Theodore’s Cattle

(Left) A frail-looking Theodore Roosevelt, September, 1875 (a month shy of his 17th birthday). (Right) Theodore Roosevelt, likely in his mid-late ‘20’s (studio photograph, no  known credit or date).

(Left) A frail-looking Theodore Roosevelt, September, 1875 (a month shy of his 17th birthday).
(Right) Theodore Roosevelt, likely in his mid-late ‘20’s (studio photograph, no known credit or date).

By: Bert Entwistle

As Theodore stepped down from the train he stood for a moment in the failing light taking it all in. It was early September of 1883, and his presence in the tiny Badlands town of Medora was hardly enough to impress anyone. At five foot nine, painfully skinny and the picture of poor health, his thin moustache and wire frame glasses made him a portrait of a dude, which he was. At twenty-five, he’d left the wealthy trappings of his New York City childhood to go out West and make his mark. He told his friends he wanted to kill a wild buffalo before they were all gone. He was also there for his health, an issue he chose to keep private.

A Harvard graduate and politician by trade, Theodore was woefully unprepared for the rigors of the western lifestyle. He had really come to buy cattle, with plans to eventually start his own ranching business. Shortly after arriving he connected with three young Canadians; two brothers named Joe and Sylvane Ferris, and William Merrifield. Living on the Maltese Cross Ranch and grazing their cattle on public land, Roosevelt liked them immediately and the relationship between the four men lasted his entire lifetime.When he left Medora, he gave them a check for $14,000 to buy 450 head of cattle to start his operation.

His next order of business was to kill his buffalo and he enlisted Joe Ferris to guide him for the hunt. Everyone found out early that the little eastern politician didn’t like the name Teddy, but preferred his given name Theodore. Early in the relationship some still called him Teddy, or four-eyes, or sometimes even worse behind his back.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the future President of the United States had yet to prove himself to anyone in the Wild West; it wouldn’t be long before the skeptics became true believers. Ferris and Roosevelt scoured the Badlands on horseback for a week in all kinds of weather looking for a suitable trophy. After missing the first two that
he shot at, he finally got his prize and ran up to the dead bison and let out a war whoop that could be heard for miles. After concluding his impromptu celebration he handed Ferris a hundred dollar bill and returned to Medora a happy man.

Back home in New York his wife, Alice, was several months pregnant. The first letter that she received from him was full of excitement and typical Roosevelt enthusiasm. “Darling Wife,… by Jove, my usual bad luck in hunting has followed. I haven’t killed anything, and afraid the hall will have to go without horns, for this trip at least. But I have had adventures enough at any rate.”

Roosevelt talked about wagon breakdowns, missed shots at buffalo and antelope, rain, rough country, wind and generally miserable conditions. He was sick from drinking bad water, and subsisted on dry crackers and rainwater for several days. He wrote that after spotting four bull buffalo, they “… crawled nearly a quarter mile on our bellies like snakes.” By his own admission he hit the old bull “… too far back, and the wound did not disable him.” The bull recovered enough to catch up with the others.

“The next hour was as exciting as any day I ever spent,” he continued. They gave chase on foot and horseback. When they finally caught up to the wounded bull, Roosevelt writes, “… the bull turned to bay and charged me; the lunge of the formidable looking brute frightened my pony. He threw up his head and knocked the heavy rifle into my head.” Roosevelt was half blinded from bad eyesight and blood in his eyes. The bull then charged Ferris and he escaped with his fast horse.

Eventually, he claimed his trophy for the hallway, and after two weeks it was time to return to New York to be with his wife when she gave birth. Returning to Medora the following June was a bittersweet moment. His wife Alice died in childbirth and his mother died on the same day in the same house. The pain was nearly more than Roosevelt could take, and he knew the wild loneliness of the Badlands country was the only thing that might save him from the depths of his depression. He once wrote that “The Badlands look like Poe sounds.” When he returned, he declared that ranching would forever be his occupation, bought more cattle and plunged into the business with his three Canadian partners and loved every moment of it.

