Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday History Lesson

I'm tired of reading and writing about the depressing issues facing us these days. Instead, here's a more enjoyable story from a more enjoyable time.

Teddy Roosevelt's Visits to San Antonio
Teddy Roosevelt’s long-awaited arrival in May 1898 at the San Antonio camp where his Rough Riders were training to fight in the Spanish-American War was treated by local newspapers as if he were royalty.

For more than a week prior to the future president’s arrival, the papers had breathlessly chronicled the doings of the adventure-seeking men who’d come from Arizona, Oklahoma and other states and territories to serve as Rough Riders. There were stories of pick-up baseball games, of men breaking wild horses, of the young mountain lion captured in Arizona and adopted as a mascot.   

“He has been a western plainsman, a New York businessman, a reformer, a politician, an author and several other things,” gushed a reporter in an article in the May 16, 1898, edition of the San Antonio Daily Express, an early iteration of today’s Express-News. “But above all, he is an American gentleman and a patriot.”

Roosevelt arrived in San Antonio wearing a custom-made khaki-colored uniform bearing the initials U.SV. on his collar.

Greeted by newspaper reporters and dignitaries, he first walked to the Menger Hotel where he had breakfast with Col. Leonard Wood and several other officers and later was taken to Riverside Park where the camp was located.
Sidebar 1: TR spent quite a bit of time in the Menger Bar. It's a historic landmark just down the street from the Alamo. Anyone traveling to San Antonio should make it a point to visit both.

The Menger Bar remembers its ties to the Rough Rider. (William Luther / San Antonio Express-News)

Sidebar 2: The Leonard Wood mentioned in the previous paragraph went on to have a distinguished military career, which included being awarded the Medal of Honor. Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri is named in his honor.

Now back to our story.
Touring the facilities, Roosevelt’s gregariousness quickly won over even the most cynical of the roughnecks and cowboys, according to “The Boys of ’98: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders” by Dale L. Walker.

“Roosevelt’s message to the regiment,” Walker writes, “drew a rousing cheer: ‘The eyes of the entire civilized world are upon you and I want your watchword to be, “Remember the Maine!” ’ ”

Although they were commonly referred to as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders,” Teddy was not the commander of the regiment. He’d been offered the position but turned it down citing his lack of combat experience.

Roosevelt works at a desk inside his tent during the training of the Rough Riders in San Antonio.( San Antonio Daily Express / File photo)

As for San Antonio, having the Rough Riders training just south of downtown must have been like having a second Fiesta.

On May 7, the Daily Express reported that a “large crowd from the city was out to witness the callisthenic drill yesterday morning.”

And when the men rode the streetcar to visit what most probably thought of as the “big city,” they attracted attention wherever they went. The feeling, apparently, was mutual.

The soldiers “were as highly interested in San Antonio and the ways of Texas as San Antonio was in them,” the next day’s paper reported.

As the regiment’s day of departure neared, the city fathers held a patriotic farewell concert for the men. After a ceremonial cannon was fired, however, several of the more enthusiastic soldiers began shooting into the night sky, one bullet cutting an electrical wire and plunging the park into darkness.

On May 29, barely three weeks after their training began, the regiment broke camp and boarded the train to Tampa, Florida, from which it would soon sail to Cuba and into history.

This wasn’t Roosevelt’s first visit to South Texas. In April 1892, he hunted peccaries, or javalina, with a Texan friend named John Moore, notes his memoir “The Wilderness Hunter.”

After two fruitless days on a Frio ranch, however, a passing cowman mentioned there were plenty of the little wild hogs on the Nueces River, 30 miles to the south.

Roosevelt wasted no time in heading there, yet remained a sharp-eyed observer of the surrounding country during the six-hour journey.

“Now and then,” he wrote, “we passed lines of wild-looking, long-horned steers, and once we came on the grazing horses of a cow-outfit, just preparing to start northward over the trail to the fattening pastures.”

After searching for most of the next day, they came upon a band of five hogs. Along with two borrowed hunting dogs, they gave chase. When a sow stopped, Roosevelt dismounted and “dropped her dead with a shot in the spine over her shoulder.”

He then chased a rather large boar until it was cornered by the dogs. With the animal’s teeth champing “like castanets,” Roosevelt felled him with a bullet to the back of the neck.

“His tusks were fine,” he wrote.

Roosevelt had at least one of the peccary heads shipped back to his home at Sagamore Hill on Long Island, where it remains to this day mounted on the wall of his library...
I have a javalina that I shot in South Texas mounted on the wall of my study.

Mean, ugly critter - reminds me of my second ex-wife.

Teddy Roosevelt also visited San Antonio on April 7 and 8, 1905, when he attended a reunion of the Rough Riders. The energetic president’s popularity, at least according to newspapers at the time, seemed boundless.

“With a warmth and feeling that cannot be described and which the most vivid imagination annot exaggerate, San Antonio opened her arms to (Roosevelt) and received him into the most sacred depths of the civic heart, and made him welcome,” the Daily Express gushed on April 8.

One event that “pleased the President immensely” occurred when he and his party were serenaded with patriotic songs in Travis Park by what the paper estimated were at least 8,000 children. Afterward, the children pelted him with flowers, an homage, perhaps, to the Battle of Flowers Parade.

At one point, a young boy threw a banquet of flowers into the president’s carriage. A few minutes later, the same boy attempted to throw another bouquet but was hustled off by the Secret Service. When he tried a third time, the president laughed and ordered the agents to put the boy in the carriage following him, but not before signing an autograph and joking that he would make a good Secret Service agent.

   “. . . It is quite needless to say that there is not a happier boy in San Antonio or, for the matter of that, in the whole country, than he,” the article concluded.

Roosevelt and two of his Rough Riders pay a mounted call on Mission Concepción during the training period. (Institute of Texan Cultures / Courtesy photo)

And that concludes today's history lesson. I hope you enjoyed it.

We'll return to our regularly scheduled depressing news on Monday...


Old NFO said...

Been in the Menger, it's quite a piece of history! And Javalinas are as nasty as full sized boars are!!!

CenTexTim said...

The Menger is great. As for javalinas, I think it's like badgers or little yappy dogs - the smaller they are, the meaner they are.