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Wolf & Iron Podcast #021 – Author and Historian Mark Lee Gardner on Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, Writing, and History - Wolf & Iron

Wolf & Iron Podcast #021 – Author and Historian Mark Lee Gardner on Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, Writing, and History

Wolf & Iron Podcast #021 – Author and Historian Mark Lee Gardner on Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, Writing, and History


You guys know I’m a big fan of Theodore Roosevelt and have studied and written about his life on a number of occasions. I had been following Mr. Gardner for a while primarily based on the titles of a few of his books (I hadn’t read them yet!): To Hell on a Fast Horse, and Shot all to Hell. So, when he came out with a book on TR I knew I needed to get him on the podcast. Mark Lee Gardner is a well-known and well respected historian and author and has appeared on numerous shows as an expert in the history of the Old West. He’s also a really gracious guy and very open about the process of writing, and he has such a passion about the subjects he has written about. In this episode we talk a bit about the writing aspect but we really focus on TR and the Rough Riders. This is a great episode, especially for you history buffs.

Key Topics

  • Introduction to Mark Lee Gardner
  • Becoming a Historical Writer
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • The Rough Riders and San Juan Hill

Audio Transcript

Mike Yarbrough: Mr. Mark Lee Gardner thank you so much for being on the show today.

Mark Lee Gardner: I’m very happy to be talking to you.

Mike Yarbrough: So we’ve got a lot of things that we could cover here. There’s a lot of ground. You’re the author of several books that everybody has listened to this podcast will be very interested in if they haven’t already read them. We’re going to try to shift the focus a little bit into more of the Theodore Roosevelt direction because that’s your latest book and that’s you know kind of on the table right now. But give us an idea of a little bit of your background how you got into writing maybe your you know your upbringing and what steers you towards that sort of the old school old west kind of theme of things.

Mark Lee Gardner: Well sure you know I was born and raised in Missouri and you know my parents fortunately I had parents who were very interested in history and you know different facets of history not just reading about history but you know we took summer vacations. And by the way my dad was a logger you know and I spent many a day out in the woods where he was cut and wallets and helped carry the chain saws and the gas and oil and and he logged until the day he died. And actually this past April he was 78 years old but so my family goes back several generations of logging in Missouri northern Arkansas. But my dad even though you know he was self-employed he always took a couple of weeks off in the summer and we went on a vacation. And you know my dad had grown up in a very I mean he was a very poor family. I mean not not poverty level but you know they didn’t have a lot of money and so you know he didn’t go all the way to school. I mean I think he didn’t make it. I mean you know he didn’t he basically just finished grade school and that was it and he went to work. So these vacations were not only ways to educate young kids. Me and my two sisters but also I think it was for my mom and dad you know they never seen the world and you know both of them were from low income families. So you know so anyway they had an interesting history.

You know there was not a Ford or a historic house or a museum that we passed up. And especially when I was a kid in the 60s and early 70s you know most these places were free. I mean the national park I mean and that’s one of the reasons why we went. I mean the National Parks didn’t charge admission and we could afford it. Well we got I mean it was very we were very fortunate to live in at that time but also with the many farm options that the kid. My parents are antique collectors. So it was so cool to get the tangible stuff. I mean the thing that you could actually get is that old stuff you can hold and you can actually own it not just the kind of case. So I got immersed in history in many ways. And you know and then from there you know in college I majored in did a double major history in journalism and in graduate school went to the University of Wyoming and got a masters degree in American studies which kind of fake multi-culture I mean it’s a multi field type of study. And anyway from there I got into the writing I did within a medium field for a while as a museum director in southern Colorado and wow. And my wife and I were commuting back and forth she had a museum job in Colorado Springs I had a directorship in Trinidad Colorado. But when she became pregnant with our first child it’s like OK I’m going to be the house dad but I’ll try to do the writing you know as well.

And so that’s what started really my kind of professional writing career I published even when I was in high school little things but got serious. You know once I was here helping to be the dad in the house dad and trying to take little jobs and contracts on the side.

Mike Yarbrough: So did you when you were in high school did you get the feeling that or maybe even looking back on it now did you get that sense of like I’ve got sort of a knack for this like if I’m passionate about the subject I actually do pretty well in this whole writing thing.

