The Wilderness Hunter (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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A far cry from his New York City upbringing, the Dakota Bad Lands became Theodore Roosevelt's stomping grounds when he moved to a ranch on the northern cattle plains. During this stage of his life he tracked giant grizzly bears through the mountains and wrote his account of these magnificent animals in The Wilderness Hunter. Published in1893, it is one of the most comprehensive stories of the grizzlies' private life ever told.
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The Wilderness Hunter (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

A far cry from his New York City upbringing, the Dakota Bad Lands became Theodore Roosevelt's stomping grounds when he moved to a ranch on the northern cattle plains. During this stage of his life he tracked giant grizzly bears through the mountains and wrote his account of these magnificent animals in The Wilderness Hunter. Published in1893, it is one of the most comprehensive stories of the grizzlies' private life ever told.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) went from a sickly child in New York City to Rough Rider, U.S. president, conservationist, American hero. Among his many accomplishments, Roosevelt was the youngest president, at 43 years old; lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War; a Nobel Peace Prize winner; and an integral supporter of the Panama Canal. Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most beloved American figures, was also the inspiration for the teddy bear.
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Introduction

All hunters should be nature lovers.
-- Theodore Roosevelt


With its wealth of exciting scenes and vivid characters, The Wilderness Hunter depicts the final years of the Western frontier, as well as a crucial period in the life of an extraordinary American, Theodore Roosevelt. The book is as multifaceted as its author -- an outdoor-adventure story, a natural-history study, and a local-color narrative, with elements of what was then an emerging new genre of writing, the Western. Already recognized as a major historian of frontier expansion when he published The Wilderness Hunter in 1893, Roosevelt captures an unforgettable portrait of the late nineteenth century in the plains region and Rocky Mountains. Cowboys, Indians, outlaws, mountain men, and wildlife of all varieties inhabit its pages. Yet as was true of many of his writings, The Wilderness Hunter is ultimately mostly about Roosevelt himself. The book reflects how the attitudes and hardships of the West infused his mind and body, transforming him from an aristocratic sportsman into a Rough Rider. Above all, The Wilderness Hunter reveals the deep and abiding attachment to nature that would later blossom into President Roosevelt's strong policies on behalf of conservation, with lasting consequences for generations of Americans up to the present day.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was one of the most fascinating and complex figures in American history. He was born into the highest circles of New York society, yet his personality and charisma endeared him to people in all walks of life. First made famous by his exploits in the Spanish-American War, his heroism was acknowledged in 2001 with a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor. Roosevelt's long career of public service included such offices as New York City police commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy, governor of New York State, and both vice president and president of the United States. His tenure in the White House (1901-09) became the template for the modern presidency. In addition to landmark measures for environmental conservation, his administration was distinguished by initiatives on behalf of consumer protection, regulation of corporate misconduct, a naval arms buildup, and the construction of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. After leaving the White House, he continued his lifelong enjoyment of hunting and the outdoors, leading expeditions to Africa and South America. Roosevelt died shortly after the end of World War I, having spent his final years as a private citizen seeking to rally an unprepared nation for war.

Like the Two-Ocean Pass where he stalks game in Chapter X, with its streams running to opposite ends of the continent, the Western landscape represented a crossroads in the eventful life of Theodore Roosevelt. Ten years before The Wilderness Hunter was published, he had discovered the Dakota Badlands during a brief hunting trip to the region in search of bison. Roosevelt was twenty-five years old then, a budding New York State legislator, and a father-to-be. The prospects of the strange and compelling place seemed as limitless as his own, and he decided to invest a sizable portion of his patrimony in a cattle ranching operation on the Little Missouri River. It was to this place that Roosevelt fled less than a year later after his life was riven by the deaths of both his mother and his wife (on the same day) and by the apparent end of his political career some months later. "It is curious how certain things go to the bad in the Far West," his friend the naturalist John Burroughs once wrote; but the young Roosevelt did not allow himself to become one of them. As The Wilderness Hunter shows, he took up the hard challenge of ranching, earning the reputation that would later draw cowboy volunteers to his regiment at the crisis-point of the Spanish-American War. He also turned to writing, in part to support a growing family after he remarried in 1886 and in part to give expression to his experiences in the Western outdoors. The Wilderness Hunter was the apex of an outpouring of books on such themes that included Hunting Trips of a Ranchman (1885) and Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail (1888). By the time The Wilderness Hunter appeared, Roosevelt was fully established in the highest social, political, scientific, and literary circles of Washington -- poised for greatness.

