Bible Point State Historic Site
My Debt To Maine
By Theodore Roosevelt
owe a personal debt to Maine because of my association with
certain staunch friends in Aroostook County; an association
that helped and benefited me throughout my life in more ways
It is more than forty years ago that I first went to Island
Falls and stayed with the Sewall family. I repeated the visit
three or four times. I made a couple of hunting trips in the
fall, with Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow; and one winter I spent
three or four weeks on snowshoes with them, visiting a couple
of lumber camps. I was not a boy of any natural prowess and
for that very reason the vigorous out-door life was just what
It was a matter of pride with me to keep up with my stalwart
associates, and to shift for myself, and to treat with indifference
whatever hardship or fatigue came our way. In their company
I would have been ashamed to complain! And I thoroughly enjoyed
it. I was rather tired by some of the all-day tramps, especially
in the deep snow, when my webbed racquets gave me “snowshoe
feet”, or when we waded up the Munsungin in shallow
water, dragging a dugout, until my ankles became raw from
slipping on the smooth underwater stones; and I still remember
with qualified joy the ascent and especially the descent of
Katahdin in moccasins, worn because I had lost one of my heavy
shoes in crossing a river at a riffle.
I also remember such delicious nights, under a lean-to,
by lake or stream, in the clear fall weather, or in winter
on balsam boughs in front of a blazing stump, when we had
beaten down. I’d shoveled away the deep snow, and kept
our foot-gear away from the fire, so that it should not thaw
and freeze; -- and the meals of venison, trout, or partridge;
and one meal consisting of muskrat and a fish-duck, which,
being exceedingly hungry, we heartily appreciated.
But the bodily benefit was not the largest part of the good
done me. I was accepted as part of the household; and the
family and friends represented in their lives the kind of
Americanism --self-respecting, duty-performing, life-enjoying--
which is the most valuable possession that any generation
can hand on to the next. It was as native to our soil as “William
Henry’s Letters to his Grandmother” -- I hope
there are still readers of that delightful volume of my youth,
even although it was published fifty years ago.
Mrs. Sewall, the mother, was a dear old lady; and Miss Sewall,
the sister, was a most capable manager of the house. Bill
Sewall at that time had two brothers- Sam was a deacon. Dave
was NOT a deacon. It was from Dave that I heard an expression
which ever after remained in my mind. He was speaking’
of a local personage of shifty character who was very adroit
in using fair-sounding words which completely nullified the
meaning of other fair-sounding words which preceded them.
“His words weasel the meaning of the words in front
of them”, said Dave, “just like a weasel when
he sucks the meat out of an egg and leaves nothing but a shell”;
and I always remembered “weasel words” as applicable
to certain forms of oratory, especially political oratory,
which I do not admire.
Once, while driving in a wagon with Dave, up an exceedingly
wet and rocky backwoods road, with the water pouring down
the middle, I asked him how in Aroostook County they were
able to tell its roads from its rivers. “No beaver dams
in the roads”, instantly responded Dave.
At one of the logging camps I became good friends with a
quiet, resolute-looking man, named Brown, one of the choppers;
and afterwards I stopped at his house and was as much struck
with his good and pretty wife as I had been with him. He had
served in the Civil War and had been wounded. His creed was
that peace was a great blessing, hut that even so great a
blessing could be purchased at too dear a price. I did not
see him again until thirty-seven years later when he came
to a meeting at which I spoke in Portland. He had shaved off
his beard and was an old man and I did not at first recognize
him; but after the first sentence I knew him and very glad indeed
I was to see him once more.
the eighties I started a little cattle ranch on the Little
Missouri, in the then territory of Dakota, and I got Bill
Sewall and Wilmot Dow to join me. By that time they had both
married, and they brought out Mrs. Sewall and Mrs. Dow. There
was already a little girl in the Sewall family, and two babies,
a small Sewall boy and a small Dow boy, were born on the ranch.
Thanks to Mrs. Sewall and Mrs. Dow, we were most comfortable.
The ranch house and all the out buildings at the home ranch
– the Elkhorn – were made of cottonwood logs,
and were put up by Bill and Wilmot—who were mighty men
with the axe. I got them to put on a veranda; and in one room,
where I kept my books and did my writing, we built a big fireplace,
and I imported a couple of rocking chairs. (Only one would
have made me feel too selfish.) The veranda, its open fireplace,
the books and the rocking- chairs represented my special luxuries;
I think Mrs. Sewall and Mrs. Dow enjoyed them almost as much
as I did. We had stoves to keep us warm in the bitter winter
weather and bearskins and buffalo robes. Bill and Wilmot and
I, and usually one or two cowhands worked hard. But it was
enjoyable work, and the hunting, on which we relied on for
our meat, was of course sheer fun. When the winter weather
set in we usually made a regular hunt to get the winter meat,
and we hung our game in the cottonwood trees which tilted
before the house; I remember once when we had a bull elk and
several deer hanging up, and another time we had a couple
of antelope and a yearling mountain sheep. The house of hewn
logs was clean and comfortable, and we were all of us young
and strong and happy.
Wilmot was from every standpoint one of the best men I ever
knew. He has been dead for many years. His widow is now Mrs.
Pride; and her present husband is also one of my valued friends.
When I was President, the Sewalls and the Prides came down
to Washington to visit us. We talked over everything, public
and private, past and present; the education and future careers
of our children; the proper attitude of the United States
in external and internal matters. We all of us looked at the
really important matters of public policy and private conduct
from substantially the same viewpoint.
Never were there more welcome guests at the White House.
Sagamore Hill, March 20th 1918
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