This time he came to the Badlands prepared; he looked like the cover of one of the popular dime novels of the day. He was covered in buckskins, chaps, a giant hat, silver Conchos and a big buckle. With his droopy mustache and glasses he raised more than a few eyebrows. Many locals had a good laugh on him, but he didn’t care, he was where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do. Roosevelt wasn’t the only one to take to the grasslands around Medora.

A few months before Roosevelt arrived, a Frenchman with the impossible sounding name of Antoine Amedee- Marie-Vincent-Manca de Vallombrosa Marquis de Mores had also decided to stake his claim in the grass of the Badlands. Tall and handsome, he was also wealthy and arrogant. He decided to buy land rather than free range his stock. Soon he had 3,000 fenced acres and hundreds of cattle. Since there was now a rail line, he built a slaughter plant and planned to ship his meat east by rail. It was the Marquis de Mores that founded the town of Medora.

Between Roosevelt, the Marquis and other area ranchers, the cattle business boomed. They could ship all the live cattle they wanted in livestock cars, or butchered meat in the Marquis’ new refrigerated railcars. It was a good time for Roosevelt. His childhood weaknesses and his asthma were long gone; he was now a healthy, even robust young man, toughened up by the country and the work. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. had been fashioned into the foundation of the Rough Rider he would later become.

The legendary blizzard of ‘86 – ‘87 changed their world and the cattle business quickly and forever. The ranchers of Wyoming, Montana and the Dakota Badlands were wiped out. Every living animal on the open range was dead. In the spring, thawing rivers plugged up with the bloated carcasses of the cattlemen’s futures. The Marquis had left early that winter, and after the storm Roosevelt wrote that he had “… rode for three days without seeing a live steer.” The Badlands cattle business was done. As for the future president, he took the defeat in stride and moved on, but the Badlands of North Dakota had succeeded in shaping up a skinny, sickly rich kid into the man who now looks out proudly from Mount Rushmore overseeing what he helped build.


Writing The “Real” Old West

Inspired by poorly written accounts of life on the range, an authentic cowhand takes up the pen to set the record straight

The “real” life of an 1880’s cowpuncher was a lot different than what was being published at the time. Thankfully, Andy Adams picked up his pen and dispelled many a myth.

The “real” life of an 1880’s cowpuncher was a lot different than what was being published at the time. Thankfully, Andy Adams picked up his pen and dispelled many a myth.

By: Bert Entwistle

In 1903, Andy Adams published a book called The Log of a Cowboy. Although sold as a fiction novel, it was really Adams’ first person account of his years as a working cowboy. The book tells of one of his trail drives, a five-month trip moving a 3,000 head mixed herd from Brownsville, Texas, to the Blackfoot Indian Agency in northwest Montana. The outfit left Brownsville on April 1, 1882 and arrived at the Indian Agency on September 8th, a journey of more than 2,100 miles.

Born in 1859 to an Indiana pioneer family, Adams’ father, a Confederate soldier, moved to San Antonio about 1880 looking for a fresh start among his old comrades. Always fascinated by horses and the cattle business, the fifteen year-old Andy Adams left home to make a life as a cowboy.

“My worst trouble was getting away from home on the morning of starting,” he recounts in the book. “Mother and my sisters, of course, shed a few tears; but my father, stern and unbending in his manner, gave me his benediction in these words: “Thomas Moore, you’re the third son to leave our roof, but your father’s blessing goes with you. I left my own home beyond the sea before I was your age.” And as they all stood at the gate, I climbed into my saddle and rode away, with a lump in my throat which left me speechless to reply.”

By 1882, he was working as a hired hand helping to put together a herd from many different sources, including Texas and Mexican cattle. Before heading north, they planted the circle-dot brand on the herd’s left hip. For more than ten years Adams worked as a cowboy and helped to move cattle from Texas to the end of the next trail. In the early ‘90s he decided to try his hand at business and gold mining in places like Nevada and Cripple Creek, Colorado. Both ventures failed.

By 1894, he had settled in Colorado Springs, with no gold and very little else to show for his thirty-five years of life. Adams was always frustrated with what he read in the books and magazines of the period, often complaining to anyone who would listen about how inaccurate the accounts were. It was easy to see the authors had never been up close to horses and cattle.