Mark Lee Gardner: You know I think you have to get to be yes. I mean I have to tell you that I I was get a very high group at a town of 500 people in my graduating class in total.

So we look like a family that we you know going to school and I go I have close friends from my school days. But to get back to your question about you know I was very very lucky and like I think you know I just was very fortunate that I had an English teacher for a few years who really you know I was writing things just on my own. And she read it and really praised me. And you know I wasn’t really good at English and I didn’t know all the things about grammar or adjectives pronouns and all that but I knew what sounded right in my head. And I did a lot of reading but she really encouraged me and praised me what I would do at home. And it made me feel like you know I think I can do this. So yeah I think it was in high school.

Now it took a while to where I got you know where I was really doing that full time. But but yeah thanks to that my English teacher Carol Cox is still living. I think she really helped me start on my way.

Mike Yarbrough: Yeah. That’s great. I love it that we can sometimes point back to those moments of that and then in particularly a person and say they really made a bigger impact in my life than they may realize or certainly realize at the time. And a lot of times it does come from teachers.

It’s also encouraging to me too because I actually have my first book coming out this fall hopefully it’ll be called school the guys guide to pocketknives and is sort of a bit of an odd project that a publisher approached me and said hey we think you’ll do well to write this book.

And I’m finding out that I don’t know as much as I thought about grammar so we’re going through the editing process now. So right. Yeah but is it extremely helpful to have someone read over your stuff and to say not only that they really enjoy it but also to be just honest and say you know you need a comma here. You need to whenever they’re in to have the sort of back and forth discussions on the things that are more soft rules than hard rules and stuff like that but it is interesting to hear that so you don’t have to be certainly not to be perfect at it when you jump into the field. And there’s definitely room to grow and learn along the way.

Mark Lee Gardner: Right. And you’re definitely doing the right thing. I mean anybody will take the best writers are the ones who listen to the editors and to the readers that they share it with you know those are the best writers you know. My feeling is always been and I and I’ve been lucky to have really great editors. But you know they’re they’re trying to make my work better and 90 percent of the time their suggestions and comments and criticisms you know they do make it better. Yeah.

And I can remember some instances where one of my editors and you know I would I would really put up a wall and I don’t mean you can’t sleep on it.

I keep thinking about it Mike and I just can’t take it and finally come back and say you know you actually write and I would go back and change it you know.

And so I know it’s important that you listen like you’re doing and if you got it. You sound like you got a really good editor giving you some good advice.

Mike Yarbrough: She’s doing a good job. It’s a bit strange because we haven’t actually talked over the phone. We don’t know each other personally. It’s just kind of trying to get a feel for her trying to get a feel for what my style is my you know my sort of you know manly prose or whatever I try to do. And but she’ll sometimes move a line of a sentence around and kind of rearrange it and I kind of had that initial reaction of you know you don’t you know most of my my views are really just right. But then I kind of like you I think I actually know that that does sound a little bit better and I like you know. So there are.

That is very it is a good process and a humbling process so. Yeah. So let me jump in to a couple of the books that you’ve written. I want to talk about these titles because the titles of the books themselves are fantastic. So one of them is shot all to hell. A story about Jesse James or you know a documentary kind of thing or pulling out some fiction nonfiction about Jesse James Netherlands to hell on a fast horse about Billy the Kid. And those are just fantastic titles I mean they just cut right to the vision of what people think about you know the old the old west and those guys back then and kind of just drops you right into it. Good job on those. Well thanks. I. Not read either of those books but I’ve had people who have strongly recommended to me because they’re right up the alley of the things that I talk about a lot of times with an iron and a number of articles that I’ve done and so I know the guys that are out there listening to this are probably googling these right now and yeah definitely check them out. But I wanted to jump out too. I want to jump over to just talk a little bit about what what kind of caused you to make that much of a leap but a little bit of a transition from more of the Old West style of you know focusing on those guys to you know a little you know fast forward a little bit to the Theodore Roosevelt era thing you know late night late eating hundreds. And what was.