In those years he was a civil service commissioner, and no doubt the allure of his frontier sojourn seemed all the greater in comparison to his workaday existence. In The Wilderness Hunter and other writings, Roosevelt generalized his experiences into the notion of the frontier as a bracing tonic for the national character. He very much believed in what has come to be known as the frontier myth, that the frontier instilled the essential democratic virtues of independence and self-reliance in all who would succeed there -- what Roosevelt chose to term manliness. The well-born Roosevelt was ever at pains to remind his readers that he, too, was a striver, a self-made man who had once been a sickly child. He was able to win respect and status in the loose-knit community of the cattle range through feats of daring, strength, and endurance, very much in accordance with the code of the West. In reality, however, matters were not so simple: no one, especially Theodore Roosevelt, could leave his past entirely behind when he came to the frontier. He epitomized one of the frontier types that peopled his work The Winning of the West (1894) -- the gentry, men of good lineage who nonetheless asked no favors and worked for success through their individual talents. In fact, with his own social position and finances secured at a safe distance, Roosevelt could afford to be a risk-taker in the wilderness, whereas his commoner companions, with everything to lose, could not. Roosevelt's obvious wealth and education must also have weighed heavily in his relations with the locals, once they assured themselves that he was not merely a touring dude. He was named chair of the stockman's association and mentioned prominently as a candidate for senator. His ranching venture may have failed financially after the catastrophic winter of 1886-87, but success, for him, was to be measured in less tangible ways, especially, in newfound strength of body and mind. Having lived it, Roosevelt internalized the frontier myth and made it an organizing principle for his vision of America and its history, elevating individual striving like his own into a racial epic, in which hardy Anglo-Saxons left behind degenerate Europe, bested nature, and overpowered the barbarous tribes that lay in their path. If the West thus offered the opportunity for exceptional men to build an exceptional country, then the frontier myth must be true.

Certainly Roosevelt's contemporary audience wanted it to be true, as revealed by the popularity of books like The Wilderness Hunter or Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902), Frederic Remington's artwork, or Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows. In response to the growing market for such works -- and profiting from Roosevelt's rising fame after 1898 -- the original 1893 version of The Wilderness Hunter was divided into two shorter books, one with the same title (the present edition) and the other entitled Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches (1900). All of these "Old West" cultural productions gained poignancy from the widespread sense that the frontier era was passing away forever, as historian Frederick Jackson Turner announced in an epochal paper only months before the original Wilderness Hunter appeared. Roosevelt gave voice to the sentiment in his 1913 autobiography, viewing his ranching days as "gone to the isle of ghosts and of strange dead memories." How to maintain the national character in a post-frontier world became a central concern of Roosevelt's art as well as his politics. His famous prescription, the so-called strenuous life, looked outward to a policy of overseas expansion backed by an assertive militarism, yet also focused inward on the personal cultivation of individual citizens, particularly, white men like himself of the professional middle and upper classes. Anxious over their status -- their manhood -- in an era of corporate desk jobs, cities thronged with immigrants, and changing sexual mores, these men formed the core of the audience for Roosevelt's preachments. Could they still muster themselves to rule the increasingly polyglot and disorderly society beneath them? In answer, Roosevelt urged his compatriots to pursue outdoor sports and recreation, and of these, no other sport promised such benefits as a training ground for national character as did big-game hunting. The very virtues that had been fostered on the frontier -- "individual initiative. . .hardihood. . .self-reliant readiness" -- could also be inculcated, he believed, by a "hard hunting trip." It was a very masculine world that Roosevelt described in The Wilderness Hunter and his other works on outdoor life (in which women scarcely appear), and indeed, he thought that any good hunter would also make a good soldier. His hunter seeks mastery within a Darwinian nature divided between predators and prey, a place of struggle and death. Coming away from such confrontations and returning to ordinary society, the hunter was strengthened in every moral fiber to engage in the serious work of business and politics, and more broadly, in the maintenance of Anglo-Saxon predominance. Through hunting and other forms of the strenuous life lay the salvation of the race.

The verdict of history upon these notions of Roosevelt's has been mixed. To twenty-first century sensibilities, his view of the human-nature relationship might seem somewhat hard and grim, and Roosevelt himself rather bloodthirsty. He admired guns and since boyhood was proficient in their use. By unofficial count, he personally killed over one hundred different animals during the numerous trips described in The Wilderness Hunter. He clearly enjoyed the process, and even pitched in to skin, dress, and prepare trophies, which in their dozens came to cover the walls of Sagamore Hill and the White House. He was of his time in his belief that wolves and coyotes were pests to be exterminated, and for him the epitome of sports was the hunting of wolves with greyhounds, which usually ended in a horrifying melee. Roosevelt's anthropocentric concept of nature, to be sure, had little room for those who would "sentimentalize" animals. While president, he engaged in a famous literary feud with several popular authors (including Jack London) whom he deemed "nature fakers" for writing in this vein, and their replies charged him, president or not, with callousness and brutality. Roosevelt's ally in the dispute, John Burroughs, defended him as a lifelong nature lover and a world-renowned authority on game animals who based his criticisms on scientific observations.

