Famed scholar, author and historian Clay Jenkinson visited Salida Friday evening Oct. 14, speaking to supporters of Friends of Browns Canyon National Monument in the Salida High School Auditorium at a fundraiser for the group. He appeared as President Theodore Roosevelt, and the event was well attended due to Jenkinson’s widely known weekly show on National Public Radio, The Thomas Jefferson Hour.
Friends of Browns Canyon President Keith Baker introduced Jenkinson, or rather Roosevelt, as the “Conservation President.” During the evening, Jenkinson didn’t shy away from potentially controversial modern-day political topics, but approached them instead from a sociological viewpoint and, at times, garnered laughs from the audience.
Dressed as Roosevelt in a black top hat, mustache and black coat, Jenkinson described the 26th president as the “writing-est president in history,” referring to the 40 books he authored. Jenkinson said the only other president who wrote nearly as many books, John Quincy Adams (who published 12 books) didn’t compare, because the books were “unreadable.”
Jenkinson mentioned the President’s rather violent visit to Victor in 1900 where rocks were thrown at him and guns were fired in protest of his stop in the Colorado town. In spite of it being the most barbarous stop on the campaign trail as a vice presidential candidate, Jenkinson said Roosevelt was “not a coward” and enjoyed “standing up to ruffians.”
Roosevelt was on top of Mount Marcy, the highest point in New York state, when he got the news that then President William McKinley had been shot and that he would now become President. A bona fide war hero, Jenkinson as Roosevelt said he was happiest when he was outside on his ranch and spoke fondly of camp coffee, baked beans and squatting before a fire. “We would tell stories and wait for the endless dusk of the West.… That’s America. That’s what made us what we are. We can’t let that slip away.”
Jenkinson said the National Parks Roosevelt established gave Americans a chance to be like George Rogers Clark and Daniel Boone. As Roosevelt, he called Salida a town of “extremists” and said even they should spend more time squatting around a fire. “Do something. Build something. See something. Shoot something. But go restore your spirit.”
During his term, Roosevelt doubled the number of sites within the National Parks system and added 150,000,000 acres to the National Forests, 13 of which are in Colorado, Jenkinson said. Roosevelt named the first 18 National Monuments, and under executive order, he created the National Wildlife Refuges, designating the first 51 of them in the United States. In all, he saw 230,000,000 acres of public domain set aside for permanent protection.
Jenkinson spoke of congressional stalls, compromises and compensation tactics during Roosevelt’s presidency and referenced the nation’s “Roosevelt Fatigue” late in his second term. In spite of the fact that Roosevelt said he “carried this country kicking and screaming into the world arena” in regards to diplomacy, he was the first U.S. President to win the Nobel Peace Prize. “People didn’t always agree with me, but they knew I said what I meant and meant what I said. I kept my word.”
A number of children were in attendance for the Friends of Brown’s Canyon event and one questioned Jenkinson as Roosevelt as to what it felt like to hit the bar gunslinger that he’d encountered on his travels. He said his father taught him to avoid a fight, but if he found himself in one to hit hard enough to make sure the other man can’t get up. The thing he said he wanted to do most in life was to please his father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr.
When he was asked to address the influence of money in modern day politics, Jenkinson as Roosevelt said it was true even in his day. “It was always the case and will always be the case… I like money but I am against malefactors of wealth. I don’t mind unless they are cheating.”
With a clear reference to the upcoming November elections of 2016, Roosevelt (Jenkinson) said he was never accused of groping any women, not even his wife Edith. “If you want to change the world and lead the country, have high moral standards and a clean background so no one can get at you.”
Regarding political candidates, Jenkinson as the former President encouraged voters to ask the candidate what they plan to do while in office, and said if they can’t respond, retire them immediately. “The answer is to find someone who can’t be bought. In a nation of 325 million people, surely you can do better.”
Jenkinson lives in Bismarck, North Dakota and he grew up on the state’s western plains, not far from Roosevelt’s Badlands. As he finished his presentation, Jenkinson said he loves Salida, and has been visiting the area for 25 years. He referenced meeting former Colorado Central Magazine editor and Denver Post writer Ed Quillen and author Kent Haruf. He admonished Salidans to never take themselves for granted as he has found more authentic people in the small Colorado mountain town than anywhere else in his travels.
At the close of the evening, Friends of Brown’s Canyon board member Reed Dils presented Jenkinson with a framed photograph from Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, one of Jenkinson’s favorite historic spots along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
by Ericka Kastner