Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Theodore Roosevelt may be the namesake of the teddy bear, but he was anything but cuddly when it came to his mountain lion encounters on Colorado’s Western Slope.
The Feb. 15, 1901, edition of the Steamboat Pilot carried an account of a monthlong lion hunting expedition Roosevelt embarked upon outside Meeker in which he was reported to have killed 12 of the 17 lions taken by the hunting party, and four of those by knife.
I know what you’re thinking. How does anyone slay a cranky puma with a knife without getting cut to ribbons? And why would you even try?
The story that ran in the Pilot did not carry a byline, but it likely originated from the Rocky Mountain News. We can infer that because the article refers to the fact Roosevelt reached out to “the News” because he was unhappy with press accounts of his expedition.
“The governor is very indignant over the lies that have been published about his hunt. He wishes the News to say that his being treed by wolves, chased by bears and his killing deer to be absolutely false,” the article reported.
But the same article attributes a statement to hunting guide John Goff confirming that Roosevelt killed the last and largest lion of the hunt (227 pounds) “with his knife.”
The article alternately refers to Roosevelt as the colonel and the governor, which would have added up in February 1901.
When Roosevelt returned from leading the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill, he ran for and won the governorship of the state of New York. He was vice president-elect when he left for Meeker after running successfully as the running mate of William McKinley the previous autumn (presidential inaugurations took place in the spring at the turn of the 20th century).
Roosevelt could not have known at the time of the lion hunt that seven months later, he would become president himself — McKinley was shot in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 6, 1901, and died eight days later.
It wasn’t until a 1902 bear hunt in Missouri that Roosevelt inspired the teddy bear. That came about after a long, unproductive bear hunt, as recounted by the Theodore Roosevelt Association. Determined to locate a bear for the president, members of the hunting party chased, bludgeoned and tied an aging bear to a tree, and when Roosevelt caught up, they invited him to shoot the creature.
Roosevelt declined that opportunity but ordered that someone else put the bear out of his misery. So, we can rule out the likelihood that the lions Roosevelt is reputed to have dispatched with a blade were tied to trees and blindfolded.
But the stories leave us wondering, just how big was that knife?
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com