Chapter 23 - American Boy's Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Stratemeyer

The Roosevelt Family in the Adirondacks—The Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo—Shooting of President McKinley—The Vice-President's Visit—Death of the President

Theodore Roosevelt's companions of the hunt remained with him for fourteen days, after which they departed, leaving him with Goff, the ranchman and hunter already mentioned.

When the pair were alone, they visited Juniper Mountain, said to be a great ground for cougars and bob-cats, and there hunted with great success. All together the trip of five weeks' hunting netted fourteen cougars, the largest of which was eight feet in length and weighed 227 pounds. Mr. Roosevelt also brought down five bob-cats, showing that he was just as skilful with his rifle as ever.

The hero of San Juan Hill fairly loved the outdoor exercise of the hunt, and spent three weeks in keen enjoyment after his companions had departed. During this time it snowed heavily, so that the hunters were often compelled to remain indoors. As luck would have it there were other ranches in that vicinity, with owners that were hospitable, so that they did not have to go into camp, as would otherwise have been the case.

On the last day of the hunt, Theodore Roosevelt was able to bring down the largest cougar yet encountered. The hounds were on the trail of one beast when they came across that of another and took it up with but little warning.

"We're going to get a big one now," said Goff. "Just you wait and see."

"Well, if we do, it will be a good ending to my outing," responded Theodore Roosevelt.

The cougar was at last located by the hounds in a large pinyon on the side of a hill. It had run a long distance and was evidently out of breath, but as the hunters drew closer, it leaped to the ground and trotted away through the snow. Away went the hounds on the new trail of the beast.

"He's game, and he'll get away if he can," said the guide.

At the top of another hill the cougar halted and one of the hounds leaped in, and was immediately sent sprawling by a savage blow of the wild animal's paw. Then on went the cougar as before, the hounds barking wildly as they went in pursuit.

When Theodore Roosevelt came up once more, the cougar was in another pinyon tree, with the hounds in a semicircle on the ground below.

"Now I think I've got him," whispered Theodore Roosevelt to his companion, and advanced on foot, with great cautiousness. At first he could see nothing, but at last made out the back and tail of the great beast, as it lay crouched among the branches. With great care he took aim and fired, and the cougar fell to the ground, shot through the back.

At once the hounds rushed in and seized the game. But the cougar was not yet dead, and snapping and snarling the beast slipped over the ground and down a hillside, with the dogs all around it. Theodore Roosevelt came up behind, working his way through the brush with all speed. Then, watching his chance, he jumped in, hunting-knife in hand, and despatched the game.

"A good haul," cried Goff. And later on he and his men came to the conclusion that it was the same cougar that had carried off a cow and a steer and killed a work horse belonging to one of the ranches near by.

The five weeks spent in the far West strengthened Theodore Roosevelt a great deal, and it was with renewed energy that he took up his duties as Vice-President of our nation.

In the meantime, however, matters were not going on so well at home. Among the children two had been very sick, and in the summer it was suggested that some pure mountain air would do them a great deal of good.

"Very well, we'll go to the mountains," said Mr. Roosevelt, and looked around to learn what place would be best to choose.

Among the Adirondack Mountains of New York State there is a reservation of ninety-six thousand acres leased by what is called the Adirondack Club, a wealthy organization of people who have numerous summer cottages built within the preserve.

Among the members was a Mr. McNaughten, an old friend of the Roosevelt family, and he suggested that they occupy his cottage until the close of the season. This invitation was accepted, and the whole Roosevelt family moved up to the spot, which was located at the foot of Mount Marcy, the largest of the mountains in that vicinity. Here Mr. Roosevelt spent much time in hunting and fishing, and also in writing. The family were not forgotten, and he frequently went out with the whole party, rowing and exploring. Sometimes they took baskets of lunch with them and had regular picnics in the woods, something the Roosevelt children enjoyed very much.

In the meantime the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, New York, had been opened, and day after day it was thronged with visitors. Vice-President Roosevelt had assisted at the opening, and he was one of many who hoped the Exposition would be a great success.

At the Exposition our government had a large exhibit, and it was thought highly proper that President McKinley should visit the ground in his official capacity and deliver an address. Preparations were accordingly made, and the address was delivered on September 5 to a most enthusiastic throng.

On the following day the President was driven to the Temple of Music, on the Exposition grounds, there to hold a public reception. The crowds were as great as ever, but perfectly orderly, and filed in at one side of the building and out at the other, each person in turn being permitted to grasp the Chief Magistrate's hand.

For a while all went well, and nobody noticed anything unusual about a somewhat weak-faced individual who joined the crowd, and who had one hand covered with a handkerchief. As this rascal came up to shake hands, he raised the hand with the handkerchief and, using a concealed pistol, fired two shots at President McKinley.

For an instant everybody was dazed. Then followed a commotion, and while some went to the wounded Executive's assistance, others leaped upon the dastardly assassin and made him a prisoner.

There was an excellent hospital upon the Exposition grounds, and to this President McKinley was carried. Here it was found that both bullets had entered his body, one having struck the breastbone and the other having entered the abdomen. The physicians present did all they possibly could for him, and then he was removed to the residence of Mr. Millburn, the President of the Exposition.

In the meantime, all unconscious of the awful happening that was to have such an influence upon his future, Mr. Roosevelt had been enjoying himself with his family, and helping to take care of the children that were not yet totally recovered from their illness. All seemed to be progressing finely, and he had gone off on a little tour to Vermont, to visit some points of interest and deliver a few addresses.

He was at Isle La Motte, not far from Burlington, when the news reached him that President McKinley had been shot. He had just finished an address, and for the moment he could not believe the sad news.

"Shot!" he said. "How dreadful!" And could scarcely say another word. He asked for the latest bulletin, and, forgetful of all else, took the first train he could get to Buffalo, and then hastened to the side of his Chief.

It was truly a sad meeting. For many years these two men had known each other, and they were warm friends. Their methods were somewhat different, but each stood for what was just and right and true, and each was ready to give his country his best service, no matter what the cost.

It was a sad time for the whole nation, and men and women watched the bulletins eagerly, hoping and praying that President McKinley might recover. Every hour there was some slight change, and people would talk it over in a whisper.

In a few days there were hopeful signs, and the physicians, deceived by them, said they thought the President would recover. This was glad news to Theodore Roosevelt. Yet he lingered on, fearful to go away, lest the news should prove untrue and he should be needed. But then there was a still brighter turn, and he thought of his own family, and of the fact that one of his children was again ill.

"I will return to my family," said he to two of his closest friends. "But if I am needed here, let me know at once." And his friends promised to keep him informed. Two days later he was back among the Adirondacks, in the bosom of his family.

The prayers of a whole nation were in vain. William McKinley's mission on earth was finished, and one week after he was shot he breathed his last. His wife came to bid him farewell, and so did his other relatives, and his friend of many years, Mark Hanna, and the members of his Cabinet.

"It is God's way," murmured the dying Executive. "His will be done, not ours." Then like a child going to sleep, he relapsed into unconsciousness, from which he did not recover. He died September 14, 1901, at a little after two o'clock in the morning.

It was the last of a truly great life. Illustrious men may come and go, but William McKinley will be remembered so long as our nation endures. As a soldier and a statesman he gave his best talents to better the conditions of his fellow-creatures, and to place the United States where we justly belong, among the truly great nations of the world.