You know did you always have. Was Theodore Roosevelt always a figure that you admired and wanted to write about or was there something else that kind of pushed you in that direction.

Mark Lee Gardner: Well yeah a couple of things. I mean I I certainly he was someone who I had a fascination for and a liking for since I was a kid and now when I was a kid I think it was you know it was the big teeth the glasses the Mount Rushmore. I mean you know he’s just he’s just really interesting to look at and write. And and being a president United States then and being a hunter and I was you know I’m a hunter still and was hugely into hunting as a child.

And so there are lots of things about him that interested me as a child. But you know it was what it was it wasn’t super serious as far as scholarly or that kind of thing. And you mentioned my other books I mean you know I was like I said I was born and raised in Missouri. I was I grew up in Jesse James country I mean just literally just a few miles from where he was born a few miles from where he was killed in St. Joseph.

And that was the reason why I wanted to do Jesse James I mean I wanted to revisit my childhood because I’d known him as a Robin Hood as a child mythic figure. And I acted my Billy the Kid book which was talent as fast as I wanted to.

And I really wanted to get into who he really was.

And that book focused on the Northfield Raid of 1876 which broke up the James younger gang but so with the Roosevelt you know the reason that came about you know whenever you publish with somebody well with any publisher like Collins or Simon and Schuster you you really have to negotiate with the editor that you’re working with about what your next book you know their concern is.

I mean they want a good book but they also want a book that will sell thousands of copies.

You know they want to. Sure they want to reach the biggest audience possible so it’s not like I can just say hey you know I want to do this this book on the Santa Fe Trail or whatever. You know that you know they want something that that you know you have to kind of assure them hey there’s a market for this.

And there’s a lot of interest in this character. I can tell some things no one else has told. You really get to make your case and actually Rough Riders was not the first suggestion that I made to my editor I actually wanted to do. I proposed a biography of wild Bill Hitchcock which I still think is a great idea because there hasn’t been anything really definitive on him in decades. But anyway my editor didn’t think you know you know he just wasn’t sold on the idea. And of course I have a literary agent and a really good literary agent helps you with these things and you bounce ideas off of and he’s the one I suggested the Rough Riders to me. And as soon as he mentioned it it’s like wow you know I would love to do a story about the Rough Riders because I know a little bit about it but but again it’s I love the exploration the journey of research in these subjects because I learn so much more. And you want to you know you want to learn the real story not what a bunch of other people have written. You want to see the letters of diaries and all that.

And the more I thought about it I consider the Rough Riders and the more I got into it. It really wasn’t that far removed.

I mean it’s still a story in part of the American west as many of these men came from Arizona Territory New Mexico Territory Indian Territory and bureaus that of course had experiences in the Dakotas in the Badlands that you know was a hunter and a rancher. So you know I thought well you know this this isn’t that far from the kind of things I love the American West is not that far from what I like to research and write about.

Mike Yarbrough: Yeah that’s great. Yes great. I love getting the insight like that. You talked a little bit about doing some of the research. You know if you’re starting out you can write I guess a fiction book maybe it’s a little bit easier but I you know especially nonfiction historical nonfiction like this. Do you have is it able are you able to figure out what the amount of time is going to take for you in terms of investment of energy time to dig in and really write the story that you want to write and you get all the information that you need. Is there something that you can kind of guess up front or is it sort of an unknown and you just say look this might take me two years this might take me six months. I don’t know. I mean you just go for it.

Mark Lee Gardner: Well that’s a good question.

Usually it’s determined by the contract that your publisher. You know they will put a date when the manuscript is due. Now there’s some negotiation on that. But what I found. My experience has been at it you know and it works out this way again you know. You know they don’t. I would love to spend five or six years researching and writing a book on something but my publisher you know they pay you in advance and they want to get their return sooner than later. So the way it’s worked out for all my books it’s about a three year process. So it’s generally a couple of years in their research and writing. And then you’ve got several months involved in the edit team and go into president’s schedule for a publication day but generally every book that I’ve done for for William Morrow and this might actually work on my fourth book for him right now. It’s been it could take a couple of years to do the research and the writing part you know. For instance right now the book I’m working on the dual biography of Lakota leaders sitting bull and Crazyhorse and the manuscript is due October of next year. And my goal is to have my research mostly finished by October of this year. Just a few months away so that I can have 12 months to actually write. Now that probably won’t work right.

