This is the conclusion of a three part series written by our visiting scholar Stacy Cordery in which she explores Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 visit to Fargo, North Dakota.
In the early morning of September 8, 1883, Theodore Roosevelt first set foot in North Dakota. He had come to shoot buffalo, and he stayed to make what he thought might be a permanent home for himself. Twenty-seven years later—nearly to the day—Roosevelt returned to the Flickertail State to lay a cornerstone, give two well-attended addresses, and reminisce with old friends. He was concluding a long speaking tour, ostensibly helping out other Republicans by bolstering their 1910 campaign efforts. Roosevelt was never happier than when surrounded by well-wishers, and his old stomping grounds were full of them. Fargo’s population more than doubled with cheering supporters during Roosevelt’s short visit.
As he introduced his illustrious guest, North Dakota Congressman Louis B. Hanna exclaimed, in a justifiable but mistaken fit of state pride, that “the first political office [Roosevelt] ever held was the office of deputy sheriff of Stark county….” In fact, Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Assembly in November of 1881, two years before he first came to the Dakota Territory to hunt the rapidly disappearing buffalo. On that initial visit, Roosevelt met Joe Ferris and a host of other tough cowboys who remained his friends for life. Roosevelt’s longest sojourn in North Dakota followed the tragic deaths of his wife and mother in 1884. While he sought solace in the wide open western country, he also became involved in the life of the community. That’s when he served as deputy sheriff—in Billings County, where his ranches were, near Medora—not in Stark County, where Dickinson is located.
Roosevelt did come to Dickinson, though. He probably worshiped at the old St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sims Street. He brought boat thieves to justice in the city in April of 1886. Three months later he gave the Dickinson Independence Day speech, in which he attested that, “like all Americans,” he “liked big things.” But more—he said, “I am proud indeed to be considered one of yourselves.”1
And during his homecoming on September 4-5, 1910, North Dakotans reciprocated the sentiment. The Fargo Forum featured a large, front-page portrait of Roosevelt under the caption “Welcome Home Theodore.” In the lobby of the Waldorf Hotel, a “most touching demonstration” awaited him on the evening of September 4, in the form of one hundred little girls, all in white dresses and pink hair ribbons. They each carried a teddy bear embellished with a matching pink ribbon around its neck. The girls formed a crowd around TR, waving their teddy bears aloft and crying out “hurrah for Teddy!”
Roosevelt loved children. He was touched. Homesick, tired out from a busy day, and moved by the outpouring of affection from North Dakotans, he launched into an impromptu speech:
“I want to tell you people how glad I am to be here in Fargo tonight….Thirty years ago, when I first saw Fargo, it was a much different type of a city than that of today. It was twenty-seven years ago that I passed through Fargo on my way to Medora, in the western part of your state, where I spent the happiest and most profitable years of my entire life.
“I owe to that experience my knowledge of the western people. One cannot come to know a people until you have been with them, until you have worked with them.
“You people of North Dakota are peculiarly responsible for me….I am glad to know that you do not feel bad about it. If it had not been for what I learned during those years that I spent here in North Dakota, I never in the world would have been president of the United States. So now I feel a keen gratitude toward North Dakota and it is especially pleasing to me to feel that I am back home again.”2
Image: Record of the brands used by Theodore Roosevelt on his ranches in North Dakota. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.
(1) Clay S. Jenkinson, Theodore Roosevelt in the Dakota Badlands: An Historical Guide (Dickinson: Dickinson State University, 2008), p. 112.
(2) All other quotes from “Immense Throng Hears the Labor Day Address," Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, September 5, 1910, p. 8.
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