The words of TR

ML Berg


In view of the current discussion about a TR library for Medora, a brief peek at its history in the 1880s might add some poignancy to the matter.

In September 1885, TR was out hunting alone when he was approached by five Hidatsa men. He was understandably uneasy and somewhat wary, as one of the men rode up to him.

As TR wrote later, “I halted him at a fair distance and asked him what he wanted. He exclaimed, ‘How! Me good Injun, me good Injun,’ and he tried to show me the dirty piece of paper on which his agency pass was written.” (See Edmund Morris, ‘The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt’, page 306.)

In another passage, on tribal land claims, TR wrote “But as regards taking the land, at least from western Indians, the simple truth is that (the western Indians) never had any real ownership in it at all.” (See TR, ‘Hunting Trips of a Ranchman’,Volume 1, page 21.)

Of course, TR was living in the society of wealthy cattlemen when he resided in Billings County in the 1880s, which might go far to explain his written views, which he expressed at just that time.

Nevertheless, there were people living in Billings County at the same time who had much more humane views.

One such man was Lincoln Lang, who himself also wrote about his experiences there in a book he titled “Ranching with Roosevelt.”

Lincoln Lang had also been approached by a group of Hidatsa men, just like Roosevelt. But Lang’s response was much different and, given today’s values, much more refreshing. As he wrote on pages 137 and 138 of his book,

“Rather hesitatingly, it seemed, they rode up, one of them holding aloft what appeared to be a document of some kind. As it turned out, it was a passport of the invading White Man – symbol of Reservation slavery – beneficently entitling them to hunt for a couple of weeks in their own country. In their beloved Bad Lands – their stolen hunting grounds – where for aeons the race had hunted before he came; title to that which they held from God Almighty Himself.”

TR’s views don’t fare too well when compared with Lang’s views on the same topics, but these were the views TR held, when he lived in Billings County.

One final point might be mentioned. The TR library will be built, if it ever is built, on land that Lang said the tribes held title to from the hands of “God Almighty Himself” aeons ago.

Perhaps whoever is charged with constructing the library ought to involve the Three Affiliated Tribes every step of the way.

Until relatively recently (that is, July, 1880), they had indeed been the owners of the TR library land in the truest sense of ownership.