Theodore Roosevelt was the sickly son of a wealthy New York family who suffered piteously from childhood asthma. He eventually overcame the illness and became a noted advocate of the “strenuous life”, which he attributed to the years he spent in the Dakotas as a young man. He always claimed that without his ranching experiences in the West – where he gained an appreciation for natural resources and the western work ethic – he would never have become President.
The Dakotas were quick to capitalize on this endorsement. The official publication of the South Dakota Development Association in its September 1920 issue of the Sunshine State, declared that “Roosevelt Monument [atop Mount Roosevelt in Deadwood] is there in loving memory of the physical weakling who came to us from the Empire State and went back with our own iron blood to become the mightiest American of his generation.”
During his tenure in the White House from 1901 to 1909, he designated 150 National Forests, the first 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 5 National Parks, the first 18 National Monuments, the first 4 National Game Preserves, and the first 21 Reclamation Projects. Altogether, in the seven-and-one-half years he was in office, he provided federal protection for almost 230 million acres, a land area equivalent to that of all the East coast states from Maine to Florida.
Aside from his conservation efforts, he “busted” trusts bringing the large corporations under the control of the people; he began the Panama Canal; he established the Department of Commerce and Labor; he negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War and thereby won the Nobel Peace Prize ; he preached a “Square Deal” for all Americans, enabling millions to earn a living wage; he built up the Navy as the “Big Stick,” thus establishing America as a major world power; he reduced the National debt by over $90,000,000; and he secured the passage of the Elkins Act and the Hepburn Act for regulation of the railroads, the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act for consumer protection, and the Federal Employer’s Liability Act for Labor.
In foreign affairs he led us into the arena of international power politics, thrusting aside the American tradition of isolationism, while on the domestic scene, he reversed the traditional federal policy of laissez-faire, and sought to bring order, social justice, and fair dealings to American industry and commerce. In all his policies as Chief Executive, he expanded the powers and responsibilities of the Presidential office, establishing the model of the modern Presidency which has been followed by most of his successors in the White House.
Besides his many accomplishments as the nation’s chief executive, he befriended many ranchers and cowboys in Dakota Territory, who became lifelong champions of both the man and his Progressive Republicanism. One of these was Peter Norbeck. Another was Seth Bullock, who was appointed supervisor of the Black Hills Forest Reserve in 1901 because of his personal friendship with then Vice-President Roosevelt.
What if T.R. had died of childhood asthma?