In 1908, on this day George Washington Miller was pleased to announce that retired Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders would be accompanying the 101 Ranch Wild West Show on their forthcoming tour to Mexico City.
Catharsis in Mexico CityThe programme of events had originally featured steer-wrestling in which the cow-boy bit the beast's nose and upper lip before pinning it to the ground. Miller had considered adapting this wrestling for the Mexican audience by replacing the steer with a bull, but had recently been advised that in fact bull fighting was more of a mental than a physical contest of wills.
That advice had come from another evergreen cow-boy, a man never short of a crazy idea, Roosevelt himself.
"Something is missing in this harsh world" ~ TR's Diary EntryIn fact TR had been kicking his unspurred heels for the most of the previous decade and was bored to distraction. He proposed a thrilling show featuring his "Rough Riders", the name bestowed on the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, one of three such regiments raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War and the only one of the three to see action. TR sold Miller on a feature that would eclipse the other Wild West Show which was even now running another swash-buckling adventure writ large in the American psyche, the Little Big Horn featuring the ageing George Armstrong Custer. The letter ommitted to mention a small factual point (never a strength of TR's), that the Rough Riders had not been provisioned with horses, and in no sense could be described either as cavalry, or even riders.
"How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? How can a loser ever win?" ~ Al GreenA few months later, Miller desperately wished that he had stuck with the original nonsense. His neighbor Major Gordon W. Lillie, who performed as Pawnee Bill, proudly declared "Alturas de San Juan!" before introducing a stage managed and highly fictionalised version of Roosevelt's horsed men racing up San Juan Hill to sweep all before them.
The problem with this cow-boys and indians farce was of course that the mostly Hispanic audience was simply horrified by the scenes they were witnessing. Which was not to say that the occasion was a disaster, because the audience's reaction shocked Roosevelt out of his despair and presented him with a fresh opportunity to turn his own life around.
A sickly child, he had enjoyed a brief moment of glory in Cuba before returning to an unhappy and unfulfilling existence in the States. The cause of that sorrow was the death of his first wife Alice and since his remarriage, his troubled relationship with their child of the same name, whose birth had led to the tragedy. During her formative years he had failed to communicate effectively and also managed to project his frustration and sense of loss upon her. Outwardly larger than life, he flashed his winning smile at all but his daughter who inevitably developed her own sense of resentment.
Quitting Mexico City, a wiser TR set his eyes upon a new and infinitely more difficult challenge that would be fought on a battleground in which few men truly emerge as victors. He would put aside foolish nonsense and embark on a mission to be a hero once again in the eyes of his first child.
Click to listen to Al Green singing How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.