Sewall, William

William Wingate Sewall (1845-1930) was the first child born to Levi and Rebecca Sewall in Island Falls, Maine. Sewall’s childhood was spent hunting and exploring in the Maine woods. His love for those forests stayed with Sewall throughout his life.

By 1861, Sewall was participating in his first log drive. He spent the next four years learning about the timber industry and by 1865 was ready to create his own logging crew. Sewall believed in overseeing “the kind of operation he would want to work for himself.”

In 1878, a young Theodore Roosevelt would make his first visit to Island Falls. His parents thought that “the crisp mountain air would do him good.” It would become a place that he couldn’t wait to visit again. In February 1879, he returned. Sewall and his nephew, Wilmot Dow, introduced Roosevelt to the world of logging camps. Of course, Roosevelt was fascinated by the way of life he saw in the Maine woods. He could also feel his health improving as he took hikes with Sewall and Dow. Roosevelt would return to Maine multiple times to visit Sewall and the rest of his family.

Sewall married Mary Sherman in 1883, a time when his logging business was successful. Sewall told Mary about Theodore Roosevelt, who still continued to send him letters as his travels took him around the world. By 1884, Roosevelt wrote Sewall and asked him to come to his ranch in the Dakota Territory, “If you are afraid of hard work and privation, do not come West. If you expect to make a fortune in a year or two, do not come West. If you will give up under temporary discouragement, do not come West.” Sewall and Dow went West.

From the very beginning, Sewall did not think fondly of Dakota Territory. His view of the area would always be in contrast to Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for the place. Sewall believed “the country ought to have been left to the annimils that have laid their bones here.” Yet Sewall was able to put his feelings for the place aside. Hard work and his friendship for Roosevelt were paramount. Sewall was also able to enjoy new experiences like round-ups and chasing the boat thieves who dared to take Roosevelt’s boat.

By the summer of 1886, Sewall knew that it was time for him to return to Maine. The fortunes of the ranch were impacted by difficult winters, droughts in summer, and falling cattle prices. Even though Sewall had battled against the place and wanted to return to Maine so many times throughout his Dakota experiences, it was still a bittersweet departure when the moment actually came in October of 1886. Roosevelt and the people he met while being a Dakota cowboy helped make Dakota Territory great.

Sewall resumed his life in Maine and continued to correspond with Roosevelt. In 1902, Sewall and Roosevelt met again in Maine and talked about the experiences they had while ranching.

Sewall lived a full and vibrant life into his eighties.


Source: Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President. Andrew Vietze.