Chapter Eight – The People’s Country
When their two weeks in Yellowstone were over, John Burroughs and Theodore Roosevelt went their separate ways.
Burroughs went to visit friends in Washington State, where he had promised to speak at some schools before heading home to Slabsides.
For Roosevelt, there was much more traveling left, but, first, he was asked to make a speech at the north entrance to the park, where a great stone arch was being built.
He thanked the people of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho for their hospitality, of course. But he also praised them for their cooperation with the army in helping keep poachers out of the park, and in making the idea of a park work.
He told them that the government could provide funds for the park, but that making it work was up to them. “The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”
Roosevelt’s train then left for St. Louis so the president could be present at the opening of the 1903 World’s Fair, celebrating the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase.
His visit to Yellowstone with John Burroughs was over, but his efforts to make Americans more aware of the environment were not.
The trip to Yellowstone had been an important chance for the two men to visit the park, to see how it was being run, and to find out how it might be improved. They had learned much from that trip.
For instance, Roosevelt was now aware that killing cougars wouldn’t help the deer and elk herds. It simply meant that more of them would starve to death. Within a few years, he would order the end of the hunting of predators in Yellowstone.
But the visit was important for another reason: Even though he had ordered reporters kept out of Yellowstone so he and Burroughs could enjoy the park in peace, there were stories about the trip in the newspapers every day. Now that the Yellowstone visit was over, the president was going to visit towns and make speeches all through the West.
Theodore Roosevelt liked to say that the presidency was “a bully pulpit,” and he didn’t mean “bully” in the modern sense of a mean person. Back then, it meant “wonderful,” and, indeed, when the president of the United States says something, the whole country, and the whole world, listens.
As he had told the crowd at Yellowstone, it is not enough for the government to pass laws and provide money for projects. It’s up to the people to make those projects work.
The purpose of this trip was to get the American people to think, and to talk to each other, about how to make the best use of our natural resources, and Roosevelt had six more weeks of making news with visits and speeches ahead of him.
His train stopped at several places along the route to St. Louis, and then headed back west. Everywhere it went, it stopped for people to come see, and hear, the president.
In Grand Island, Nebraska, he praised the success of the government’s efforts to grow more trees on the open plains. “I knew, of course, that over 200,000 acres of forest land had been planted in Nebraska, but to know a thing is one thing and to see it is another,” he told the people, and reminded them that Sterling Morton had founded Arbor Day in their own state.
Thanks to Arbor Day, he said, millions of children and adults were taught “the wisdom of trying to plant trees where they do not exist, and trying to preserve them for the public use where they do exist.”
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, he spoke of the importance of healthy forests and good irrigation projects to create farms and cattle ranches, not just for the farmers and ranchers of 1903, but for their children and grandchildren.
Then, in the Arizona Territory, Theodore Roosevelt got his first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, which was not yet a national park. He begged the people of Arizona to protect it from the mining companies and from those who wanted to build hotels and resorts on its rim.
“Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it,” Roosevelt said. “What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.”
From there, he traveled to California, where he met with another great American conservationist, John Muir. The two men spent three days camping in the Yosemite Valley, and Roosevelt agreed to make Yosemite National Park larger, and to protect the giant redwoods from being cut down for lumber.
Then he went up the Pacific Coast to Washington State, and finally started home, stopping in Wyoming for a final cowboy adventure, riding horseback from Laramie to Cheyenne.
With two months of travel and speeches, he had done much to make Americans think about the land.
But the part of the trip that got the most attention was the two weeks spent in Yellowstone by two famous friends: One whose writing inspired people to love nature, and one whose political activities would help turn that love of nature into law.
Text copyright 2014, Mike Peterson; illustration copyright 2014, Christopher Baldwin
Project funded by the New York State United Teachers, New York Newspapers Foundation and the Wyoming Press Association.
Anyone interested in the corresponding curriculum guide, audio podcasts, graphic organizers and student contest, visit www.nynpa.com/nie/nieserial.html.