Today, Roosevelt and Remington go West. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this series
about the machines that make our civilization run, and
the people whose ingenuity created them.
Teddy Roosevelt was born in 1858,
and Frederic Remington in 1861. Roosevelt went to
Harvard, Remington to Yale. Each went off to see the
still-wild West after college. Each was deeply taken by
the experience. Now I find three articles in the 1888
Century Magazine by 29-year-old Roosevelt and
illustrated by 26-year-old Remington. They brim with the
theater of ranching and cowboys.
Roosevelt studied ranching and then set up his own cattle ranch in North Dakota.
Meanwhile, Remington traveled the West, drawing what he
saw. These articles on ranching and cattle round-ups tell
us what it was like. They shape the story of the American
West as we've told it to each other ever since. Here are
Tom Mix, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne -- all for the first
Roosevelt wrote just after the vicious winter of 1886-7
had killed his stock and sent him back to New York in
defeat. But cowboys don't do self-pity, and Roosevelt is
now a cowboy. He rhapsodizes about riding, roping, and
six-guns. His cowboys have leather pants, yellow
kerchiefs, spurs, and lassos. They boil their coffee
beans over open fires and eat from a chuck wagon.
It's all there, first hand, just as we've read about it
for 120 years since then. But these articles are also the
work of two young men. Neither has, by any stretch,
finished honing himself.
Roosevelt glibly proclaims that
"a rancher's life is certainly a very pleasant one, albeit generally varied with plenty of hardship and anxiety."
We're shown none of
the human pathos within those hardships. Nor does
Roosevelt let us forget that he's really a New Yorker
who's learned the ropes: He tells about coming back from
a search for a lost horse. Caught by a blizzard, he holes
up in a hut with a cowboy from Texas. Roosevelt pulls out
a small volume of Hamlet and reads to the cowboy
while they wait out the storm. Afterward the cowboy says,
"old Shakspere saveyed human natur' some," and Roosevelt
is very pleased with himself.
Remington and Roosevelt converged ten years later in
Cuba. Roosevelt had recruited his Rough Riders in
Texas and gone off to fight the Spanish-American War.
Remington had wanted to see real war all his life, and
this was his chance. Roosevelt came back a hero.
Remington came back changed by the horror of it.
The terribly introspective Henry Adams said that
Roosevelt's restless combative energy was more than
abnormal, and he showed the singular primitive quality
that belongs to ultimate matter. [He] was pure
act. Roosevelt played cowboy to the end, while
Remington formed a new artistic language in his
introspective night scenes.
Still, Roosevelt transmuted his primal affinity for
action into a genuine love of the land. He left us with
the National Park system and his face on Mount Rushmore.
And young Remington left us with the study sketches for
all the Western movies ever made.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where
we're interested in the way inventive minds work.
You may view all 33 of Remington's wonderful illustrations
of Roosevelt's articles by pushing this button:
Roosevelt, T., In the Cattle Country (with 11
illustrations by F. Remington). The Century
Magazine, Vol. 35, No. 4, February, 1888, pp.
Roosevelt, T., The Home Ranch (with 12 illustrations by
F. Remington). The Century Magazine, Vol. 35, No.
5, March, 1888, pp. 655-669.
Roosevelt, T., The Roundup (with 10 illustrations by F.
Remington). The Century Magazine, Vol. 35, No. 6,
April, 1888, pp. 849-867.
Adams, H., The Education of Henry Adams: An
Autobiography. New York: The Heritage Press, 1918. (I
am grateful to Houston attorney Miles Smith for pointing
out Adams's comments about Roosevelt.)
For more on Roosevelt's ranching career see Episode 1211. For more on Remington see
Episode 590. For more on Henry
Adams see Episode 131.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1999 by John H. Lienhard.