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Pitts: Until he has been dead some little time

Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation Board Chair Bruce Pitts stands in front of Cottonwood tree logs that'll be used to recreate Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch cabin on Tuesday at the site of the proposed library and museum. (Dustin Monke / The Dickinson Press)

In the first decade of the 20th Century, there was movement in North Dakota to memorialize the state's "adopted son," Theodore Roosevelt, by commissioning a statue of the 26th president on horseback. The large bronze statue was to be placed on the campus of the North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) and fundraising was underway. Gustav Vigeland, a world-renowned Norwegian sculptor, was chosen to create the work of art and enthusiasm for the project was high.

U. S. Representative, and later governor of North Dakota, Louis Hanna asked Roosevelt to sit for the famous sculptor, a request to which TR complied. But, his enthusiasm was less than high.

A 1910 letter from TR to Hanna reveals that Roosevelt was uncomfortable with the idea of a statue of himself to represent North Dakota. He wrote, "I do wish that you and others interested in this movement would adopt my suggestion before it is too late. Don't have it a statue of me; have it a statue of a cowboy or a pioneer farmer. This will be far more typical of North Dakota, and I am sure in the end will be far more satisfactory — and this apart from my firm belief that no man should ever have a statue until he has been dead some little time."

TR's plea prevailed and the statue was never sculpted, although in the 1970s the American Scandinavian Foundation helped procure a cast of the plaster model which now resides in Old Main at NDSU.

The TR Presidential Library being built in Dickinson is much more than a statue. I wonder what Roosevelt would have thought of a presidential library dedicated to examining and preserving every facet of his life, now that he has "been dead some little time."

He was a complex and multi-faceted man - the hunter, conservationist, career politician and statesman, intellectual, family man, war hero, and, of course, cowboy. How do we build the presidential library to reflect the lasting impact of this larger than life personality?

These are the questions we at the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation are currently asking ourselves, and the community at large. As we enter the museum program planning phase, we will carefully examine how to tell the story of this man in a way that spurs both the imagination and the intellect — and in a way that ties the past to the present. This planning, which will take place over the next few months, will dictate the design of both the presidential library building and the landscaping of the grounds, as well as how the facility serves the community as an educational resource and as a source of pride.

TR ended his letter to Rep. Hanna by writing, "...the cowboy, next to the pioneer farmer, was the typical figure of the frontier days in our West, the West that you and I know and love and belong to."

If TR himself said that he belonged to the West, we at the TRPLF believe that he would be pleased to have his presidential library here, in Dickinson. And, we are committed to building a presidential library that he would be proud to call his own.

We welcome your ideas about what you would like to see and experience at the TR Presidential Library. Visit the contact us page at www.trpresidentiallibrary.org and tell us what you think.

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