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Vice President Theodore Roosevelt
It’s noon Wednesday, August 14, 1901 in Hutchinson, Kansas, as the Santa Fe train pulls away from the crowded depot, headed east, then north out of town towards Kansas City.
Sarah “Sally” Lowber Hooper, 40, and John Walter Hooper, 46, with six of their seven children, are still waving at Vice President Theodore Roosevelt who remains on the rear-end platform as it picks up speed. Veterans and others are rushing after the Pullman car, attempting to shake hands with Colonel Roosevelt.
“It was worth the trip to town,” said Sally to John. “The vice president knows how to engage a crowd. It was a short speech, but he did not disappoint.”
“He’s had plenty of practice,” said John. “Roosevelt was all over the country campaigning for the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket last year. And he won a tight race for governor of New York before that.”
“He’s only been vice president for five months,” said Sally, “but he’s already made it clear that he’s running for president in 1904. If I have the vote by then, he’ll get mine,” she said with a straight face.”
“It’s an unusual political move for Roosevelt to announce his intentions so early in the game,” said John. “However, since President McKinley’s ineligible for a consecutive third term, TR’s still loyal to the Republican Party.”
“Hanna, the top political boss in the country, isn’t fooling anyone,” said Sally. “He made sure Roosevelt was nominated as vice president, not because he was a supporter, but because he wanted Governor Roosevelt out of New York before the reformer ran for a second term. Hanna got what he wanted. Roosevelt was kicked upstairs to the vice presidency.”
“Roosevelt is trying to outmaneuver Mark Hanna, the king maker,” said John. “The presidential election in 1904 will be especially interesting as we see who will compete against TR.”
“Roosevelt is an impressive speaker because he shows his personality and connects with individuals by speaking directly to them,” said Sally. “I’ll bet every Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) solider thought the colonel was talking to him personally.
“His strong jaw muscles remind me of a snapping turtle, if it had teeth” Sally continued. “Teddy has a hard voice yet it cracked in falsetto a few times when he got excited.”
“He was smiling and bowing to everyone,” said John. “I appreciate that he said it was a special honor to speak to those men who from ‘61 to ‘65 upheld the integrity of the nation and the honor of the flag. The old soldiers fought for a united country and an unsullied flag, but they also left a memory of deeds and an example for future generations.”
“I liked it when he asked that one old soldier what state he enlisted from,” continued John. “The soldier answered ‘Ohio.’ Then TR repeated the question to another soldier. ‘New York’ was that response. Then veterans started calling out every state in the union. I thought about my father, and almost cried out Kentucky.”
John was eight years old when his father, Sampson, died in 1864 at the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. As a private, he had served with the 11th Cavalry, Company D.
“Roosevelt made his point that when men were marching into battle they didn’t care which state a man hailed from or what his religious belief might be,” said Sally. “They only cared about the worth of the man—would he fight and not run?”
“It was a simple but powerful message to our veterans,” said John. “It was by meeting difficulties and overcoming them that the men saved the union. It was because they met their duties manfully.”
At age 64, Henry Hartford still looked trim and fit in his Lt. Colonel’s Army blue from his service days with the 8th New Jersey Volunteer Regiment. Henry and Alice Elizabeth, 47, were participating in the reunion while camping with their four living children at Camp Dan Sickles, at the new park on the north part of town. But they had arrived at the Santa Fe depot, eager to see and hear Teddy Roosevelt.
Henry, who had been wounded five times during the Civil War, and Elizabeth, who was only a child during the bloody conflict, were pleased with Roosevelt’s speech. TR was full of eloquence. He said all the right things without getting into politics. The vice president had given credit to the men in blue who had been in a real fight with long marches and privations.
On one hand, Civil War veterans regarded the Spanish-American War as mere fly-swatting and its veterans dressed in khaki as upstarts; on the other hand, Roosevelt was honored for his brief military service, and his work as assistant secretary of the Navy.
True enough, Roosevelt was a war hero for organizing the 1st Volunteer Cavalry and for his courageous charge up San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill), in Cuba. As commander of the unit known as the Rough Riders, it suffered heavy casualties. But, Roosevelt had made a big splash in the newspapers; it wasn’t comparable to four long years of deadly struggle, but it was bravery at its best.
Elizabeth appreciated Roosevelt’s speech. The vice president hadn’t mentioned Elizabeth by name, but he was talking to her and Henry because they had helped settle the land. After thanking the old soldiers for their service, TR spoke to the sturdy pioneers who first broke up the wild prairie soil and captured the west for civilization. That was the Thomas family, Elizabeth’s parents, in Indiana and again in Little River Township, Reno County. That was Henry, who also brought law and order to the county as its second elected sheriff.
After the crowd at the depot had thinned out, Alice Elizabeth Hartford asked Sally Hooper, “Did you know that TR’s first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, died two days after she gave birth to their first child, also named Alice?”
“Yes,” answered Sally. “TR’s mother died within hours of his wife, but I hear that Teddy doesn’t like to talk about his personal loss.”
Henry Hartford, a successful farmer and stockman, added some additional information to the conversation about the vice president. “After losing his wife and mother, Roosevelt threw himself into his political work but later fled to the Dakota Territory Badlands. He bought two ranches and a thousand head of cattle.
“He flourished in the hardships of the frontier,” continued Henry, “herding cows as a rancher, hunting grizzly bears, and chasing outlaws as leader of a posse.”
“He learned a lot from the frontier,” said Sally, “especially how the blizzards could decimate a herd of his cattle. But by that time, so I’ve heard, he’d fallen in love again with his childhood sweetheart back in New York.
“Even though people say Roosevelt has led a charmed life,” continued Sally, “he’s survived tragedies and seems to flourish in adversity. He’s the type of national leader who I could support, if I had the vote.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.