A charismatic progressive and war hero, Theodore Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in 1898, to become a fighter of monopoly and an advocate of corporate taxation, scandalizing those who had financed his campaign. Too popular to object, in 1900 wealthy New Yorkers ousted Roosevelt from the governor’s mansion, recruiting him to a largely ceremonial position as Wm. McKinley’s Vice President. Much to their horror, McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and Roosevelt became president.
The Roosevelt administration coined the word “conservationism” for the protection of national wildlife areas, national parks, and national forests. A forest convention led by Gilbert Pinchot tried to promote selective harvesting, to stop the ecological damage caused by clear cutting. But conservation drew a strong backlash from logging, mining and oil interests, who felt Roosevelt was locking up valuable resources in what amounted to oversized picnic grounds, while increasing the cost of extracting the materials.
So Roosevelt decided to take his case directly to the public, with a 1903 tour of the west and its natural wonders. He traveled in his 70-foot-long “Elysian” presidential wagon. In Yellowstone National Park, he denounced the excesses of unnecessary sport hunting. He took a horseback ride through the Grand Canyon and later cited the looting of native artifacts as the reason for creating national monuments at Chaco Canyon and Gila Cliff Dwelling. He entered California and toured the flowery coastal mission towns, then arrived at the Del Monte Hotel on May 10 and spent the day touring the landscaped grounds.
Santa Cruz County
The next morning, Roosevelt stopped briefly at Pajaro, then at Watsonville. Roosevelt said his senate gavel was made of Santa Cruz redwood, manzanita, and oak, and onlookers pointed to the mill where it was made. He left soon after, not realizing that one offhand remark would provoke a worldwide reaction. Roosevelt declared that American influence must now extend across the Pacific Ocean, causing European colonies to question whether he was expanding the reach of the Monroe Doctrine.
Roosevelt passed through Seabright, entering Santa Cruz through the San Lorenzo River. He saw a huge, rainbow-striped tent city at the corner of Cliff and Beach streets, recently built to house the excess guests who wanted to see the president. It was so popular that Tent City became a permanent attraction. At 9:45 a.m. his train arrived at crowded Union Station, where the Hastings Band played “Hail to the Chief.” The station was adorned with a real Christmas tree in the redwood forest.
Ten cars formed a procession of dignitaries, with Roosevelt in the lead car, accompanied by former Lieutenant Governor Wm. T. Jeter and local naturalist HS Deming. The motorcade traveled up Beach Hill to view the waterfront. The 70-foot-tall tabernacle at Garfield Park Christian Campground was spotted on the horizon from West Cliff Terrace, as Garfield’s son James , was Roosevelt’s Home Secretary. Driving along Third Street, they joined the Hastings group on the flats north of Beach Hill, as they had not climbed the hill for fear of being too out of breath to play.
The procession then moved up a Pacific Avenue shrouded in flags, streamers and paper lanterns, decorations organized by Samuel Leask, SA Palmer and TW Kelly. The President stood in his car and gracefully bowed to the cheering crowd. At the crossroads of Lincoln Street, the children flooded the route with flower petals, roses and ferns. Students from the Catholic school held up a painting of the Mission of Santa Cruz. And Walnut Street seminary and trade school students lined the block.
At the junction of Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street, a banner painted with poppies proclaimed “Welcome to Santa Cruz” beside the beautiful new courthouse. The crowd gathered around a speaker platform with a large American flag canopy and a frame of flowers. Mayor David C. Clark introduced the President, who said a nation bordered by two oceans needed a modern naval fleet, so his policies would be taken seriously. Only a month before, in Chicago, Roosevelt had quoted the West African proverb “Speak softly, but carry a big stick”, and the warships were the Big Stick.
Roosevelt praised the preservation of historic monuments, but said his greatest admiration was in the preservation of natural wonders. Thus, he praised those local men and women who sought to preserve pristine groves of redwoods.
