New book chronicles Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with the West


TED SIMONS: THEODORE ROOSEVELT DID A LOT OF THINGS BEFORE BECOMING AN ICONIC PRESIDENT. THE TRIP WEST THAT HELPED SHAPE HIS VIEWS. THE BOOK IS ENTITLED "THE COWBOY PRESIDENT" THE AMERICAN WEST AND THE MAKING OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT. WITH US HISTORIAN MICHAEL BLAKE.

MICHAEL BLAKE: THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

TED SIMONS: THIS IS A NEAT BOOK. YOU RESEARCHED THIS BOOK IN AN INTERESTING FASHION. TALK TO US ABOUT HOW YOU HIKED AND ROAD AND DID THE WHOLE NINE YEARS?

MICHAEL BLAKE: I WENT OUT TO DRAG MY WIFE WITH ME. WE WENT TO ME DORA, WEST END OF NORTH DAKOTA. I HIRED A HORSEBACK TEAM AND ROAD IN SOME OF THE AREAS THEODORE ROAD AND STUCK MY HAND IN BEN INITE CLAY.

TED SIMONS: YOU CALLED HIM THEODORE. HE DIDN'T LIKE BEING CALLED TEDDY, DID HE?

MICHAEL BLAKE: NO. HIS FIRST WIFE CALLED HIM TEDDY OR TD AND WHEN HE DIED, EVERYONE BLACKED IT OUT. EVERYONE IN THE PRESS AND PUBLIC, WE WANTED OUR TEDDY.

TED SIMONS: THUS THE TEDDY BEAR. YOU MENTIONED HIS WIFE. TALK ABOUT WHY THEODORE ROOSEVELT FIRST TRAVELED WEST?

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE WENT IN SEPTEMBER 1883 TO HUNT BUFFALO. HE HUNTED, GOT HIS BUFFALO, BOUGHT A CATTLE RANCH. HE WENT HOME. HE'S A NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLYMAN. HIS WIFE IS HAVING THEIR FIRST CHILD. HE GOES TO ALBANY, AND HIS WIFE HAD A BABY DAUGHTER. HER KIDNEYS WERE FAILING, AND ON VALENTINE'S DAY, HE LOST HIS MOTHER TO TYPHOID FEVER AND HIS WIFE WITHIN HOURS OF EACH OTHER. HE WAS DEVASTATED. HE GAVE UP HIS POLITICAL CAREER AND WENT WEST TO HIDE AND GRIEVE.

TED SIMONS: HE WAS CHASING BUFFALO. HE LIKED WHERE HE WAS. ROUGH COUNTRY. ROUGH WEATHER.

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE LOVED IT. THE TOUGHER IT WAS -- I READ ABOUT HOW A FRIEND OF HIS IN HARVARD, THEY WERE OUT ICE SKATING. IT WAS TERRIBLE AND HE KEPT EXPECTING THEODORE TO STOP. EVERY TIME HE CAME AROUND HE SAID, ISN'T THIS BULLY?

TED SIMONS: THE HARDER IT WAS, THE MORE HE LIKED IT.

TED SIMONS: AS A CHILD HE WAS SICKLY.

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE HAD HORRIBLE ASTHMA. HE WAS HORRIBLY NEARSIGHTED. FROM WHERE I'M SITTING TO YOU, HE COULDN'T TELL WITHOUT GLASSES AND HE HAD WHAT WE NOW CALL CROHNS DISEASE. HIS FATHER SAID YOU HAVE TO BUILD UP YOUR BODY LIKE YOUR MIND. HE DID. HE WENT AT IT, BUT HE STILL HAD BOUTS WITH ASTHMA AND CROHNS DISEASE AND STILL SWAM AND HIKED AND ROAD HORSES, INVOLVED IN TWO STAMPEDES IN THE DAKOTA TERRITORY. HE BOXED. HE KNEW JIU-JITSU. QUITE A GUY.

TED SIMONS: WE HAVE PHOTOS OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT IN THE TERRITORY. WHAT WERE HIS FIRST IMPRESSIONS AND WHAT WERE THEIR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF HIM?

