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.

Seeing Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Roosevelt’s eyes

Living the experience

Living the experience

“It was a land of vast silent spaces, of lonely rivers and  plains, where the wild game stared at the passing horseman”. – TR

It’s one thing to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park as a tourist taking in the sites.  It’s a whole different experience trying to visit as Roosevelt, attempting to absorb and understand Roosevelt’s experience and his metamorphosis into a ranch man.

I found myself waking up early and stepping outside to just listen to the wind blowing the tree tops; song birds calling out, seeking their mates.  I watched the colors of the buttes change as the sun painted them or clouds dusted them with shadow.  The key thing I did differently on this visit unlike past visits, was I tried to imagine what Roosevelt was thinking, feeling –  as he sorted out his future without a wife or a mother.  How this land must have looked to him, the quiet solitude so different from a life of fast-paced politics and a growing New York city.

If he was looking for a place that he could hide, to contemplate his future, I can think of no better.

Once down by the Little Missouri, you are surrounded by multi-color canyon walls that isolate you while thirsty cottonwoods shade you.  Birds fill the trees, and the slow gurgle of the water lulls you slightly as you just listen to nature work her wonders.  The air is dry, the ground crunching under you as you step forward, the scent of the sage plants adding a spiritual aroma to the experience.

I thought of TR in his rocking chair on the porch, reading a book but also taking careful inventory in his mind of the animals he could observe.  His memory only slowly eroded of the tragedy of losing his beloved on the same day.  I could imagine sorrow being replaced with hard, rugged work.  The kind of work that is not for a paycheck, but real, honest survival.   This is a harsh land, unforgiving to fools who dare cross it without knowledge: Rattle snakes, quick sand and loose gravel near cliff edges lay in wait to reach out and grab the passerby.    This is the perfect place to find your strength – to test your mettle and push your abilities.   There was little room for error.  If you went out alone without the skills you needed, there was a significant reality that you might never return.  Do or die.

Roosevelt was in mourning.  He was in the right kind of environment that if he wanted to “give up” – the land would gladly accommodate him.  But it is also the kind of place that awakens you as well and thankfully, this is what it did for him.  The challenge for survival was embraced by him and he took it head-on.  Roosevelt would take this lesson and apply it each day for the rest of his life.

He would later say of the experience:  “I would never have become President, if it were not for my time in the Dakota’s”

The badlands are a place each American should visit, and especially those who are interested in Theodore Roosevelt.  They, like him, are rugged, unique and inspiring.

 

 

 

What we all can learn from Teddy Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt

The economic downturn in 2008 hit my home like it did for many of my executive friends who experienced “opportunity” to find new places to work.   For me personally, it was a devastating experience. There was very little work for a Marketing executive when few were buying anything.  My network was good, but not that good.

My opportunity came from an unlikely source – Theodore Roosevelt.

 “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. (TR)

If I had been given the choice, I would have picked George Clooney as my doppelganger, but mine is Theodore Roosevelt.  As an occasional actor, I hoped there might be some part-time work I could pick up looking like him.

My contact to agents who specialize in look-alikes was not promising.  If I looked like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, I might keep busy, but all recommended “Don’t quit your day job”.

Research into a job as a Presidential Impersonator was even more defeating.  It’s great work if you resemble the current President.  Potentially six figures, travel, fake secret service – in a word – “awesome” – for up to 8 years.  Once that President is out the door, you will be too.  My research wasn’t going the way I had hoped.

I decided to explore the motivational speaking circuit, as I figured there must be some call for motivating talks from famous leaders!   There is for living ones, but there was not much demand for dead ones. Three strikes and I should have been out.

 “Believe you can, and you are half-way there”. (TR)

A smart man stops after all the market research tells you to quit.  I was not about to let common sense get in my way.

I watched the Edison movies of Roosevelt, listened to recordings and memorized quotes.  Accomplishing those quickly, I found a place to do my first talk.   My nerves were so frazzled that I was able to crack my voice as Roosevelt did in real life without effort.  Anxiety flowed out of my pores and dripped off the end of my nose.  People were cordial as I wiped my brow repeatedly.  Once I finished my talk, they applauded! They thanked me and a few wanted my business card.

