Chapter 9 - American Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Stratemeyer

A Trip to the Shoshone Mountains—Caught in a Driving Snowstorm—Back to Work—Resignation as Civil Service Commissioner

Notwithstanding the great amount of labor involved as a Civil Service Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt did not forego the pleasures of the hunt, and in 1891 he made an extended trip to the Shoshone Mountains in Wyoming, going after elk and such other game as might present itself.

On this trip he was accompanied by his ranch partner, a skilled shot named Ferguson, and two old hunters named Woody and Hofer. There was also in the party a young fellow who looked after the pack-horses, fourteen in number.

The start was made on a beautiful day in September, and the party journeyed along at a gait that pleased them, bringing down everything that came to hand and which could be used as meat. Two tents were carried, one for sheltering their packs at night and the other for sleeping purposes.

In his book called "The Wilderness Hunter," Mr. Roosevelt has given many of the details of this grand hunt, which he says was one of the most exciting as well as most pleasurable undertaken. With an interest that cannot be mistaken, and which betrays the true sportsman at every turn, he gives minute descriptions of how the tents were erected, how everything in camp was put in its proper place, and how on wet days they would huddle around the camp-fire in the middle of the larger tent to keep warm and dry. He also tells how the packs on the horses were adjusted, and adds that the hunter who cannot take care of his outfit while on the hunt, or who must have all his game stalked for him, is a hunter in name only;—which is literally true, as every genuine sportsman knows.

The young Civil Service Commissioner went out garbed in a fitting hunting costume, consisting of a buckskin shirt, with stout leggings, and moccasins, or, when occasion required, alligator-leather boots. Heavy overcoats were also carried and plenty of blankets, and for extra cold nights Theodore Roosevelt had a fur sleeping-bag, in which, no doubt, he slept "as snug as a bug in a rug."

The horses of a pack-train in the wild West are not always thoroughly broken, and although the majority rarely do anything worse than lag behind or stray away, yet occasionally one or another will indulge in antics far from desired. This was true on the present occasion, when at different times the pack-beasts went on a "shindy" that upset all calculations and scattered packs far and wide, causing a general alarm and hard work on the part of all hands to restore quietness and order.

For two days the hunters pushed on into the mountains with but little signs of game. Then a rain-storm set in which made the outlook a dismal one.

"Going to have a big storm," said one of the old hunters.

"Never mind, we'll have to take it as it comes," was Mr. Roosevelt's philosophical answer. "We can't expect good weather every day."

It was almost noon of that day when all heard the call of a bull elk, echoing over the hills. The sound came from no great distance, and in the face of the rain, Theodore Roosevelt and the hunter named Woody set off on foot after the beast, who was still calling as loudly as ever.

It was not long before the hunters could hear the bull plainly, as he pawed the earth, a challenge to another bull who was answering him from a great distance.

"We are gettin' closer to him," said Woody. "Got to go slow now, or he'll take alarm and be off like a flash."

The timber was rather thin, and the ground was covered with moss and fallen leaves, and over this the pair glided as silently as shadows, until Woody declared that the bull was not over a hundred yards away.

"And he's in a tearing rage, on account of that other bull," he added. "Got to plug him fair and square or there will be trouble."

Without replying to this, Theodore Roosevelt took the lead, keeping eyes and ears wide open for anything that might come to hand. Then through the trees he caught sight of the stately horns of the elk, as he stood with head thrown back, repeating his call in trumpet-like tones.

As the hunters came closer, the elk faced around and caught sight of his human enemies. Up went his antlers once more, as if to defy them.

"He's coming!" shouted Woody. And scarcely had he spoken when Theodore Roosevelt took aim and fired at the animal. There was a snort and a gasp, and the elk turned to run away. Then Roosevelt fired a second shot, and over went the monarch of the forest in his death agony. It was a fine bit of game to bring down, the antlers having twelve prongs. The head was cut off and taken back to camp, along with a small part of the best of the meat.

After that the forward march was resumed in the face of a sweeping rain that wet everybody to the skin. On they went until, just as the rain ceased, they reached a bold plateau, overlooking what is called Two-Ocean Pass, a wild and wonderful freak of nature, surrounded by lofty mountains and watered by streams and brooks flowing in several directions. Far up the mountains could be seen the snow-drifts, while lower down were the heavy forests and underbrush, the haunts of the game they were seeking.

In this Wonderland Theodore Roosevelt hunted to his heart's content for many days—bringing down several more elk and also a fair variety of smaller game. It was now growing colder, and knowing that the winter season was close at hand, the hunters decided to strike camp and return homeward.

The movement was made none too soon. The snow was already filling the air, and one morning, on coming from his tent, Theodore Roosevelt found the ground covered to a depth of a foot and a half. To add to his discomfort the pony he was riding began to buck that day and managed to dislocate his rider's thumb. But Theodore Roosevelt stuck to him and showed him who was master; and after that matters went better. The snow continued to come down, and before the end of the journey was reached, at Great Geyser Basin, the hunters almost perished from the cold.

Such pictures as the above give us some idea of the varied life that Theodore Roosevelt has led. Even at this early age—he was but thirty-three years old—he had been a college student, a traveller, an author, an assemblyman, a ranchman and hunter, and a Civil Service Commissioner. He had travelled the length and breadth of Europe and through a large section of our own country. He had visited the palaces of kings and the shacks of the humble cowboys of the far West, he had met men in high places and in low, and had seen them at their best and at their worst. Surely if "experience is the school wherein man learns wisdom," then the future President had ample means of growing wise, and his works prove that those means were not neglected.

As already mentioned, when Grover Cleveland became President a second time, he requested Theodore Roosevelt to retain his place on the Civil Service Commission. This was a practical illustration of the workings of the merit system, and it made for Mr. Cleveland many friends among his former political enemies. By this movement the workings of the Commission were greatly strengthened, so that by the time Theodore Roosevelt resigned, on May 5, 1895, the Commission had added twenty thousand places filled by government employees to those coming under the merit system. This number was larger than any placed under the system before that time, and the record has scarcely been equalled since.

"He was a fighter for the system, day and night," says one who knew him at that time. "He was enthusiastic to the last degree, and had all sorts of statistics at his fingers' ends. If anybody in the government employ was doing wrong, he was willing to pitch into that person regardless of consequences. Some few politicians thought he was a crank on the subject, but the results speak for themselves. Some politicians, who wanted the old spoils system retained, were often after him like a swarm of angry hornets, but he never got out of their way, and when they tried to sting, he slapped them in a way that soon made them leave him alone. And more than that, he was very clever in the way that he presented his case to those representatives and senators who understood the real value of Civil Service reform. He made them appreciate what he and his fellow-commissioners were trying to do, and when the Commission was attacked in Congress it always had, as a consequence, a support that could not be easily overthrown."

When Theodore Roosevelt resigned, President Cleveland wrote as follows to him:—

"You are certainly to be congratulated upon the extent and permanency of civil service reform methods which you have so substantially aided in bringing about. The struggle for its firm establishment and recognition is past. Its faithful application and reasonable expansion remain, subjects of deep interest to all who really desire the best attainable public service." It was high praise for the retiring commissioner, and it was well deserved.