MICHAEL BLAKE: THEY THOUGHT HE WAS A DUDE FROM NEW YORK. THAT'S A MAN STANDING THERE, JOHN BORROWS IN YOSEMITE. PEOPLE THOUGHT THIS GUY IS ANOTHER NEW YORK DUDE. HE PROVED HIMSELF. THIS IS MY ALL TIME FAVORITE PHOTO. HE'S ON A BEAR HUNT IN COLORADO AND THIS LITTLE DOG SKIP ADOPTED HIM. HE WOULD SIT ON ROOSEVELT'S LAP. HE WOULD PET THE DOG AND THE DOG WOULDN'T LET ANYONE ELSE NEAR HIM.

TED SIMONS: IT'S A FASCINATING PHOTO. IT SHOWS HIM IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS.

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE WAS NEVER WITHOUT A BOOK. HE READ TWO BOOKS IN A WEEK.

TED SIMONS: WHAT DID HE HAVE TO DO, AND WHAT DID HE DO TO CONVINCE THESE FOLKS HE WASN'T FROM DUDE FROM NEW YORK?

MICHAEL BLAKE: THE BEST STORY, HE'S OUT HUNTING CATTLE THAT WANDERED AWAY. HE WAS IN THE TOWN CALLED MING USVILLE ON THE BORDER OF MONTANA. HE DECIDED I'LL SLEEP IN THIS SALOON. HE HEARS GUNSHOTS. HE GOES IN AND THERE'S A GUY WHO HAD A LITTLE BIT TOO MUCH AND HE THINKS HE'S THE BAD GUY. ROOSEVELT WALK IN WITH GLASSES, A BIG THING BACK THEN PEOPLE WEARING GLASSES. HE SAID FOUR EYES IS GOING TO BUY A DRINK. THEODORE TRIED TO LAUGH IT OFF. HE CAME OVER AND DEMANDED A DRINK. THEODORE ALWAYS SAID, AVOID A FIGHT BUT IF YOU HAVE TO, PUT YOUR OPPONENT TO SLEEP. HE HIT HIM LEFT RIGHT LEFT, HITS HIS HEAD ON THE BAR, LOCKED HIM IN THE STORAGE ROOM OVERNIGHT AND THE NEXT DAY HE WAS ON A PASSING FREIGHT TRAIN.

TED SIMONS: SO HE PROVED HIMSELF TO THOSE IN THE DAKOTAS. WHAT DID THEY THINK OF HIM IN NEW YORK?

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE WALKED IN WITH MUTTEN CHOPS AND HE HAD A HIGH VOICE. I HAVE HEARD RECORDINGS. IT WAS LIKE WILLIAM POWELL. WHEN HE GOT EXCITED HE WOULD TALK LIKE THIS. THE PEOPLE IN NEW YORK SAID DEAR GOD, WHAT HAVE THEY SENT US?

TED SIMONS: HE COMES BACK AND WINDS UP AS AN ICONIC PRESIDENT AS I MENTIONED. HOW DID WHAT HAPPENED IN THE WEST EFFECT HIM, CHANGE HIM, GUIDE HIM TO WHAT HE BECAME?

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE REALLY WENT AFTER THINGS. THOUGH HE HUNTED BUFFALO. HE AND WILLIAM HORN A DAY BROUGHT THE BUFFALO BACK. THEY STARTED THE BUFFALO RANGE IN MONTANA. HE SUPPLIED 18 NATIONAL MONUMENTS, 8 NATIONAL PARKS, 51 NATIONAL BIRD SANCTUARIES. HE SET ASIDE THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE FOR AMERICANS TO ENJOY. THE GRAND CANYON, IN 1903, IT WAS WIDE OPEN. HE MADE IT A NATIONAL MONUMENT. SEVEN WEEKS AFTER HIS DEATH, IT BECAME A NATIONAL PARK.

TED SIMONS: YOU HAVE THE ROOSEVELT DAM HERE IN ARIZONA, FLOODED HOW MANY ACRES OF PRISTINE LAND BECAUSE THEY NEEDED WATER.

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE WANTED AREAS TO THRIVE. HE WANTED FARMLAND SO PEOPLE COULD SUSTAIN THEMSELVES. HE BELIEVED IN BUILDING DAMS. HE WANTED THE WEST TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE.

TED SIMONS: YOU WRITE THAT TEDDY ROOSEVELT AND THE AMERICAN WEST SAVED EACH OTHER. HOW SO?