I’m not getting it. Somebody has to get extensions you know things happen and Anderson up yet to pursue other leads or whatever. But I should have the majority of the research completed and the research by the way. You know you have to do on the ground stuff in addition to stuff on the web I mean I just got back from scratch on Canada. I wanted to visit Fort walls national storage site where sitting Bull had a council with us Commissioner that after Little Big Horn try to get him to come back to the United States so I you know I go to archives.

I was in archives in Chicago St. Louis Kansas City all over the place. And then plus you’ve got your you know you can do a lot of research online as well but you can’t just do it online. You got to actually get out there and go to the archives.

Mike Yarbrough: Yeah I think that’s fantastic. I mean I think that’s it’s an adventure it really really is.

I’ll tell you something just quickly sure that ties in with the Rough Riders. As far as the research one of the things that makes my book different from previous books about Roosevelt and the Rough Riders themselves. There is a resource that previous scholars did not have access to and were not aware of. And there was an author named Virgil Carington Jones who published a book on the Rough Riders and like 1971 and he made a little mention in a footnote he said you know there are there are very few letters and diaries from the Rough Riders because the war was so short they didn’t have time. Sure. Well he was making an assumption and that really wasn’t the case at all but what Jones didn’t have access to was the Internet and what he didn’t know was that many of these rough riders wrote letters home. And then the uncles and Mom and Dad took the letter to the local newspaper and the editor published it in the paper and in small towns across Oklahoma New Mexico some rough riders who were actual correspondence with their hometown papers. Well since the time Virgil Carington Jones millions of newspaper pages have been scanned digitized and put online and are searchable. And so I found literally dozens of letters and various newspapers that have been written by Rough Riders from everywhere you know from there were they trained in San Antonio and the TAMPOE or they embark for Cuba and then of course written from Cuba but other scholars didn’t didn’t know existed. And so anyway so that’s that was kind of a fun discovery.

I researched it and the benefit that I had working in 2000 you know 15 16 or whatever I had access to things that no one else knew existed. And it was it was so simple.

Mike Yarbrough: Get to him that’s amazing. Yeah that’s fantastic.

And you know kind of a side thought I had when you’re talking about that whenever I read the diaries of people from you know way back when or seems way back to us.

But you know from that time period or a little bit before civil war time is even before that there’s a there seems to be the vocabulary is greater than ours. Their understanding a lot of times of what they were feeling and how to put those emotions into words a lot of times are is greater than what we typically would see today.

I don’t know how do you see any of that kind of stuff when you’re doing research like Are you impressed by the vocabulary or is that just something I’m seeing because I’m I’m researching kind of known historical figures.

Mark Lee Gardner: No I think you’re right. I mean I think well I mean students were learning Greek and Latin and you know at a young age in a lot of schools in the 19th century I mean that was that was very common. So yeah I I think you know but now it’s possible that the people we’re reading are exceptions. Sure.

You know the reason that they are published is because it is so good. And but you know. But in somewhere certainly extraordinary like Roosevelt I mean this guy I mean he was he truly was brilliant I mean he authored all these books was an excellent writer. But but I think to get back to your point. Yeah. You know I think that I do see that and of course it was a much it was a world that was not visual or technology or media driven so much as it was the written word. I mean that’s how people you it with two letters or was not a telephone until the late 19th century. So I would I would think that that would tend to force you to be a good writer and an intelligent writer to convey your thoughts and you know what’s what you and many people were diry writers.

Mike Yarbrough: I think that is the difference right. Yeah. Maybe maybe maybe today at the bloggers maybe that’s OK. But. But a lot of people kept diaries. You know that’s I find it fascinating.

Yeah yeah I think that’s something we’ve definitely lost even though it’s become easier to write and keep that journal keep that diary you know the art of it has certainly been lost. Well let me let me jump into you know kind of get into the Rough Riders piece here we’ll kind of set the stage a little then correct me on anything that I’m not correct about but the way that the USS Maine is sunk is about 1898 or so I guess.

