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Theodore Roosevelt
"Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail"
by Pearson, Edmund Lester


At the end of Mr. Roosevelt's membership in the New York Assembly, he began his life on a ranch in North Dakota. In this way he not only learned much about the Western people, but came to know the ranchman's life, and to have his first chance to shoot big game.

He had married Miss Lee in 1880, the autumn of the year he left college. Less than four years afterwards his wife died, following the birth of a daughter. His mother died on the next day, and Roosevelt under the sorrow of these two losses, left New York, and spent almost all his time on his ranch, the Elkhorn, at Medora.

The people in Dakota looked on this Eastern tenderfoot with a little amusement, and, at first, probably with some contempt. He was, to their minds, a "college dude" from the East, and moreover he wore eyeglasses. To some of the people whom he met, this fact, he says, was enough to cause distrust. Eyeglasses were under suspicion.

But, with two men who had been his guides in Maine, Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, he began his life as a ranchman and a cow-puncher, and went through all the hard work and all the fun. He took long rides after cattle, rounded them up and helped in the branding. He followed the herd when it stampeded in a thunderstorm. He hunted all the game that there was in the county, and also acted as Deputy Sheriff and helped clear the place of horse-thieves and "bad men."

In one of his adventures Roosevelt showed that he had taken to heart the celebrated advice which, in Hamlet, Polonius gives to his son:
    Beware
    Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
    Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Mulvaney, in one of Kipling's stories, proved that he knew something about Shakespeare, for he put this advice into his own language so as to express the meaning perfectly:

"Don't fight wid ivry scutt for the pure joy av fightin', but if you do, knock the nose av him first an' frequint."

Roosevelt tried to keep out of the fight,--but this is the way it happened. He was out after lost horses, and had to put up at a little hotel where there were no rooms downstairs, but a bar, a dining-room and a kitchen. It was late at night, and there was trouble on, for he heard one or two shots in the bar as he came up. He disliked the idea of going in, but it was cold outside and there was nowhere else to go. Inside the bar, a cheap "bad man" was walking up and down with a cocked revolver in each hand. He had been shooting at the clock, and making every one unhappy and uncomfortable.

When Roosevelt came in, he called him "Four eyes," because he wore spectacles, and announced "Four eyes is going to set up the drinks." Roosevelt tried to pass it off by laughing, and sat down behind the stove to escape notice, and keep away from trouble. But the "bad man" came and stood over him, a gun in each hand, using foul language, and insisting that "Four eyes" should get up and treat.

"Well," Roosevelt reluctantly remarked, "if I've got to, I've got to!" As he said this, he rose quickly, and hit the gun-man with his right fist on the point of the jaw, then with his left, and again with his right. The guns went off in the air, as the "bad man" went over like a nine-pin, striking his head on the corner of the bar as he fell. Roosevelt was ready to drop on him if he moved, for he still clutched the revolvers. But he was senseless.

The other people in the bar recovered their nerve, once the man was down. They hustled him out into the shed, and there was no more trouble from him.

Roosevelt hunted geese and ducks, deer, mountain sheep, elk and grizzly bear during his stay in the West. It was still possible to find buffalo, although most of the great herds had vanished. The prairie was covered with relics of the dead buffalo, so that one might ride for hundreds of miles, seeing their bones everywhere, but never getting a glimpse of a live one. Yet he managed, after a hard hunt of several days, to shoot a great bull buffalo.

An encounter with a grizzly bear is much more exciting, and he was nearly killed by one bear. In later years Roosevelt killed almost every kind of large and dangerous game that there is on the earth,--lions, elephants, the African buffalo, and the rhinoceros. The Indian tiger is perhaps the only one of the large savage animals which he never encountered. Yet after meeting all these and having some close shaves, especially with a wounded elephant in Africa, he said that his narrowest escape was with this grizzly bear.

It was when he had returned to the West and was on a hunt in Idaho. He had had trouble with his guide, who got drunk, so they parted company, and Roosevelt was alone. Looking down into a valley, from a rocky ridge, he saw a dark object, which he discovered was a large grizzly bear. He fired, and the bear giving a loud grunt, as the bullet struck, rushed forward at a gallop into a laurel thicket. Roosevelt paused at the edge of the thicket and peered within, trying to see the bear, but knowing too much about them to go into the brush where he was.

When I was at the narrowest part of the thicket, he suddenly left it, directly opposite, and then wheeled and stood broadside to me on the hillside, a little above. He turned his head stiffly towards me; scarlet strings of froth hung from his lips; his eyes burned like embers in the gloom.

