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Roosevelt's ties to Otter Tail County

Tom Hintgen/FOCUS Clay Jenkinson of Bismarck, N.D. played the role of Teddy Roosevelt during a meeting of the Otter Tail County Historical Society last Thursday evening.

Supporters of the Otter Tail County Museum went back in time last Thursday evening to 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt was in his final year as president of the United States.

Roosevelt, portrayed by Clay Jenkinson of Bismarck, N.D., addressed a gathering at M State's Legacy Hall in Fergus Falls, Minn.

Close to 250 people were in attendance during the 85th annual meeting of the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

In this area of the country, Roosevelt is widely known for his residency at Medora, in western North Dakota, prior to becoming president. The land was part of Dakota Territory when Roosevelt, in his 20s, was there as a rancher in the 1880s. On the banks of the Little Missouri River, Roosevelt learned to ride western style, rope and hunt.

Roosevelt even had ties to Otter Tail County. He purchased cattle from several farms in this area.

"It was still the wild west in those days," said Jenkinson as he assumed the role of Roosevelt, "and the land of wild spaces. The stars shown gloriously each night in Dakota Territory."

Roosevelt said that his years in Dakota Territory helped shape, more than anything, his preparedness for the presidency.

Jenkinson quoted Roosevelt and said, "For me the joy of work and meaning of integrity were formed in Dakota Territory. We knew toil, hardship, hunger and thirst as we walked among the cattle."

The 26th president, in his early years of life, battled asthma and other afflictions. He was educated on the East Coast, was a war hero during the Spanish American War, served as governor of New York and was vice president for William McKinley. Roosevelt became president in 1901, after McKinley was assassinated.

On Sept. 2, 1901, at the Minnesota State Fair, Roosevelt first spoke the words he later became known for, "Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far."

During his presidency, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments. He also established five national parks, 51 wildlife refuges and 150 national forests. The Grand Canyon, in its present form, would not exist today had it not been for the preservation efforts of Roosevelt.

In closing, Jenkinson talked about visiting his late grandparents, Richard and Rhoda Straus who farmed on the south side of Fergus Falls. He especially recalls his grandmother and her love for baking, gardening, canning and quilting.

Jenkinson, in addition to public speaking, is an author who has served as director of The Dakota Institute through The Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation. He is chief consultant to The Theodore Roosevelt Center through Dickinson State University and is a Distinguished Humanities Scholar at Bismarck State College.