before and the day to come.  When they leave I pity them for missing the sunset the past evening or the amazing sunrise that morning or the squall that pulled at my tent pegs during the night.

I will let Roosevelt finish this best.   “Nowhere, not even at sea, does a man feel more lonely than when riding over the far-reaching, seemingly never-ending plains; and after a man has lived a little while on or near them, their very vastness and loneliness and their melancholy monotony have a strong fascination for him.”

The American Boy

One of my favorite Roosevelt speeches is entitled “The American Boy”.

Boy Scouts at Sagamore Hill

The American Boy speech supports the idea of raising young men of virtue and character.  It supports the idea that in order to be a good man, he must first be raised to be a good boy.

I suspect a great deal of the speech echos his father’s sentiments to young Thee.    His father was a true role model of manly virtues that provided a path for his son to later lead a nation.    I believe Roosevelt considered his job as President as akin to that of a father.   His role was to provide the best guidance as possible as the national grew.

“What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man.

The boy can best become a good man by being a good boy–not a goody-goody boy, but just a plain good boy.

I do not mean that he must love only the negative virtues; I mean that he must love the positive virtues also. ‘Good,’ in the largest sense, should include whatever is fine, straightforward, clean, brave and manly.

The best boys I know–the best men I know–are good at their studies or their business, fearless and stalwart, hated and feared by all that is wicked and depraved, incapable of submitting to wrongdoing, and equally incapable of being aught but tender to the weak and helpless.

Of course the effect that a thoroughly manly, thoroughly straight and upright boy can have upon the companions of his own age, and upon those who are younger, is incalculable.

If he is not thoroughly manly, then they will not respect him, and his good qualities will count for but little; while, of course, if he is mean, cruel, or wicked, then his physical strength and force of mind merely make him so much the more objectionable a member of society.

He can not do good work if he is not strong and does not try with his whole heart and soul to count in any contest; and his strength will be a curse to himself and to every one else if he does not have a thorough command over himself and over his own evil passions, and if he does not use his strength on the side of decency, justice and fair dealing.

In short, in life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard: don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard.”


The Pledge of Allegiance

When I visit schools, I am always pleased when they say “The Pledge of Allegiance”.

TR at Roosevelt Elementary

The future is watching.

I believe there should be a flag at each business and place of worship with a requirement that each day start with that pledge.   I do not say this as mere patriotic symbol, but as a way for all of us to reflect on the country we share. The pledge is meant to remind us why we all must interact with each other with human decency.

I fear decency is the thing that is being removed from our democratic process and has tainted our perceptions of acceptable treatment to our fellow citizens.  Equally worse, it has poisoned how those across the globe view our country.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands

This Republic can be an amazing place when our people work together, but when we lose sight of being United and instead separate ourselves into fractional divisions, we threaten the very fabric of the pledge and nation alike.

“One Nation under God, Indivisible”

We are becoming divisible.  Our fellow citizens are telling us so.  Black lives do matter  – and it is sad state when any group feels the requirement through violence to remind us.  The realty is that all lives matter and all voices matter as well.  We must co-exist and work together to solve these issues and appreciate the others viewpoint.  That is not easy to do but it is necessary to do.

Roosevelt himself warned us:

“The death-knell of the republic IS rung as soon as the active power becomes lodged in the hands of those who seek, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.”

“With Liberty and Justice for All.”

“This country will not be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” (TR)

How can we teach our children to treat each other with decency when we don’t lead by example?  How can children believe in the future when the people who want to lead us cannot demonstrate decency to each other?

Perhaps it is time to take a pledge to do so.  I have a suggestion of a place to start, and almost any grade school student would be happy to teach it.





The challenge of our choosing our leadership in Theodore Roosevelt’s words.

“There are good men and bad men of all nationalities, creeds and colors; and if this world of ours is ever to become what we hope some day it may become, it must be by the general recognition that the man’s heart and soul, the man’s worth and actions, determine his standing.”

Speaking to the people

Speaking to the people

“Let us, as we value our own self-respect, face the responsibilities with proper seriousness, courage, and high resolve. We must demand the highest order of integrity and ability in our public men who are to grapple with these new problems. We must hold to a rigid accountability those public servants who show unfaithfulness to the interests of the nation or inability to rise to the high level of the new demands upon our strength and our resources. Of course we must remember not to judge any public servant by any one act, and especially should we beware of attacking the men who are merely the occasions and not the causes of disaster.”

“We cannot possibly do our best work as a nation unless all of us know how to act in combination as well as how to act each individually for himself.”

“No prosperity and no glory can save a nation that is rotten at heart. We must ever keep the core of our national being sound, and see to it that not only our citizens in private life, but, above all, our statesmen in public life, practice the old commonplace virtues which from time immemorial have lain at the root of all true national wellbeing.”

“This country will not permanently be a good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

IMAX National Park Adventure

I was fortunate enough to be part of the launch of the IMAX film “National Park Adventure” at the OMNI Theater at the Science Museum of Minnesota this past weekend.    This is a must see film for you and your family.  You will see the most amazing places this great country has to offer.

Along with beautiful scenery, you will understand the important role President Roosevelt played in the expansion of our National Parks, the legacy that is left behind for all to enjoy!    But don’t take my word for it.  Get in your car and find out for yourself.