I held true, aiming behind the shoulder, and my bullet shattered the point or lower end of his heart, taking out a big nick. Instantly the great bear turned with a harsh roar of fury and challenge, blowing the bloody foam from his mouth, so that I saw the gleam of his white fangs; and then he charged straight at me, crashing and bounding through the laurel bushes, so that it was hard to aim. I waited until he came to a fallen tree, raking him as he topped it with a ball, which entered his chest and went through the cavity of his body, but he neither swerved nor flinched, and at the moment I did not know that I had struck him. He came steadily on, and in another second was almost upon me. I fired for his forehead, but my bullet went low, entering his open mouth, smashing his lower jaw and going into the neck. I leaped to one side almost as I pulled the trigger; and through the hanging smoke the first thing I saw was his paw as he made a vicious side blow at me. The rush of his charge carried him past. As he struck he lurched forward, leaving a pool of bright blood where his muzzle hit the ground; but he recovered himself and made two or three jumps onwards, while I hurriedly jammed a couple of cartridges into the magazine, my rifle holding only four, all of which I had fired. Then he tried to pull up, but as he did so his muscles seemed suddenly to give way, his head drooped, and he rolled over and over like a shot rabbit. Each of my first three bullets had inflicted a mortal wound. [Footnote: "The Wilderness Hunter," pp. 305-6.]

There were, once, near Mr. Roosevelt's ranch, three men who had been suspected of cattle-killing and horse-stealing. The leader was a tall fellow named Finnegan, who had long red hair reaching to his shoulders, and always wore a broad hat and a fringed buckskin shirt. He had been in a number of shooting scrapes. The others were a half-breed, and a German, who was weak and shiftless rather than actively bad. They had a bad reputation, and were trying to get out of the country before the Vigilance Committee got them.

About the only way to travel--it was early in March and the rivers were swollen--was by boat down the river. So when the cowboys on Mr. Roosevelt's ranch found that his boat was stolen, they were sure who had taken it. As it is every man's duty in a half-settled country to bring law-breakers to justice, and as Roosevelt was, moreover, Deputy Sheriff, he decided to go after the three thieves. Two of his cowboys, Sewall and Dow from Maine, in about three days built another boat. In this, with their rifles, food enough for two weeks, warm bedding and thick clothes, Roosevelt, Sewall and Dow set out down the Little Missouri River.

There had been a blizzard, the weather was still bitterly cold, and the river full of drifting ice. They shot prairie fowl and lived on them, with bacon, bread and tea. It was cold work poling and paddling down the river, with the current, but against a head wind. The ice froze on the pole handles. At night where they camped the thermometer went down to zero. Next day they shot two deer, for they needed meat, as they were doing such hard work in the cold.

On the third day they sighted smoke,--the campfire of the three thieves. Two boats, one of them the stolen one, were tied up to the bank. It was an exciting moment, for they expected a fight. As it turned out, however, it was a tough job, but not a fighting one. The German was alone in camp, and they captured him without trouble. The other two were out hunting. When they came back an hour or two later, they were surprised by the order to hold up their hands. The half-breed obeyed at once, Finnigan hesitated until Roosevelt walked in close, covering him with a rifle, and repeated the command. Then he gave up.

But this was only the beginning of a long, hard task. It was often the way to shoot such men at once, but Sheriff Roosevelt did not like that. He was going to bring them back to jail. At night the thieves could not be tied up, as they would freeze to death. So Roosevelt, Sewall and Dow had to take turns in watching them at night. After they started down river again, they found the river blocked by ice, and had to camp out for eight days in freezing weather. The food all but gave out, and at last there was nothing left but flour. Bread made out of flour and muddy water and nothing else, is not, says Mr. Roosevelt, good eating for a steady diet. Besides they had to be careful of meeting a band of Sioux Indians, who were known to be in the region.

At last they worked back to a ranch, borrowed a pony, on which Roosevelt rode up into the mountains to a place where there was a wagon. He hired this, with two broncos and a driver. Sewall and Dow took the boats down the river, while Roosevelt set out on a journey which took two days and a night, walking behind the wagon, and guarding the three men. The driver of the wagon was a stranger.

At night they put up at a frontier hut, and the Deputy Sheriff had to sit up all night to be sure the three prisoners did not escape. When he reached the little town of Dickinson, and handed the men over to the Sheriff, he had traveled over three hundred miles. He had brought three outlaws to justice, and done something for the cause of better government in the country where he lived.

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