These three toms were taken within 10 minutes of each other in northwest Indiana by Gene Clifford, retired Local 4 Indiana/Kentucky bricklayer (left); Joe Valtolina, union Sheetmetal worker from the south suburbs of Chicago (right); and Tom McNabb, union dispatcher for Roadway Trucking. Send photos of your outdoor adventures with a detailed caption to firstname.lastname@example.org. Whoever submits the winning picture will receive a navy blue T.R. Sesquicentennial Hat.
That same week [as Roosevelt’s designation of declaring Pelican Island a Federal Bird Reservation], Roosevelt was busy with last-minute plans for a working vacation that would include stops at Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Calling it his “Western trek,” Roosevelt had mapped out a 66-day venture that to this day remains the longest, most elaborate cross-country journey ever taken by a sitting U.S. president. Desperate to sneak in some cougar (mountain lion) hunting around Yellowstone, Roosevelt was furiously corresponding with the park’s superintendent, Major John Pitcher, about obtaining a permit and arranging to have the proper hunting dogs available for him upon arrival. “I am still wholly at sea to whether I can take that trip or not,” Roosevelt wrote Pitcher. “[War] Secretary [Elihu] Root is afraid that a false impression might get out if I killed anything, even though it was killed … strictly under Park regulations and though it was only a mountain lion—that is, an animal of the kind you are endeavoring to thin out.”
Just to be safe, the president had Interior Secretary Ethan Hitchcock secretly smuggle three hunting dogs into Yellowstone from a Texas kennel. Roosevelt wrote Pitcher that if word leaked out to reporters that he was plotting 7 to 10 days of cougar shooting, the president would merely shelve the scheme and revert to studying “the game and going about on horseback, or if I get into trim, perhaps on snowshoes.” (As a backup, Roosevelt had the park’s game warden, Charles “Buffalo” Jones, round up even more dogs—two lots of cougar hounds from Aledo, Texas.)
Roosevelt wrote the famed naturalist John Burroughs that March to invite him to join him on the upcoming trip. Burroughs’s popular collections of homespun nature essays had sold millions of copies nationwide. But in the president’s letters he never once mentioned hunting in Yellowstone—even to say that his intention was to go after only cougars, which preyed upon the park’s elk herds. Instead, Roosevelt said he wanted to “see,” in liberal measure, the elk, deer, bears, and antelope. He ended his letter by promising he would make sure “that you endured neither fatigue or hardship.”
Roosevelt’s claim that he intended to kill cougars to help endangered elk had a ring of Good Samaritan to it. But this was a woefully naïve view of the predators’ role in the ecological order. The president knew all too well that cougars and coyotes weren’t a real problem in Yellowstone; he had just wanted to hunt them for fun. Furthermore, Roosevelt was right to be concerned about damaging his reputation by hunting anything in Yellowstone; Congress had begun to view his expensive hunting holidays with increasing disdain. And so, before he left on his sojourn, Roosevelt backpedaled and abandoned his hunting plans entirely. Pitcher would issue a stern statement declaring that the president’s gun, just like any citizen’s, would be sealed by the military when he entered the park. (Even so, as Burroughs would later write, “I did hear him say in the wilderness [of Yellowstone], ‘I feel as if I ought to keep the camp in meat. I always have.’ I regretted that he could not do so on this occasion.”)
What was becoming painfully obvious to the naturalist community was that the president had a bloodlust. For all of his promotion of egrets and pelicans and Kodiaks, Roosevelt preferred to kill big game. And the president never disputed the characterization, though he grew tired of constantly having to explain himself to animal-rights types. His inability to reconcile this penchant for the chase engendered among environmentalists a deep distrust toward him.
Quite simply, Roosevelt viewed all humans, with the exception of vegetarians, as active or passive agents in conservation because of their presence as predators—consumers of food. The hunter, at least, engaged the natural world directly through active culling and harvesting. Non-hunters, the president believed, risked damaging the circle of life because of their failure to recognize the genuine role humans played as a species. Hence, Roosevelt contended that ethical hunters were almost by default first-rate conservationists.