Each time I presented I got a little better.  My many hours of research on Roosevelt was paying off as I became better versed in his policies, his family and accomplishments.  As my confidence grew, so too did the requests.  I went from presenting just facts to presenting the concepts around the facts.

Then one day everything changed.  What made the difference was the day I truly internalized what I had been saying as the great man.    The words were no longer just “sound bites”.  They had become real for me – thus becoming real from me.

 “With self-discipline, most anything is possible”. (TR)

My personal goal from that point forward was to make people feel as if they had actually met Theodore Roosevelt.  I decided if I could do that, anything I wanted to achieve with my being “Teddy”, was possible.

The first time it happened was at a large history education event where they bused in school children during the week.  The event was open to the public for the weekend which allowed a very angry mother to place her daughter in front of me with firm orders I was to tell her that I was NOT Roosevelt.  I refused.  Mom learned from President Roosevelt that day that belief was an essential driver to success.  I had perfected convincing a child.  But I needed to convince an adult – a living, breathing intellectual adult.

It occurred one Sunday a few weeks later when a couple sheepishly came up to me at a similar multiple day event.  “Remember us?” they asked as they looked me up and down.  “Indeed I do!  How are you?” I responded.

They went on to inform me that they had become so engrossed in our conversation the previous day that after they left and went home, they each started to question what they had experienced.  I had tested their reality just enough that they decided they needed to come back to make sure I was actually at the event and that I was just a guy who looked and acted like Roosevelt.  Today, most people ask me questions by starting with “Mr. Roosevelt?” and often comment later in the hallway about how real it felt to them.

 “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” (TR)

Since my revelation of the goal of making it “real”, I have been blessed with ongoing referrals that keep me busy across the country.  My talks are no longer just sound bites and quotes, but impactful discussions about the application of Roosevelt’s ideas, delivered by him, that we can apply each day to improve our own lives and those around us.  My appearances have expanded far beyond history events to include convention keynotes and government functions. I have raised millions for wildlife conservation and helped to create a National Monument, all as T.R.

Wherever I am, I encourage people to embrace Roosevelt’s idea of “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” and apply his principal of “Believe you can, and you are half-way there!”

For myself, I have learned that I believe we all have the capacity to reinvent ourselves just as Roosevelt did many times over.  Doing so takes incredibly hard work, courage to face your critics and determination to push far beyond your own comfort level. It also requires the support from others who cheer on your efforts and help you brush yourself off when you fail.

But in the end, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer, is the chance to work hard at work worth doing”.

 

Adam Lindquist is the Director of Membership for the Professional Risk Managers International Association who support his passion with job flexibility to work as an award-winning Theodore Roosevelt look-alike, educator and speaker.

Roosevelt in Ireland

The Stag's Head

The Stag’s Head

I just returned from a week in Ireland for my “real job”.  While there, I took a few days to tour the Dublin area and see the sights.  Two events lead to discussions about Teddy Roosevelt – even though I never told them about my work back in America as the great man.

The first came when I was touring a castle north of Dublin and as we toured we entered a child’s bedroom with a stuffed bear on a chair.  I asked her what they call that kind of bear in Ireland and she just looked at me sort of perplexed.  “You mean the Teddy Bear?” she pondered.  I asked her if she knew who the bear was named after and she said “I am not sure of how to pronounce it – but Roooooooooooosavelt”?

The second came at the famous Stag Head Pub in Dublin.   I was speaking with the Gentleman behind the bar about a place with a similar name back in the states.  (the Buckhorn exchange in Denver).  I mentioned The Buckhorn hosted both Buffalo Bill and Roosevelt frequently because the owner was a hunting guide.  When I told him this, he started speaking of Roosevelt and his accomplishments.  We had a lively discussion about history, Roosevelt and hunting general.

I never once mentioned my connection to representing the man, only listened and fixed facts when needed.

The Buckhorn Exchange

The Buckhorn Exchange

It reinforced to me the impact Roosevelt made during his life and of course in the history books.  His accomplishments truly reach across the globe.