After some encouragement from friends he began to sell articles to various publications in Colorado and eventually to the east coast magazines. In time, he realized that the public had an appetite for western stories and began his first and most successful book, The Log of a Cowboy, published in 1903. The book was really a way for Adams to respond to the bad western writing of the time, and it cemented his career as a novelist. Today, a hundred and eleven years later, it is still in print and considered by most western historians to be the finest account of the late nineteenth century working cowboy ever put into words.

In 1935 Andy Adams was laid to rest here, in the Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso County, Colorado.

In 1935 Andy Adams was laid to rest here, in the Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso County, Colorado.

The book puts the reader in the saddle with the cowboy as he eats the dust of 3,000 cattle seven days a week for more than five months. Adams learned the craft from the punchy old timers as they trailed the herd north.

“On April 1, 1882, our Circle Dot herd started on its long tramp to the Blackfoot Agency in Montana. With six men on each side, and the herd strung out for three quarters of a mile, it could only be compared to some mythical serpent or Chinese dragon, as it moved forward on its sinuous, snail like course.”

At the start of the drive, his boss gave everyone the advice that all cowboys learn fast on the trail, “Boys, the secret of trailing cattle is never to let your herd know that they are under restraint. Let everything that is done be done voluntarily by the cattle. From the moment you let them off the bed in the morning until they are bedded at night, never let a cow take a step, except in the direction of its destination.”

Adams wrote about choosing his remuda of six to eight horses, and described the saddles and tack of the period in great detail. The writing often contradicted what was being printed at the time, but his readers came to realize his articles and books were a result of real life experiences and a sharp eye for detail.

Stories of swimming the herd across rivers and dry drives and lightening-induced runs (stampedes) filled the pages with the harsh reality of the trail. Encounters with bears, wild cattle and lost cows from other herds were common. The importance of camaraderie and humor between the cowboys was also a large part of the story. He wrote of one of the hands named Ash Borrowstone getting disturbed at night by a couple of coyotes.

“There was no more danger of attack from these cowards than from field mice, but their presence annoyed Ash, and as he dared not shoot, he threw his boots at the varmints. Imagine to his chagrin the next morning to find that one boot had landed among the banked embers of the camp-fire and was burned to a crisp.”

On final delivery to the Blackfoot Agency, he encountered several local Indians. “The next morning, before we reached the agency, a number of gaudily bedecked bucks and squaws rode out to meet us. Physically, they were fine specimens of the aborigines.” The stories of the Indians were like icing on the cake for fans of Adams’ work.

From his Colorado Springs home, he produced another six books after Log of a Cowboy and many more articles. He wrote for a wide variety of audiences including young readers and those who loved short stories. As he got older he was known for encouraging and sponsoring young western writers in authentic western fiction. Adams ran, unsuccessfully, three times for El Paso County (Colorado) sheriff and lived quietly as a bachelor until his death on September 26, 1935.

For lovers of Western history, a night with Andy Adams on the long trail drive north will make you feel like you’re in the saddle riding night herd under a starlit sky to the music of the coyotes.

Let ‘Er Buck


At The Pendleton Round-Up

By: Lora Thorson

The little ranching and farming town of Pendleton, Oregon, tucked up in the northeast corner of the state, got its start along the banks of the Umatilla River in the early 1860s. It has served as a center for the agricultural community and the Umatilla county seat since 1868. The name was chosen for George H. Pendleton, the Ohio senator and 1864 Vice-Presidential candidate. The Umatilla Indian Reservation had been created after the Treaty of 1855 formed the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. The confederation consists of the Walla Walla, Umatilla and the Cayuse nations and is just east of the town.

In 1909, after a wild Fourth of July celebration of greased pig races, horse races, Indian feasts, fireworks and the most popular event, the bronc riding, a group of civic-minded citizens came up with the idea of an annual event. They designed it with the local farmers and ranchers in mind and set it for September, after the crops were in and before the ranchers shipped their cattle. It was formally founded July 29th, 1910 as the Northwestern Frontier Exhibition Association (N.F.E.A.), and informally called the Pendleton Round-Up. They adopted the slogan ‘Let ‘er Buck!’ and purchased fifteen acres that included the existing grandstand and facilities.

