Dakota Datebook

Roosevelt’s Assassin

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

On October 14th, 1912, a small man named John Schrank came at Theodore Roosevelt outside a hotel and shot him in the chest with a 32 caliber gun.

Eleven years earlier, Roosevelt had inherited the Presidency when President McKinley died and was enormously popular. When he ran for office in the next term, he won easily. However, in what many believe was TR’s biggest political blunder, he made the mistake of stating that those first three years in office could be considered an official term of office. He therefore gave up his chance to run again, because it would be considered a third term, which wasn’t allowed.

Three years later, he was hugely disappointed in his self-chosen successor, William Taft, so when the progressive faction of the Republican party came to him and asked him to run for a third term anyway, Roosevelt accepted and went on the campaign trail for the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party.

The shooting took place in front of the Hotel Gilpatrick in Milwaukee. Roosevelt had reached town a little after 5 o’clock and gone to the hotel for dinner before delivering his speech at the Auditorium. When he left the hotel, Roosevelt waved his hat to the crowd gathered outside. Schrank, who was standing a few feet from Roosevelt’s private car, raised his gun between two men standing in front of him and fired straight at Roosevelt’s heart.

A newspaper report of the incident said, “Col. Roosevelt barely moved as the shot was fired. Before the crowd knew what had happened, (E. E.) Martin, who is six feet tall and a former football player, had landed squarely on the assassin’s shoulders and borne him to the ground. He threw his right arm about the man’s neck with a death-like grip, and with his left arm seized the hand that held the revolver. In another second he had disarmed him.”

When the police questioned Schrank’s motive for shooting TR, he said, “Any man looking for a third term ought to be shot.”

TR, meanwhile, put his hand to his mouth and determined that since there was no blood, his lung hadn’t been pierced. Believing he wasn’t in any danger, TR insisted on going to the Auditorium to give his speech.

With his white vest soaked in blood, Roosevelt faced his throng of supporters and calmly said, “I have just been shot.” He drew the bloodied speech from his breast pocket, held up the bullet-pierced pages and said, “But it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech… (but) I want you to understand that I am ahead of the game anyway. No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every way.”

Minutes later, Roosevelt collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

Three weeks later, TR’s young cousin, Nicholas Roosevelt, visited him in Sagamore and later recorded this in his diary: “In one of the drawers of TR’s bureau, (his son) found a wad of paper and suddenly exclaimed: ‘Oh, there’s the speech!’ and delving deeper brought out a spectacle case with a bullet hole through it. It was the Milwaukee speech and the steel case that deflected the assassin’s bullet. The speech, done on heavy paper folded double, was pierced and badly torn. Through the spectacle case was a round hole about the size of a finger.”

Thankfully, Roosevelt recovered from his wound and went back on the campaign trail. But his time in the sun was pretty much over at this point, and a third term was not to be his.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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