MICHAEL BLAKE: WELL, THE AMERICAN WEST SAVED THEODORE WHEN HE CAME OUT THERE. HE NEEDED A PLACE TO GRIEVE, AND THE LAND TRANSFORMED HIM. IT MADE HIM REALIZE, I HAVE TO PROTECT THINGS. IT ALSO CHALLENGED HIM. THEODORE LOVED A CHALLENGE. EVEN IF HE LOST, IF YOU FOUGHT A GOOD FIGHT, THAT'S ALL THAT MATTERED. IT CHALLENGED HIM. HE LOVED THE PEOPLE OF THE WEST. YOU GIVE YOUR WORD. YOUR WORD IS YOUR BOND. AT SOME POINT, HE DECIDED I HAVE TO PROTECT THE LAND. I HAVE TO MAKE IT SAFE AND KEEP THINGS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS SO CAN YOU JUST IMAGINE IF HE HASN'T MADE THE GRAND CANYON A NATIONAL MONUMENT, WE MAY NOT HAVE IT TODAY.

TED SIMONS: LAST QUESTION BEFORE YOU GO, WHAT GOT YOU INTO ALL OF THIS? YOU LOOK LIKE TEDDY ROOSEVELT A BIT. WHAT GOT YOU INTO ALL OF THIS?

MICHAEL BLAKE: I WAS AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD COWBOY CRAZY KID AND MY FOLKS GAVE ME A BOOK ON PRESIDENTS. I KNEW ABOUT WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN. THEY WERE ALL WEARING COATS AND TOP HATS. I TURN THE PAGE AND THERE'S THEODORE WITH A BUCKSKIN SHIRT ON AND A HAT SAID HE WAS A DAKOTA COWBOY. ON THE NEXT PAGE IS HIM WITH THE ROUGH ROADERS.

TED SIMONS: HERE HE IS AS PRESIDENT, ROMPING AROUND THERE ON THE HORSE. YOU CAN'T GET HIM AWAY FROM THE HORSE.

MICHAEL BLAKE: HE LOVED HORSES.

TED SIMONS: YOU HAVE THE HAT THERE. YOU HAVE THE LOOK GOING.

MICHAEL BLAKE: ONE TIME MY WIFE AND I WERE IN THE DAKOTAS, AND I HAD A HAT SIMILAR TO THIS. SOME GUY CAME BY AND SAID THANK YOU, MR. PRESIDENT. I LOOKED AT HIM FOR A MINUTE AND THEN I REALIZED WHAT HE WAS SAYING. I'M THEODORE'S SPOKESMAN.

TED SIMONS: THIS IS AN INTERESTING BOOK. YOU DID A GREAT JOB ON THIS. THE COWBOY PRESIDENT, MICHAEL BLAKE. THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.

MICHAEL BLAKE: THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.


A new book, “The Cowboy President: The American West and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt,” by Michael Blake describes the adventures of the future president as he journeyed west, and how these experiences shaped his political views.

Blake began his writing by visiting the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota more than a few times to ride the areas that Roosevelt himself rode. He wanted to be able to describe the west in the most accurate detail.

Roosevelt’s first taste of the landscape was during a buffalo hunting trip in the Dakotas in September 1883. The following year, after his mother and wife both passed away on the same day, Roosevelt returned to North Dakota. Blake says he gave up his political career for some time to go west to grieve.

As a child, Roosevelt had terrible asthma, he was near-sighted and he had what today we call Crohn’s disease. The advice his father gave him was to build his body up the way he built up his mind, Blake says. He did just that, fighting through his illnesses to swim, box, hike, ride and more. He was involved in two stampedes while his was in the Dakotas, but it wasn’t easy trying to prove to the locals that he wasn’t another “dude from New York” in Blake’s words.

Roosevelt’s love for hunting and the great outdoors helped to shape his priorities when he became president. He became known as the conservation president because, Blake says, he understood that the land in America wasn’t endless, and neither were its animals.

“By the end of his presidency, over 230 million acres had been set aside for the American public to enjoy,” Blake says. “When he first saw the Grand Canyon in 1903, it was wide open. Anyone could have it. He made it a national monument, then seven weeks after his death it became a national park.”

Roosevelt is responsible for 18 national monuments, eight national parks and 51 national bird sanctuaries.

Blake’s book was released on March 1 of this year and is now available in stores and online. For more information on Blake and “The Cowboy President” visit michaelfblake.com.

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Michael Blake: Author, "The Cowboy President"

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