Paradoxically, both sides were correct, both grasping complexities in Roosevelt's personality. He was an aggressive, physically courageous man who sought challenges and obstacles in nature, and who liked to triumph over them. Often elusive and sometimes threatening, big-game animals pushed his skills and stamina to their limits, and it was satisfying when the contest was his. (The very structure of this edition of The Wilderness Hunter reflects his predilection: chapter after chapter, the quarry increases in size or difficulty, and the setting shifts from the relatively easy going on the plains to the travails of the alpine wilderness.) At the same time, Roosevelt most assuredly possessed a scientific as well as an aesthetic attachment to nature. He had grown up an avid amateur naturalist and had considered a professional career in science until close to the end of his college years. A scientific perspective might have contributed to his objective and clinical relationship to animals (he had practiced his share of taxidermy), yet it also increased his sense of wonder and deepened his appreciation of animal behavior and anatomy. The Wilderness Hunter and Roosevelt's other outdoor writings are filled with such observations, which frequently wax toward the lyrical. At those moments Roosevelt expressed his "genuine love of all forms of wild life," as Burroughs put it. That love led him as an outdoorsman to collect not only trophies but experiences in nature, exhilarating, liberating, and yes, primal experiences: thrills of the hunt.

Conjoined with his persistent worries over post-frontier American society, love of wildlife also moved Roosevelt toward a commitment to conservation. Far from being bloodthirsty (the head-count of The Wilderness Hunter notwithstanding), Roosevelt believed that hunters must be guided by a sense of responsibility and self-control when pursuing game, that they must exercise proper sportsmanship, in short. The frequent refrain in The Wilderness Hunter that he went hunting only to supply his ranch with meat reflects Roosevelt's self-consciousness of this issue. He wanted to be perceived as a good sportsman, and he heeded the change in attitudes toward nature that was occurring in American culture as a whole in this period, tempering exploitation with more humane, more biocentric impulses. Roosevelt himself embodied that transition in thinking. It was an extension of his strong penchant toward moralizing, his ideal of fair play, and his deserved reputation for being chaste and prim in his personal conduct. Hunters must restrain their baser impulses, their bloodlust, wantonness, and greed, in the interests not only of the animals but of other hunters, Roosevelt argued. They should be on their honor to hunt in season, within prescribed limits, and by approved methods. To do otherwise would have dire consequences for game-animal populations, and deprive future generations of the opportunity to test and edify themselves on a "hard hunting trip." Roosevelt had ample lessons as both a hunter and a naturalist to illustrate the results of uncontrolled killing. The last two large remnant herds of bison had been exterminated nearby only weeks before when he arrived at the Badlands in hopes of bagging his own in 1883; he was left with only the stragglers. Many years later, he was delighted to observe a flock of passenger pigeons passing through his Pine Knot retreat in Virginia, at a time when they were already regarded as extinct. He did not reach for his gun.

Well before the publication of The Wilderness Hunter, Roosevelt came to understand that the individual honor and conscience of the sports enthusiast, while important means toward wildlife conservation, were not enough. Roosevelt had never been more than a part-time rancher or outdoorsman, but he was a full-time politician and reformer. Early in his legislative career, he supported measures to preserve the Adirondack forest in upstate New York. In 1887, with George Bird Grinnell and others similarly minded, he helped to found the Boone and Crockett Club in New York City, dedicated to promoting good sportsmanship and protecting game and wildlife. Roosevelt served as the club's president from 1888 to 1893. The well-heeled group lobbied at the state and national level, securing stricter game laws and pressing Congress on milestone legislation like the Forest Reserve Act (1891), an agenda to which Roosevelt alludes in The Wilderness Hunter. Settled in Washington on the Civil Service Commission, he particularly concerned himself with an 1894 law improving the condition of Yellowstone National Park, a place that he visited numerous times in his life. Of his later unprecedented environmental record as president -- creating and expanding the National Forest System with Gifford Pinchot, establishing numerous national parks and national monuments -- one accomplishment is especially noteworthy since it occurred on the watch of so avid a hunter (his trips, though fewer, continued even during his White House years). Over fifty wildlife refuges were instituted during Roosevelt's administration, beginning in 1903 at Pelican Island in Florida and including others such as the Wichita Mountains refuge in Oklahoma, where a small number of bison were immediately shipped to form the foundation of a new herd.

Theodore Roosevelt once mused to a friend that if he had to lose all of the memories of his busy lifetime save one, he would choose the period that he had spent among frontiersmen on his Dakota ranch, living close to nature. Setting aside its social and political undertones, and its foreshadowing of later achievements, The Wilderness Hunter conveys the profound impact that those years had on Roosevelt as an individual, when a grief-stricken man found solace in "the glory of work and the joy of living," as he recalled in his autobiography. Roosevelt declared that he wanted The Wilderness Hunter to be "a plea for manliness and simplicity and delight in a vigorous outdoor life," and for his purposes, the "slaughter of the game. . .is subsidiary after all." Ultimately, The Wilderness Hunter continues to speak to later generations of readers, hunters and non-hunters alike, because it succeeds in capturing, as Roosevelt hoped, "the feeling that the wilderness. . .leaves on one."

Robert L. Dorman holds a Ph.D. in American history from Brown University. He is the author of A Word for Nature: Four Pioneering Environmental Advocates, 1845-1913.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2008

    A must read for Teddy fans

    This book is full of wonderful stories about memorable hunts that Theodore Roosevelt had taken over the years. He describes hunting every different kind of large game in North America. A great read for anyone that enjoys Teddy's writings or an excellent starter for someone new to his works.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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