Plains Folk

A Roughrider in Minot


Perhaps you’ve already heard, but Martin Scorsese is directing, and Leonardo DeCaprio is starring in, a film chronicling the early life of Theodore Roosevelt and scheduled for release in 2013. Online smartalecks question the casting, one of them even asking, “Is Leonardo DiCaprio man enough to be Theodore Roosevelt?”

I have an idea how TR might answer that question, but it’s not the question people in North Dakota will be asking. Their concern will be with how their home state—to which Roosevelt famously alluded with his remark, “I would never have become President if it were not for my time in North Dakota”—how their home state is depicted by Paramount Pictures.

Just last year Roosevelt, an iconic figure in the Flickertail State, acquired another monument here—a lovely and authentic bronze in front of the Stark County Courthouse, in Dickinson. Sculptor Tom Bollinger depicts a youthful Teddy, attired in his buckskin shirt, as he was when he delivered the 4th of July address in Dickinson in 1886.

For a more robust likeness of the equestrian variety, go up the road to Minot, where a bold bronze of TR stands in Roosevelt Park. You see, ever since Roosevelt was elevated to the presidency, North Dakotans have attempted to embed his image in their state, based on the future president’s ranching interlude in the Badlands. The Minot statue is evidence of the energy of Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, who commissioned the piece and dispatched it to Minot. I know about all this from the research of one of my fine seminar students, Tracy Amundson. She tracked down the Henry Waldo Coe papers at the University of Oregon and used them to chronicle how the equestrian statue of TR came to be.

Dr. Coe moved his family from Wisconsin to the Dakota Territory in 1879 and settled in Mandan in the 1880s, where he practiced medicine and entered politics—city politics first, after which he became the first state legislator from west of the Missouri, and then Superintendent of the North Dakota State Board of Health. During his ranching days Roosevelt had business several times in Mandan, sometimes unpleasant legal business (related to his feud with the Marquis de Mores) and sometimes pleasant political contacts. He and Coe, being of like politics, became good friends. Roosevelt went back east, and Coe moved to Portland, Oregon, but the friendship lasted. They corresponded (with the letters eventually lodging in the manuscript collections Stacy used in her research), and Coe visited Roosevelt in the White House.

Coe and Roosevelt had a mutual friend in the Oregon sculptor, Alexander Phimister Proctor, whom TR had sponsored for membership in the Boone and Crocket Club. An avid hunter, Proctor was particularly known for his depiction of animals—as described in his autobiography, Sculptor in Buckskin. A man after TR’s own heart, certainly!

Dr. Coe commissioned sculptor Proctor to cast an equestrian bronze of Roosevelt as Roughrider to be placed in their home city of Portland. After that he thought it would be fine if a second casting were to be located in North Dakota. Various cities wanted the piece, but in 1924 Minot got it—Minot was situated midway across the continent on the Roosevelt Highway that ran from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon; it offered to rename its Riverside Park “Roosevelt Park;” and its schoolchildren collected coins to emplace the statue in the park. Mandan, Dr. Coe’s former home, got a consolation prize: a half-size casting of the same statue.

The Roughrider of Roosevelt Park has had some tough times due to flooding and vandalism, but the refurbished statue was rededicated in 2009. We are a long way from forgetting our attachment to our adopted favorite son.


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