Roosevelt’s ride into Truckee was a memorable one
October 17, 2005
Next week, Clay Jenkinson will portray President Theodore Roosevelt in a benefit for the Tahoe Forest Hospice. Roosevelt was one of several American Presidents who visited Truckee. The stop was not a long one, but was well remembered by Truckee residents.The hero of the 1898 charge on San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American war, Roosevelt was on a western U.S. tour in May of 1903 when he passed through Truckee on the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was very enthusiastically received in all of his California stops, which included Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, and Yosemite, before passing through Truckee.In his western tour, he spoke on themes that were familiar to Truckee residents. The subject of forest preservation was a popular one of Roosevelt’s quotes. The Truckee area before 1903 was a scene of vast timber cutting with little thought of conservation. In his San Francisco visit, he spent a great deal of time touring military facilities and honoring the U.S. Navy and Army personnel. This fit in with his view on the United States as a world leader and future superpower.Before coming to Truckee, Roosevelt spent four days in Yosemite Park. Roosevelt was instrumental in doubling the number of National Parks in the West,Whistle stop Truckee At the time, the only reliable and safe transportation for any president was a special train on the Southern Pacific Railroad. While his train sped through many towns without blinking, the stop in Truckee was more of a logistical one. The SP system at the time required all trains to stop in Truckee for locomotive changing, safety inspections, orders, water and coal.Roosevelt’s first trip through only briefly stopped in the Truckee railyard to change locomotives. The 6 a.m. time precluded any sighting of Roosevelt. The train continued to Reno for a brief appearance and then to an hour-long ceremony in Carson City.After a short speech in Reno, the presidential party headed back over the Sierra. The schedule called for an early afternoon stop in Truckee. The public itinerary did not even show Truckee, but since the train had to stop anyway, the President granted the request of Truckee citizens to give a short speech.A citizen’s committee had telegraphed Roosevelt’s secretary requesting a speech while the train was waiting. Roosevelt had agreed to speak from the rear of the car for a few moments. Roosevelt was preceded by a lead train full of secret service agents to secure the Truckee depot area. Truckee Constable William McDougald and his assistants Gus Schlumpf and Charles Ocker and a handful of special deputies were on hand to prevent any sign of disorder.A patriotic crowd A crowd gathered in Truckee hours before the train arrived, with a festive atmosphere throughout the town. Perhaps it was the largest gathering of people that ever assembled and they were anxious to see the President. The Truckee Nifty Band played their most patriotic music to warm the crowd up. The feelings of loyalty and patriotism that was characteristic of Americans were very apparent. The crowd contained people from Hobart Mills, Lake Tahoe and included many women and children.Roosevelt saw the large crowd and quickly agreed to give a full speech from the depot platform. He left his railcar, the train moved away and Theodore Roosevelt was introduced to local officials. A citizens committee led by Truckee Republican newspaper owner Frank Rutherford and Reverend G.H. Smith was introduced to the President.Then the enthusiastic crowd quieted and Roosevelt began his speech. For 20 minutes, far longer than planned, he pleased the Truckee citizens.He spoke of the varied resources in California and the Sierra Nevada, including conservation of the forests and the rivers. Apparently he didn’t realize that a great deal of Truckee’s forest had been clear cut, and the river had been abused by over-fishing and polluted by sawdust. The 1800s Western attitude was that forests were meant to cut to provide lumber for homes and businesses.Rutherford presented him with an Indian basket full of planted Donner Lake trout, and he also acknowledged the receipt of a 20 pound non-native Mackinaw trout from Lake Tahoe.Speaking to the hearts of TruckeeRoosevelt addressed the children directly, and complimented them on their appearances and the large number of children in the front of the crowd. The children were dressed in their Sunday best and were waving flags and banners. He spoke of the hopes, dreams and the futures of the children. Roosevelt had six of own children at the time.He continued on about the importance of good citizenship, talked of the virtues of honesty, industry, and the right to a successful life. He paid tribute to the labor force as the foundation of every virtue and the only true avenue of success in life. As Truckee was a workingman’s town, that was a very popular compliment.He spoke highly of the half dozen Civil War Veterans, members of the Grand Army Of The Republic, Truckee men who had served in the war four decades earlier. He complimented them on their noble and glorious achievements in holding the nation together.Roosevelt warmed the hearts of the many Truckee men who worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad when he compared the construction and operation of the railroad to the great battles of the Untied States. He referred to the former soldiers who continued to serve the country by working for the railroad system.The crowd applauded frequently during the speech, and at the conclusion Roosevelt was given a rousing three cheers. As he boarded the train he waved his hat to the crowd, All too soon the train carried the presidential party westward to continue his western tour.The people of Truckee enjoyed the rare honor of the U.S Presidential visit. It was only 23 minutes long but felt much longer to a small town.Clay Jenkinson will revive the memory of Theodore Roosevelt in his portrayal of the famous Truckee visitor.Gordon Richards is the President and Research Historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society website at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave a message at 530-582-0893. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at sierrasun.com. in the archives.