And late 1800s is USS Maine a sunk that you know the average person doesn’t really know what to believe about why it sunk what happened they just know there was an explosion and went down. And they’re kind of blaming you know the Spanish for this because this is happening off the coast of Cuba.

Right. Or have it right yeah Havana Harbor in a harbor right. And so the Spanish are have occupied Cuba and that’s making us nervous. And so the officials you know are kind of looking for a potential reason to kind of combat you know what’s going on there.

Theodore Roosevelt so McKinley’s President Theodore Roosevelt the secretary of the Navy and you know he detested this effect. OK. Thank you. And so what so what. What happens from that point. You know kind of quickly if you can’t summarize you know how do we get to the point where there is a rough riders need it and somebody says you know we need a cowboy regiment to go and do battle over Cuba.

Mark Lee Gardner: Yeah. Well you know what happens is is the you know most people in you know you probably heard the term yellow journalism the yellow press you know very very sensationalized style of reporting. You know they almost instantly blamed Spain because there were tensions between Spain especially you know there were so many stories coming out of Cuba of atrocities committed by the Spaniards against the Cubans and Cuba was fighting for its independence and of course a country that had gained its independence through a war was very sympathetic to the plight of these people you know and Wister a great writer friend. T.R. said you know it could have been far away it may or may not have been that big a deal but it just was just a few miles off our coast you know how could we ignore the plight of these people who were fighting for what we had fought for. You know we had other countries assist us. You know France became our allies so it was hard to ignore it but to get back to the main you know it was initially blamed upon Spain and most Americans were. I mean they didn’t question they just they were convinced that it was Spain. And it became a real rallying cry when the US declared war against Spain the rallying cry was a Remember the Maine. It was but to get to your question about the Rough Riders and what brought that about. So once war is declared and McKinley’s decided we’re going to go to the assistance of the Cubans. You know they had to issue a call for volunteers thousands of volunteers needed to prosecute this war.

And one senator I believe was a senator from Wyoming it’s in my book. You know he knew that you know we’ve got all these rugged cowboys and by this time 1998 the cowboys you know the cowboys figure because of your Remington and I mentioned one Wister in his articles and Harper’s Monthly about cowboys. You know this was this kind of great rugged western type. They call a rope they could shoot they could ride you know. And it also I mean remember what else was going on.

You’ve got the Buffalo Bill Wild West show right. All right you guys are touring around and they’ve got that they’ve got a group called the Rough Riders as well. So they’re higher than everybody else they do. Yeah yeah. I mean it’s you know everybody you know there’s this belief that the Cowboys like this indestructible fighting man are worse than any natural born talent human.

So this senator from Wyoming said you know urges. Let’s have you know if this ends up coming to fruition they decide that there will be three special regiments of quote mounted riflemen to be enlisted from the western territories and states and you know Theodore Roosevelt who has been chomping at the bit to you know to serve his country and to fight in a war. You know the secretary of the war approaches Theodore Roosevelt and says you know one of these regiments the first US volunteers. You know I’m going to offer you the colonelcy of this. And amazingly the Roosevelt who had a huge ego is probably know I’ve written about I’m sure turned him down and said You know I want to do I want to fight but I don’t feel.

Capable at this time of heading a regiment. But my good friend Captain Leonard Wood I feel will be the perfect man.

And if you make him Colonel I’ll accept lieutenant colonel the second in command. Yeah. And you know amazing you know I mean in a very admirable. Peter Roosevelt’s credit.

You know he could have gotten you know the glory of being a colonel of his own regiment but he gave that up because he just didn’t feel like he was the best man. And so that’s what happened. Alger appoints Leonard Wood colonel and also Lieutenant Colonel. And then of course once it is known once the word gets out that you’ve got the assistant secretary of the Navy who’s resigning to help lead this regiment you’ve got Leonard Wood who had recently received the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the Apache war of the American Southwest. I mean this is like this is like the premier unit fighting unit is being raised that it’s exciting it is supposed you know and it’s going to be composed of cowboys. So and you know from the western territories and so they get literally thousands of applications. You know they can only you know the regiment to have a thousand men total but they’re getting thousands more people. They want to enlist. And indeed the majority regiment does come from the American Southwest. New Mexico has a large contingent Arizona large contingent. They also brought in men from the Indian Territory and also Oklahoma characterized both of which make up the state of Oklahoma today. So you have a combination of Talboys. You have Choctaw Chickasaw Indians Pawnee Indians to join the regiment but you also have and this is a kind of a criticism at the time that these men were listening in in these territories.