A life lesson from The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver, Colorado

Some old west characters at the Buckhorn

Some old west characters at the Buckhorn

For many years my good friend Buffalo Bill Cody (Tom Doroff) and I traveled to Golden, Colorado to be part of the annual Buffalo Bill Birthday Bash.   This celebration included a competition for living history performers to show their stuff, be quizzed on their knowledge by subject matter experts and earn bragging rights.

After three years of driving 900 miles through blizzards either one way or both, Tom and I decided we had tested our guardian angels enough and hung up our competition hats.  All our wives and friends had as reference point to the event was our greatly amplified stories of the past.

That all changed when Tom wrote me to tell me he had decided that his travel schedule was going to have him in Colorado during the bash and did I want to join him and his better half?    It was going to be held for the first time in many years at our favorite restaurant (and historic landmark) in Denver, The Buckhorn Exchange.  The Buckhorn was a favorite destination of both the real Buffalo Bill Cody and Theodore Roosevelt.  (Many of the amazing preserved animal mounts there are from Roosevelt himself)

Soon, I had gathered my beautiful bride and our good friend Bat.  We all watched and enjoyed Tom perform to earn coveted 2nd place.

Because of my busy schedule, I seldom get the opportunity to watch others at their craft.  It’s so helpful for me to see how others bring to life the people they portray and gain insights so I can hone my own abilities.   I certainly love presenting TR to audiences across the U.S., but I also enjoy learning from others about characters from history I perhaps had never heard of whom I have come to appreciate because of these talented individuals.

It was at the first event I attended many years ago that Colorado’s Official Buffalo Bill Cody, Ralph Melfi, described us all  by a term I have really taken to heart =  Living History Performer.  I believe it really describes how those of us who re-create these important people should be. Living = Bringing to “life” a person from the past who has an important message for the future or who impacted our own way of life.  History = A past that is worth remembering because it has a meaning for us (sometimes positive and sometimes negative) presented in a way that is not a text book.  Performer = A reminder that we have a responsibility to tell the story in a way that engages, enthralls, amuses and delights the people who are watching.

I was lucky to see amazing talent who once again mentored me through their sharing of their skills.  Thank you to those who continue to inspire young and old with important messages from our ancestors of the past.

Thank you as well to the Buckhorn Exchange for preserving history at their location (and their awesome menu), and supporting those who do so outside of their wonderful restaurant.


TR’s Cowboy camp at a history event

TR Camp at Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo

TR Camp at Fort Kearny Outdoor Expo

I wrote this back in 2013 and stumbled upon it.  I decided it needed to be shared.  Enjoy!

Over the past almost two weeks I have been living a lucky cowboy’s life, sans cattle. I have slept each night in a canvas wall tent; dined by a chuck wagon; sang hymns and music of the times and have been surrounded by people who, like me, were dressed in clothes of a bye gone era.

My mornings started by stoking the stove in my tent, then dressing in layers that could be adjusted to the day. A fire would be built under my canvas tarp to cook my breakfast and I would stare out at the other camps around me, smoke billowing out of chimneys of the nearby tents and teepee’s. I would see the outline of a cowboy sitting by a fire with a large pot of coffee hanging over, licked by flames. The bacon would start to sizzle in my cast iron pan as I strolled to say hello for the day and beg a cup of their strong black eye-opener. We would talk of the night before, the day ahead and the weather expected and other gentle small talk that friendly neighbors do. Occasionally there might be a hot donut bubbling in oil on the fire, or a dutch oven full of fresh buttermilk biscuit’s eager to be shared.

During the day I shared Mr. Roosevelt.  People in modern clothes would ask me about my life as they tried to comprehend living in the past. In the evening, the crowds would leave and our makeshift village would once again slow to a normal pace. The blacksmith would deliver the goods he made for us; eggs would be traded for a loaf of bread; children would beg chores in exchange for money to buy candy from the store. We would sit together and share our food and eat until beyond full and then visit on about the day. Each step back to my camp would provide invitation into a camp to help them finish what they had cooked. I began to understand how my great-great grandfather the blacksmith of the town and a founder of the Vasa Lutheran church connected to a community.

My lungs have never ingested so much smoke. The clothes I wore smelled of it along with sweat and sweet earthen mud. Sometimes I was so cold that no amount of layers seemed to warm me when I was away from the fire. For three days everything I owned was wet from a storm that would not leave, my “fish skins” ( water proof duster ) doing all it could to keep me dry  – but the dampness working its magic to send shivers. The next moment I would be so hot as to not be able to control the perspiration. I would sponge myself with a wet cloth when I could using a handmade lavender soap given to me by a store keeper for telling him a story that made him laugh. Each day I sat at the end of the day and watched the sunset, just like I had watched the sunrise, and felt blessed to enjoy another day.

This morning I woke up in my own bed at home and soaked in a bath as a television blared in the background. The washing machine hums even now as I write this on my computer, a device of which for almost two weeks I did not touch.

My experience taught me that although the past was a tough life – in many ways, it was simpler. I chopped and hauled wood each day for my fire; gathered and hauled water by the river; and cooked slow meals made from pure ingredients. I boiled clothes when they got dirty. I worked hard each day and when the crowds had left, I stopped and read a book, the pages new and crisp and untouched for far too long. I learned from others skills I knew I should know, and facts that I never really appreciated – until I was able to not be distracted by modern life and could truly listen.

The switches that make it easy to change light from dark in my house were appreciated last night when I finally got home. But that campfire aglow and a song wafting down along the grass into my camp, for me, trumps any convenience that I have today.