Ethan Allen Hitchcock was born on September 19, 1835, in Mobile, Alabama. He grew up primarily in Knoxville, Tennessee, and completed his education at a military academy in Connecticut. Hitchcock joined the mercantile firm of Olyphant & Company and in 1860 was sent to be their representative in Asia, primarily working in Hong Kong. He returned to the United States a wealthy man, settling in St. Louis in 1874. His business success continued, including directing multiple corporations. Hitchcock was a loyal and well-connected Republican. His generous campaign contributions won him many friends, including William McKinley.
When McKinley was elected president, Hitchcock was appointed ambassador to Russia and shortly thereafter joined the Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior. He would continue as secretary throughout most of the Roosevelt administration. Hitchcock proved to be an excellent cabinet officer. He greatly improved the notoriously ineffective Office of Indian Affairs and set a new standard for protecting Native American rights. Hitchcock also embraced the conservation movement, expanding forest reserves and transferring their management to the Forest Service, protecting mineral resources, and carrying out a large scale inventory of resources in the public domain. Hitchcock’s greatest challenge was the prosecution of a massive land fraud case that began in 1903. The scandal was unprecedented in scope and revolved around the federal government being defrauded of valuable land and natural resources. Over one thousand people were indicted across twenty-two states and one hundred twenty-six people received convictions.
Hitchcock was one of the Roosevelt administration’s longest serving cabinet secretaries but he was never close to Roosevelt. Their relationship was political, professional, and increasingly strained as Roosevelt faced mounting pressure to remove or restrain Hitchcock as he carried out the land fraud prosecutions. Hitchcock did provide a notable contribution to the Roosevelt family; he gave Algonquin, a pony, to Archibald Roosevelt. Algonquin was central to a legendary Roosevelt White House story when the pony was brought up the White House elevator to visit Archibald when he was recovering from measles. Hitchcock resigned from his post in 1907 and then managed William H. Taft’s 1908 presidential campaign. He passed away the next year on April 9, 1909.
Quentin Roosevelt on the pony Algonquin. From the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site collection.
“Ethan A. Hitchcock.” Miller Center. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2014.
Penick, James L. “Hitchcock, Ethan Allen.” American National Biography. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. Vol. 10. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.