Some complain that well these guys aren’t real cowboys and indeed there are a lot of city boys from Phoenix from Santa Fe that were joined in as well.

Roosevelt said well you know they don’t want to be cowboys we want men of good character. Well he felt that all these guys were good characters well and they in addition to that you had all these buddies of TR that wanted to serve with him.

And so fortunately they allowed extra. They bumped up the number. Initially it was going to be like 750 men and then they bumped it up to a thousand yard already promised all these friends of his and other Ivy Leaguers that they could join as well. So you had this this incredible combination of Westerners you know Western town full teachers actors blacksmiths demographers and then you had Ivy Leaguers and you had New York club men you know with a cane was a very wealthy Fifth Avenue man who had won various yachting races there were polo players and all these guys came together to form this incredible regiment that quickly got the name Roosevelt’s rough riders.

Mike Yarbrough: Right.

Even though he’s not the guy in charge necessarily.

Mark Lee Gardner: Even though he’s not the guy in charge and in the Lidgerwood’s credit he didn’t let that get to him. You know he knew that Roosevelt was going to was going to get a lot of attention but he didn’t let it bother him. You know they were good friends. And Roosevelt and he and he many many times wrote how he arose. That was the best lieutenant colonel and subordinate officer. I mean he accepted orders he didn’t push his weight around I mean you know being a Roosevelt was very serious about his role. And so they didn’t have any. There were a couple of times that their little squabbles at the Roosevelt being inexperienced did things that he shouldn’t have done and he was reprimanded and he accepted it and apologized.

So Roosevelt never ever until you know while he was under would you know direct command he never stepped out of line or you know he was a good as would said he was a very good officer. Yeah it’s you know one of the questions that I had no we can’t talk about this a little bit before the podcast started was you know when I think about.

Mike Yarbrough: You know the call goes out hey Theodore Roosevelt put together you know the team right. The special forces type of thing of today and you know here’s some of the qualifications and stuff like that. He was a well-known figure. He wasn’t president no I can’t stop you.

But he was well known and people knew about us knew who he was and you know I think you know is there. Could that happen today. You know are there figures today where we would say if this guy decided to go to war basically and put together his own you know team of his that are going to go and fight you know would you know would there be men by the thousands that say I want to be on that guy’s group. And I imagine there probably is but I can’t think of a particular figure that stands out in the kind of same way that Theodore Roosevelt did.

I don’t know. Yeah I can’t I can’t either.

Mark Lee Gardner: And you know the other thing the difference the difference between day to day.

I mean you know they were they would have it had to be a rallying cry like the mayor. I mean you know several of the men in the Rough Riders and this is in their letters and diary the fact one Roughrider I quote him you know he admitted he said I’m not going to free the Cubans I’m going to avenge the name. I mean that you know. So you have to I think you have to have an episode like Pearl Harbor or like the Maine where you know young Americans feel it’s their duty responsibility and their desire to go and fight for that and to uphold something or you know to have been something whether it’s a surprise attack or the thinking of a U.S. warship. So it would have to be something like that. I think I think really you know Vietnam certainly changed things when people question you know is this a legitimate fighting. Sure. Why are we doing that. And in the Spanish-American War even though we question it today there was no question there. I mean there were some and there were some politicians that questioned why we were doing it but most Americans strongly supported it. And like I say it was it was it was the evidence is it is in the literally tens of thousands of men who volunteered to go fight and who did not hesitate to do that.