“Take down one of these giants and you cannot take its place. Nature was its architect, and we owe it to ourselves and our children’s children to preserve them. … We should ensure that no man, for speculative ends or for mere temporary use, destroys the groves of great trees. Where the individual and associations cannot preserve them, then the State, and if necessary the nation , must intervene and ensure their preservation.
When Roosevelt finished, FA Hihn, the president of the Santa Cruz Pioneers Society, recognized Roosevelt’s pioneering spirit as a cowboy, explorer, and naturalist. Hihn presented the president with an engraved silver plaque and lapel pin, making Roosevelt an honorary member of the Santa Cruz Pioneers. He also received a silk rosette holding a ribbon designed by local artist/teacher Lillian Howard, with the word “Roosevelt” over an image of redwoods. At the narrow gauge station (now the Goodwill site on Union Street), the President boarded the rig, to the applause of UC Berkeley students. Only 89 guests wearing a Roosevelt ribbon were admitted. The train had been decorated by the Girls of the Golden West, with different floral themes in each car. The “Barber Car” was so called because the chairs swiveled and tilted like barber chairs.
Grove of tall trees
They were the first redwoods Roosevelt had ever seen, and he marveled at their majesty as they passed through the wild Rincon Gorge. The tracks above what is now Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park were then called Big Trees Station, where locals from towns in the San Lorenzo Valley greeted him.
Roosevelt was escorted to breakfast under the redwoods by Fred Swanton, placing him at the head of a table that included Secretary of the Navy Wm. Moody, Mayor Clark, UC President Benjamin Ide Wheeler, and President of Columbia Nicholas Butler, with Fred Swanton and elderly Sentinel reporter Josephine Clifford McCrackin nearby.
The fog gave way to rays of sunshine in the cathedral grove. The meal consisted of grilled steaks from councilor FR Walti, beans cooked by Jose Maria Guieres, the mother of 34 children, and coffee prepared by former mayor Gustav Bowman.
Roosevelt said, “This is the best steak I’ve had since I was a cowboy! Then came local strawberries and a cake with Santa Cruz wines. High school girls dressed in white served the meal, while the Hastings Band sang the serenade.
Roosevelt was impressed by fellow bird-lover Josephine McCrackin. She had lost her home to a forest fire in 1899, but realized that these ancient groves were irreplaceable, needed centuries to grow, and would disappear forever if left at the mercy of logging and forest fires. forest. She joined others in the effort to save Big Basin in 1902 as Redwood’s first national park.
At the insistence of the high school girls, Roosevelt gave a speech congratulating Santa Cruz for saving these magnificent trees.
“But let me preach to you for a moment,” he added, blaming the tourist tradition for littering a tree trunk with pasted-on business cards. “The maps lend an air of ridiculousness to this solemn and majestic grove.”
At the president’s request, he and Columbia University President Butler visited the grove alone, without a crowd or entourage. At one point, Roosevelt lay down to get a better look up at these amazing trees. Each tree bore a nameplate, one being the “McKinley”, which Roosevelt considered a moving tribute to his running mate. When Roosevelt returned from his 15-minute walk, he found that cooks Walti and McCormick, presidential secretary Wm. Loeb Jr., and UC president Wheeler had removed all of the business cards from the despoiled tree. Then on another tree a plaque was unveiled dedicating it to Roosevelt. Roosevelt thanked them, but said he would prefer a small tag on a pole.
From Santa Cruz, Roosevelt went to San Jose, then to San Francisco, and finally to Yosemite, where he lived alone with John Muir for three days of hiking and camping. The two hit it off, but Muir opposed conservation for future resource extraction, believing the scenic beauty was reason enough for permanent preservation. Just as the 1906 earthquake rocked San Francisco, Roosevelt rocked Washington that year with an avalanche of national parks and preserves. A rider inserted into a 1907 farm finance bill sought to revoke the power to establish national reserves by presidential decree. Rather than stop it, Roosevelt stepped up before the bill became law, securing a total of 80 million acres in national forests, including 14 million in California.
He doubled the number of national parks from five to 10, adding four historic parks and recreation areas, more than any other president.