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.




Theodore Roosevelt, an insightful mind

Photo by Caleb Gregory

Photo by Caleb Gregory

As a TR, you need to spend a great deal of time reading.  One of my favorite past-times is reading quotes from Roosevelt.  Since he was a prolific author and letter writer (38 books and over 150,000+ letters while President) he has a lot a researcher can review.   The breadth of Roosevelt’s wisdom covers many areas, and I often marvel at his insights.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“Appraisals are where you get together with your team leader and agree what an outstanding member of the team you are, how much your contribution has been valued, what massive potential you have and, in recognition of all this, would you mind having your salary halved”.  

“The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life”.

“If there is not the war, you don’t get the great general; if there is not a great occasion, you don’t get a great statesman; if Lincoln had lived in a time of peace, no one would have known his name”

It is written that Roosevelt could speak to just about anyone and find a common ground, but that his ability to converse with the best minds of the world on complex topics was extraordinary.  Because he was so well read, but more importantly, curious, Roosevelt was able to connect, learn and find value in almost any conversation.   It is something I wish I could do as well.




Teddy Roosevelt and Healthcare

Teddy Roosevelt

I was recently asked to speak about healthcare at an event about the Affordable Care Act and President Obama’s reference to Teddy Roosevelt as the creator of the concept.  The research to get the answer of how that comment came to be meant many hours of in-depth reading and even more on health in the United States during the Roosevelt Presidency.

There were two major events that were part of Roosevelt’s Presidency that speak to the health of the nation.  During his time, professionally trained physicians were just coming into their own.  Because of this, Patent medicines, that promised “miracle cures” and that could be delivered by mail were the accepted way that many treated their healthcare concerns.  Add to that “electric belts” and a variety of inventions, and the population was looking for anyway they could to overcome their infirmities.  The money that was being made by these “snake oil” salesman made many very wealthy.  So much wealth was being made that one enterprising entrepreneur even offered to pay the entire bill for the Statue of Liberty if he could make the base an advertisement for his patent medicine.

Roosevelt knew that people were being harmed by these claims and risking their lives by taking them.  He enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act,  requiring that accurate ingredients be listed to warn the consumer of the what they were taking.  Certain ingredients were included on the Government list of harmful, including cocaine, opium and cannabis.  It also allowed for penalty to medicines that in name made impression that certain ingredients were inside, but that in actuality did not exist in the products.

On the same day, he also passed the Meat Inspection Act, allowing the government to control the inspection of beef and purity of meat goods sold, thus protecting the public from poorly preserved or dangerous meat that injured or killed.  (badly canned beef was responsible for many deaths during the Spanish-American War, in which Colonel Roosevelt participated as a Rough Rider).

These two Acts had significant impact on the health of Americans and continue to exist today in modified forms of government oversight and regulation.  Healthcare as we know it today was delivered by a fee for service model, with costs being affordable for many.

After he left the Presidency, Physician skills and medical technology had come a long way, and citizens were interested in accessing the new technology in an affordable way.  Because most medical expenses were paid for out-of-pocket, the new technologies had become treatments for those who could afford them.  A few larger companies offered access, but the general labor population and rural areas did not have easy access to the new innovations.

It wasn’t until he ran for President again in 1912 as a Progressive that his platform would include the idea of  a more nationalized healthcare idea.   Roosevelt’s concept was labor based, with burden for costs shared between workers, employers and the government.   It was indeed progressive, and was not embraced by those who saw it as competition to making money with medicine.

If he would have been elected, we might have seen a large amount of the populace covered by a healthcare plan.  Wilson was elected, crushing the idea until 100 years later.

I believe this quote from 1910 reinforces that if Roosevelt would have taken the Presidency, Healthcare would have been a high priority:

“Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.  Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part.”

Roosevelt believed that hard work paid rewards, and giving hard-working Americans access to maintain their health to accomplish mighty things would have been high on his list.