President Theodore Roosevelt Praises the Contribution of a Journalist at the Front With His Rough Riders in Cuba

“At Santiago I was an eye-witness of his really noteworthy resolution and daring, his power of standing fatigue, exhaustion and exposure in midsummer in the tropics. Very few of the soldiers in our army could do as well as he did. His trip to the barren grounds in midwinter was also a noteworthy achievement.”

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The Rough Riders are one of the most famous fighting units in American history, and his leadership of them made Theodore Roosevelt’s career. In April of 1897 TR was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy as a reward for his tireless campaigning for the newly elected President, William McKinley. When the U.S.S....

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President Theodore Roosevelt Praises the Contribution of a Journalist at the Front With His Rough Riders in Cuba

“At Santiago I was an eye-witness of his really noteworthy resolution and daring, his power of standing fatigue, exhaustion and exposure in midsummer in the tropics. Very few of the soldiers in our army could do as well as he did. His trip to the barren grounds in midwinter was also a noteworthy achievement.”

The Rough Riders are one of the most famous fighting units in American history, and his leadership of them made Theodore Roosevelt’s career. In April of 1897 TR was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy as a reward for his tireless campaigning for the newly elected President, William McKinley. When the U.S.S. Maine blew up in Havana harbor, the Spanish were blamed and an outcry for war arose. From that moment, Roosevelt believed that trying to prevent the war would be impossible. He sprang into action, moving ammunition, readying ships for action, and moving to have Congress allow for enlisting unlimited sailors. TR also made it known to the President and others that if war came, he wanted to leave his post behind a desk in Washington and head for the front.

Congress declared war on April 25, 1898, and that same day Roosevelt was officially offered (and accepted) second in command of the Rough Riders; he would soon take over full command of the unit. He immediately set about assembling and training the regiment, which was made up of an effective assemblage of Western cowboys and frontiersmen, and Eastern athletes and sons of prominent citizens. This composition reflected TR’s own interests. The unit was mustered into service between May 1 and May 21, 1898 in various locations in Texas, New Mexico and what was then termed “Indian Territory” (Arizona and Oklahoma). At the time of muster in, the unit consisted of 47 officers and 994 enlisted men. It was trained quickly in San Antonio, Texas, and on May 27 it was ordered to Port Tampa, Florida, to prepare for the invasion of Cuba. It left for the front in Cuba on June 13.

John Burroughs contributed to the American understanding of nature through his large literary output, which included works about Henry David Thoreau, and his friend Walt Whitman, whom he admired. In 1903, Burroughs published an article in The Atlantic Monthly that challenged the sentimental and improbable characterizations of animals then being published by those he termed “nature fakers.” A battle lasting half a decade ensued as naturalists sided with Burroughs or with those he criticized. Roosevelt felt as Burroughs did. In April 1903, the two men toured Yellowstone Park together and Burroughs wrote about it in Camping and Tramping with Roosevelt, published in 1906. In planning the two-week trip to the park, he had written Burroughs, “For the last 18 months I have taken everything as it came, from coal strikes to trolley cars, and I feel I am entitled to a fortnight to myself.” TR arrived in time to set the Roosevelt Arch’s cornerstone in a grand ceremony. In 1907 Roosevelt publicly entered the nature-fakers controversy when he gave an interview and circulated an article defending Burroughs and stating his own views. Roosevelt esteemed Burroughs and called him Oom John (the Roosevelts were of Dutch extraction), an affectionate term meaning “uncle” in Dutch. John Burroughs continued to correspondent with TR for years.

Caspar Whitney was a well known journalist, who submitted articles from the front in Cuba during the Spanish American War.  At the Battle of Las Guasimas, he accompanied General Young’s 1st and 10th (Regular) Cavalry. His published map of the battle is considered the most accurate of that action published at that time. He also accompanied TR and his troops to Cuba, where he reported on the movements of the Rough Riders and others.

From 1900, he was an owner and editor-in-chief of the monthly Outing magazine, which promoted the outdoors and sporting pursuits, as well as a good deal of adventure fiction; authors included Jack London and Clarence E. Mulford. He was a founding member of The Explorers Club after expeditions in North and South America. He wrote “On Snow-Shoes to the Barren Grounds – Twenty-Eight Hundred Miles After Musk-Oxen and Wood-Bison,” a novel based on his 1894 expedition into North America’s northern wilderness. The Barren Grounds is the name given to the vast tract of then-uninhabited and almost unexplored land which lies to the north of Athabasca stretching well up to the shores of the Arctic Ocean and eastward to Hudson’s Bay whose approximate area is 350,000 square miles where no man has or can have a dwelling place and whose only living creature is the musk ox that last object of longing with the hunt.

Typed letter signed, June 11, 1903, “I have just received your letter. How would some time in the week after the Fourth of July suit you for us to visit Slab Sides? Won’t you tell me the dates you are probably to be away? Probably I could suit our visit to those dates.

“What a ridiculous creature the Rev. Long is!  Now a word as to Whitney, the Editor of Outing; of course I shall ask you to treat this as confidential. Whitney is a man of remarkable powers in certain lines, and he has done a great deal of out of door work. At Santiago I was an eye-witness of his really noteworthy resolution and daring, his power of standing fatigue, exhaustion and exposure in midsummer in the tropics. Very few of the soldiers in our army could do as well as he did. His trip to the barren grounds in midwinter was also a noteworthy achievement. But I happen to know that he is entirely untrustworthy as an observer along certain lines. I found that he had done some hunting of bears and mountain lions and I once got him to write an article about the latter. It was a farrago of nonsense, and he had evidently so mixed up what he imperfectly remembered with what had been told him and what he had loosely accepted as true, that the whole article was absolutely valueless. Not merely did it add nothing new to our knowledge, but I am convinced that it asserted a great deal that was positively not so. In Outing he has published several articles so preposterous, so false on their face, that at first I used to call his attention to it, but after a while I gave it up. It is a pity, as Outing is a magazine which in some ways has done excellent work….”

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