Teddy Roosevelt in Colorado and the San Juan’s

Teddy Roosevelt
There’s a great deal that most people, including history buffs, don’t know about Teddy Roosevelt’s connections to and experiences in Colorado, and about the remarkable President himself. Roosevelt became the 28th President of the United States in September 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley. A great personality, showman and activist in causes he believed in, wherever he went people loved and idolized the larger-than-life president.

On the same fateful day, Teddy Roosevelt lost his mother and young wife to different illnesses. Devastated, he traveled to North Dakota to shake his grief hunting bison and bears. Roosevelt arrived in the Dakota Territory in 1883. Finding a bison proved difficult but Roosevelt acquired an interest in raising cattle in the badlands. Cattle ranching in Dakota was a booming business in the 1880s. Roosevelt got into the cattle business with local partners. Part of his investment was inspired by the opportunity to enjoy a western lifestyle. The West changed the new cattle-rancher forever. Governor of New York and the Republican vice-presidential candidate, he toured Colorado in September 1900 campaigning for presidential candidate William McKinley. As vice president-elect, he went to the Western Slope for a cougar hunt. In 1901, an assassin shot McKinley, and at 42, “that damned cowboy” became the youngest president in American history.

President Roosevelt
Against much advice, President Roosevelt decided to go bear hunting in Colorado. In the spring of 1905 Roosevelt arrived in Glenwood Springs, 160 miles west of Denver. He and his hunting party set up “Camp Roosevelt” among steep, high mountains. Surrounded today by the White River National Forest, the area was home to thriving herds of elk and deer and, then and now, had earned its reputation as a big game hunter’s paradise. Having been to Colorado before, Roosevelt called it a “great, wild country”.

He and his hunting companions spent full days in the saddle. At first they didn’t succeed in the bear hunt but Roosevelt finally caught his first bear, a big one weighing over 300 pounds. During the bear hunt lots of other wildlife caught his attention. Getting ill (Cuban fever), however, he had to cut his trip short. At the same time, a blizzard hit and the group had to descend to Glenwood Springs. Roosevelt and his entourage stayed at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. From the hotel Roosevelt resumed his presidential duties, including as a negotiator and peacemaker for an ongoing Russo-Japanese war (which earned Roosevelt a Nobel Peace Prize the next year).

Theodore Roosevelt
Very likely inspired by his recent hunting expedition to Colorado’s mountains, on June 3, 1905, Roosevelt signed a Presidential Proclamation creating almost two million acres of National Forest in southwestern Colorado. Known by different names over the past century, this federal land is now the San Juan National Forest. Encompassing about 1.8 million acres, the area features a National Forest Scenic Byway, the San Juan Skyway, a Bureau of Land Management 4WD Scenic Byway, the Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway. The San Juan National Forest includes three designated Wilderness areas including, Weminuche Wilderness, Lizard Head Wilderness and South San Juan Wilderness. Theodore Roosevelt deserves full credit for proclaiming the San Juan Forest a national treasure In addition to the Forest’s epic scenery, historic sites and cultural heritage, the rugged terrain is home to bighorn sheep, elk, bear, fox, and almost 300 species of birds.