The Bull Moose and the Evergreen State

In 1903 Teddy Roosevelt came to Washington State, where he preached sustainability before it was fashionable, introduced landmark irrigation techniques, and united the state around a vision that would last for generations. Not bad for a five-day trip.

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Rutherford B. Hayes was barely in Seattle for a day. Benjamin Harrison showed up eleven years later, but he sort of had to, considering he signed the act that made Washington a state.

Teddy Roosevelt was different. In spring 1903, the 26th president traveled Washington on a five-day, seventeen-stop train junket, part of a great Western tour that thrilled cities and towns from the Puget Sound to Yakima. Richland scholar Scott Woodward found something special in the image of America’s most urbane yet outdoorsy president, gadding about in a state where metropolitan culture sidles up to mountain wilderness — and where rich natural resources power culture and technology.

“He left a legacy of definite, substantial, solid results from what he did when he was here,” says Woodward, a former schoolteacher and college instructor in Richland. “People could see a physical being in terms of the development of the state, the character of the state, the spirit of the state. You could see that — it was very tangible.”

Woodward taught about Roosevelt’s legacy for years, and now follows his example, helping to establish and promote greenways around the Tri-Cities that are both protected and accessible to the public.

The extensive visit and the measures that Roosevelt pushed through, including the preservation of Mount Olympus as a national monument and the passage of the National Reclamation Act, endeared him to a broad spectrum of Washingtonians — and enabled him to win the state as the independent Bull Moose presidential candidate in 1912, three years after leaving the office as a Republican. Woodward’s presentation for the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau examines the Roosevelt rail trip from a modern perspective, assessing how it helped to crystallize the state’s vision of itself and its place as one of the nation’s youngest states. (It had only been admitted to the Union fourteen years earlier.)

West of the Cascades, Roosevelt’s train tour stopped in Tacoma, Olympia, Bremerton, Seattle, Everett, and points in between. On the east side of the state, he was met by huge crowds at cities including Walla Walla, Ellensburg, Spokane, and Cle Elum — added to the itinerary due to its importance at the time as a coal-mining town. In the process, says Woodward, the president helped to knit the two sides of the state together.

Humanities Washington: What relationship did Teddy Roosevelt have with our state?

Scott Woodward: The interesting thing is that today, there’s an east side and there’s a west side of Washington, and there’s one political philosophy and another political philosophy. There’s really no meeting in between. Since I live on the east side, I hear the whining all the time about the west side controlling what’s going on. But the cool thing about Teddy Roosevelt, at least as far as his 1903 adventure, is he was universally accepted here. How in the world can you come up with hundreds of people across Washington in 1903, coming out to see you at every stop? There’s no Facebook, no cell phones, no TV. That just shows that he crossed over. I think the real appeal was that he took everything case by case. You can’t put an “R” or a “D” behind his name like you do today, and stereotype from that what he was going to be thinking.

Humanities Washington: What did he hope to accomplish with such a thorough visit?

Scott Woodward: He wanted to climb Mount Olympus, which he never got to do, which was strike one. He wanted to make sure the timber industry, which was very big then, understood the concept of sustainability. Along with that, he wanted to make sure the railroads were connected in one straight line. Controlling the Pacific was a big goal for Roosevelt, and Washington was in a position to do that. One of the cool things is he also introduced the concept of irrigation and storage of water for irrigation, which of course the eastern Washington fans really liked. He let that cat out of the bag basically in Everett. He was giving the Weyerhaeuser boys a speech about sustainability and said, it’s not just about you — the watershed stretches to the east, and your brothers to the east need you to have some common sense about water resources.

Scott Woodward

Scott Woodward

Humanities Washington: It seems like Roosevelt had more of a grasp on what Washington meant or could be than his predecessors had.

Scott Woodward: There’s hint of that in his Walla Walla speech, where he is standing on the campus of Whitman University, and his big thing there is to talk about education and those type of things. And then he kind of sidebars and says, “I had no idea. I knew this was a great place, but …” He was the precursor the Columbia irrigation system — in Pasco, he talks about the wasted flow of the Columbia and Snake that would make the desert bloom. And what do we have today? And when he visited Bremerton, his speech there was about the bastion of naval superiority in the Pacific. Then there is kind of a loathing on his part, as he leaves and crosses the panhandle of Idaho, that he just didn’t have enough time in Washington state. He talks about having to go back to the “dry-lipped New York types” whose only goal was to make money.

Humanities Washington: What is it about Teddy Roosevelt that first appealed to you?

Scott Woodward: I think today we spend a lot of time — a lot of wasted time — looking for new answers to old questions. I think we need to spend more time looking at old answers to the new questions, and he has a lot of answers. You can’t lock him in a box. You can’t say, “This is exactly how he’s going to respond on this issue.” You can’t politicize his personality. That’s what appeals to me the most. I’m an adventurer at heart, and you always think, wouldn’t it be great if I could live in in this decade or that decade? I kinda reverse that — wouldn’t it be great if we had a Teddy Roosevelt today? It might scare the crap out of a lot of people. I think that’s what appealed to me the most. And when he came to this state, he had the ability to move from one whistle stop to the next, and hit it on the head, whether it was sustainability, whether it was forestry, whether it was conservation — all those things he managed to weave together, and it takes incredible energy to be able to do that. You kinda long for that in today’s politics.

Humanities Washington: Do you think you’d be a conservationist now if not for Teddy Roosevelt?

Scott Woodward: I would. I’ve always had, I felt, a gene in my chromosomes that constantly screamed out adventure. You do this family history stuff, and you can believe it or not believe it, but I had Daniel Boone and several other people in my background. My mom used to tie me to the telephone pole in my backyard, because for unknown reasons, I would wander off. And I would always wander off to places that were natural. It was a joy for me, and while you’re hanging out in the 10-foot-high sagebrush or sitting down by the river, you really can be taken over by the lack of noise. That’s been with me for a long time.

Editor’s note: Go to Woodward’s presentation, “Theodore Roosevelt: Wilderness Warrior in Washington State,” at the following locations, or check out Humanities Washington’s events calendar. All Speakers Bureau events are free and open to the public. 

Quincy: May 24,  4:00 p.m., Pioneer Church, 415 F Street S.W.

Chelan: June 16, 7:00 p.m., Chelan Public Library, 216 Emerson Street

Cheney: June 20, 11:00 a.m., Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, 26010 S. Smith Rd.

Vancouver: July 2, 7:00 p.m., Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main Street

More info: Zaki Hamid at zaki@humanities.org or at 206-682-1770 x102

 

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