The Round-Up hit the ground running in 1911. Ticket prices were set at $1.50 for a box seat, $1.00 for the grandstand and $.75 if you were in the bleachers. Children or anyone who wanted to watch from horseback paid 50 cents. The citizens of Pendleton, always big supporters of their namesake event, help raise $12,000 for improvements and expansion of the old facilities. The event, a non-profit from the start, gave any and all profits to charity. In 1918 they voted to donate their profit of more than $5,000 to the American Red Cross.

By the early twenties the Round-Up had developed a reputation as a great venue for both contestants and spectators. In 1924, a painter by the name of Wallace Smith was allowed to make sketches of bucking horses in the arena. He presented the committee with a sketch that he felt represented the thrill of the bucking horse event.

The committee agreed and copyrighted the image in 1925. Today that sketch of a cowboy in a yellow shirt on a bucking horse is their logo, and it can be found on their world famous Let ‘er Buck calendar. As the reputation of the Pendleton Round-Up grew, the contestants and the fans began to put the event on their annual calendar. In 1915, the Happy Canyon Show, now called the Happy Canyon Indian Pageant and Wild West Show depicting the settling of the American West, made its first appearance.

The involvement of the Native American Indians has always been one of the keys to the success of the show and the Happy Canyon event quickly became a fan favorite. By 1930, the depression hit the Round-Up as hard as it had the rest of the country. After struggling along for a few years, the old N.F.E.A. was dropped and was reformed as the Pendleton Round-Up Association. They again appealed to the citizens and businesses of Pendleton and they came up with enough money to keep the show running. By the late thirties the event, thanks to the constant support of the people of Pendleton, was back on solid ground.

From the beginning the event drew a colorful cast of characters. Possibly the most famous of those was a fullblooded Nez Perce Indian by the name of Waaya-Tonah-ToesitsKahn. Born in 1863, he rode with Sitting Bull in the NezPerce war of 1877. His rodeo career began at age forty-nine under his newly chosen name of Jackson Sundown, and he quickly became a bucking horse champion and a master showman.

Decked out in spectacular angora wollies and colorful shirts he would tie his long braids under his chin and wave his hat to the crowd as he blasted out of the chute. In 1915, he decided to retire. In 1916, at the age of fifty-three he was talked into entering the event one more time. Jackson Sundown became a legend that day on a horse named Angel, winning the bucking horse event and the All-Around title as well.

Another association that gave the Round-Up a solid start were the brothers Roy, Clarence and Chauncey Bishop, the founders of the Pendleton Woolen Mills. With a large source of fine wool in the area, their products were a natural fit for the rodeo event. Their most important customers at the time were Native Americans. Today, they still sell more than sixty percent of the blankets produced to their Native customers. Roy knew that the event needed something more than just the bucking horses to make the show a success. He personally took the giant step of meeting with tribal leaders and inviting them to participate in the event, something unheard of at the time.

In 1936, rodeo cowboys, unhappy with their pay and conditions, had boycotted a large rodeo in Boston. They formed the famous Cowboy’s Turtle Association and one of the conditions for their return to the rodeo circuit was to have Turtles-only events. This was not acceptable to the Round-Up board and they declared themselves an open rodeo for anyone that wanted to come. The fans of the event really didn’t care who was in the arena, they just loved the show. After working out an agreement, the Turtles returned to the Round-Up in 1939.

These days, by the second week of September, the whole town of Pendleton has been fully engulfed in Round-Up business for months. The impact on the city is enormous, bringing in more than 50,000 fans and contestants to town every year. It starts with a dress-up parade with boy scouts and girl scouts and the high school band as well as many businesses building floats for competition. The Happy Canyon Pageant and Wild West Show starts on Wednesday. The competition has ten events, including the Indian Relay Races and Wild Cow Milking, one of the crowd favorites. Unlike most rodeo arenas, the Round-Up has a feature that makes it stand out even more – natural grass instead of dirt. You can always tell photographs from the Pendleton event by the green grass in the arena.

For over a hundred-years, the success of the Pendleton RoundUp has been a group effort. The town of Pendleton, together with the Pendleton Woolen Mills and the members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, have worked tirelessly to keep the high quality of the event. For someone looking for a true taste of the WildWest, Pendleton, Oregon is the place to be in September.