Remembering Teddy's three trips to S.A.

By Richard A. Marini

January 26, 2015, Updated: March 26, 2015 3:57pm

Picured Above: Theodore Roosevelt working at a desk inside his tent in San Antonio during the training of the Rough Riders.
  • Photo: William Luther /San Antonio Express-News
  • Photo: John Davenport / San Antonio Express-News
  • Photo: Courtesy Photo / Kathleen Betty
  • Photo: UTSA Special Libraries Collections

In his lifetime, Teddy Roosevelt visited San Antonio three times, once as a hunter, once a soldier and once as president.

During Roosevelt’s most famous visit, in May of 1898, the newly resigned assistant secretary of the Navy spent little more than three weeks here training the Rough Riders, officially the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, in preparation for fighting in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

Roosevelt’s arrival by train on the morning of May 15 was described with soaring rhetoric by the San Antonio Daily Express, an early iteration of the Express-News.

“He has been a western plainsman, a New York businessman, a reformer, a politician, and author and several other things,” the story read. “But above all he is an American gentleman and a patriot.”

They were commonly known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, but the volunteer regiment, made up primarily of college athletes, cowboys, and ranchers recruited from across the country, were under the command of Col. Leonard Wood, one-time physician to Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley. Roosevelt had been offered the command but declined, citing his lack of combat experience.

The soldiers trained just south of downtown in what was then known as Riverside Park, crowds often gathering to watch them drill. When off-duty, soldiers often came into town to sightsee and for other reasons. They attracted attention wherever they went.

“(The soldiers) were as highly interested in San Antonio and the ways of Texas as San Antonio was in them,” read one newspaper report.

To say farewell before the regiment broke camp, the city held a patriotic concert during which a band played the adopted regimental anthem, “There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”

The night came to a comedic end when one of the celebratory gunshots fired into the air clipped an electrical wire and plunged the campsite into darkness.

The previous time Roosevelt came to South Texas was in April 1892 when he hunted peccaries, or javalina, with a friend named John Moore.

In his memoir “The Wilderness Hunter,” he tells of spending two days fruitlessly searching for game on a ranch in Frio. When a passing cowboy mentioned that the nearby Nueces River was lousy with the little wild hogs, Roosevelt headed right over (a six-hour journey), eventually bagging a pair of the beasts. The mounted head of at least one still hangs in his home at Sagamore Hill on Long Island.

Roosevelt's final visit to San Antonio occurred in 1905 shortly after he was elected to his first full presidential term (he became president Sept. 14, 1901 when President William McKinley was assassinated) when he attended a Rough Riders reunion. Approximately 50 veterans of the regiment showed up for a chance to re-live the glory days.

Between public appearances including a review of the troops at Fort Sam Houston, a speech in Alamo Plaza and a visit to the old training grounds at Riverside Park, Roosevelt’s two-day trip included plenty of private time with his comrades. This included a lunch and private meeting the afternoon of the second day and what must have been an emotional farewell later that night in the Menger.

Roosevelt’s popularity was fully reflected in the lurid enthusiasm of newspaper coverage of his visit.

“With a warmth and feeling that cannot be described and which the most vivid imagination cannot exaggerate, San Antonio opened her arms to him and received him into the most sacred depths of the civic heart,” read one Daily Express article.

Today Roosevelt’s visits, in particular the one in 1898, are commemorated at several locations in the area. The most famous are the displays of artifacts and reproductions from the era in the Menger Bar and throughout the hotel’s public areas. It’s often claimed that Roosevelt and Wood recruited Rough Riders there, but most had already been training in San Antonio for several weeks by the time TR arrived.

Riverside Park’s name was briefly changed to Roosevelt Park, but today the land where soldiers drilled is now the municipal Riverside Golf Coursebuilt in 1930. The only monument to the era is a stone marker located on the shoulder of Roosevelt Avenue outside the golf course fence. It honors veterans of the Spanish-American War and make no specific mention of Roosevelt or the Rough Riders.

Nearby, a long-missing plaque on a historical monument dedicated to Teddy Roosevelt was recently replaced and restored on the ground of the Lighthouse for the Blind just south of the golf course. Original erected in 1935 by area Boy Scouts, the plaque, embedded in a rock fountain, reads “In memory of Theodore Roosevelt, 'Scout Citizen’ who organized the Rough Riders in this vicinity May 1898.”

The restoration was spearheaded by San Antonio Conservation Society associate member Kenneth Johnson, with help from the Conservation Society, Lighthouse for the Blind and Boy Scouts from several local troops.

Roosevelt Park, also located on Roosevelt Avenue, was named for the 26th president, although there are no markers or other memorials on the site.

rmarini@express-news.net

Twitter: @RichardMarini

 

Original Article Located Here: http://www.expressnews.com/150years/leaders/article/When-T-R-visited-S-A-6041228.php#photo-6882068