Last week I had the opportunity to vacation in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I felt so privileged to explore these national treasures. In Yellowstone I was able to stay in a rustic cabin near Roosevelt Lodge. The rocking chair on the lodge porch lent itself well to an early morning cup of coffee, listening to the birds and thinking about TR’s visit to Yellowstone with John Burroughs 110 years earlier.
On the return trip I spent two days in Cody, Wyoming, mostly at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This remarkable institution housing five museums and a research library was worth every minute. It is a jewel not to be missed when you’re nearby!
The McCracken Research Library collections cover not only the life of William F. Cody but the full experience of the American West. A particular collection of interest comes from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and one file captured my attention: a series of letters regarding the firearms Theodore Roosevelt wanted for hunting big game in Africa.
I was struck by the fact that TR addressed his first letter to Winchester on the topic in June of 1908, a full nine months before the end of his presidency when he would leave on safari with his son Kermit. I was also impressed by the detail with which TR described the modifications he desired in the sights, stock, and magazine. His knowledge of the rifles and their capacities and limitations was evident. He was understandably concerned that the rifle he would be carrying sometimes jammed – an unacceptable possibility, given the game they would be pursuing. “I can not afford to take any chances,” he declared.
After three months of correspondence, Winchester sent two rifles to the President for testing. Dissatisfied with the firearms’ performance, TR responded with the sternest opening to a letter I have yet encountered: “Gentlemen: I am really annoyed at the shape in which you sent out those rifles.” Three months later his concerns had been allayed and he wrote more encouragingly, “I can not say how much I like those two .405 rifles you sent me.” He in fact ordered a third one as a back-up.
What a treat to spend time in this outstanding museum and research library following my days in the national parks. Happy travels to those of you still taking that final summer vacation! If you combine business and pleasure, I hope you succeed in doing so without feeling the passage from one to the other.