Mike Yarbrough: Yeah. There’s a there’s a lot of places we could go here we’re going to run short on time before we have the opportunity to do that. And that’s what the book is for so people should go out and get the book. By the way I want to talk a little bit about the camaraderie between the Rough Riders and Theodore Roosevelt and that kind of stuff because I know in some of the things that I’ve read that you know that they they’re very respectful of Theodore Roosevelt in that kind of stuff. He did have some separation between you know you know this is you it to me he always came across as the guy that’s not kind of knows where that boundary is of being able to josh around the guys a little bit but also you know have that you know the sort of the distinction you know I’m an officer and you guys are under my command. But tell us a bit about some of the things that stood out to you in terms of just the camaraderie between the men and maybe the impact that the war and that that battle had on them.

Mark Lee Gardner: Portière you know. Well first off you know Rosa I had this outsized personality I mean. And and he seldom failed to impress those who met him. And it’s certainly the men of the rough riders. You know one guy wrote home and said you know he’s the most magnetic man I’ve ever met. And so you know his will his force of will those guys you know you hear this a lot you know they love their leader. I mean those guys literally I mean they admired him in more than one mention that you know we’d go to hell with this guy. Yes. Just to do it. And part of it is because you know at Kendall Hill Atlus Glosson us at San Juan you know he was in the front and he was I mean you know he he looked like he was completely fearless and he inspired his men and they wanted to do well. They wanted they wanted to succeed for him they wanted to please him which is exactly what you want from a leader. So. So there’s something you know with that camaraderie and like you say in the Roosevelt he didn’t do too much joshing around with the guys. I mean he took his role as the Colonel when he eventually became colonel very seriously and Lieutenant Colonel was well you know one guy saw him you know see you know how passionate he was. I mean he was out there reciting orders in training in San Antonio. He had the actual drill book in front of him.

And you know and was not afraid for them to say you know hey I’m learning too but I’m you know I’m going to get this right. And they were very you know he didn’t try to buffalo anybody like I’m Lauren. But I’ve got the book right here and I’m going to get it down. And he did get it down to where he knew exactly what they’re supposed to do. But other times you know there were funny things that would happen and he would have to laugh at something that men did. And that kind of thing. But but as far as the camaraderie within the regiment itself and what we talked about was that you know there’s people here literally from all walks of life. I mean you have schoolteachers you have true cowpunchers from Oklahoma and New Mexico. And then you guys that are literally wealthy and you know they call them the Fifth Avenue boys. But you know eventually they you know also the silk stocking troupe called him. That was another phrase but you know they became friends. And you know they saw that that these men pitched in and did the work just like the other guys and they didn’t try to push their weight around as far as their upbringing. And you know when it came to fighting you know they were sweating and fighting and charging up that hill together. Now you know and that is not to say there weren’t little episodes or incidents. It was noticed that when they were temporarily in Tampa getting to getting ready to go to Cuba that some of the more well-off Rough Riders were spending a lot of time at the hotel.

They would take their meals there sure are Freddy Remington Frederick Remington the artists invited him to go swimming together and.

And so some of it started to start to be some grumbling like hey those guys aren’t you know they’re one of us they ought to be here at the camp but very shortly and shortly thereafter they were shipped off to Cuba. And that was you know pretty much over. But you know when they were up in the trenches up on top of San Juan Hill they were all together and and the rich guys got sick just like the poor guys and the same thing happened.

I mean this is about camaraderie.

You know the Rough Riders were in the line in charge and Juan here along with the African-American Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Calvary Calvary and they actually shared blankets and slept together on San Juan Hill.

So despite the racism and segregation in the Army that you know they experienced it on the continental United States when in Cuba they were right next you know black and white right next to each other share the same food. And like I say sharing the same blanket. Yeah.

Mike Yarbrough: Now there’s there’s a ton of lessons to be learned from that. I think that’s really how it ought to be. I mean I think when when guys get together and work together and put in a situation where is either going to you know put your backs against the wall and succeed or you’re going to you know quibble with each other and gripe about stuff you know they tend to pull together and make it work.

One of my favorite stories from the book was when they were before Capitol Hill and they were they were actually in reserve at that time but they were taking all kinds of fire because you know the Spaniards are fire and Davran kettle Hill and lots of casualties are happening. And one of the rough riders had taken one of his comrades back to the hospital tent and as he’s coming back to the line all of a sudden in front of him tumbles down this buffalo soldier into this creek bed and he’s bleeding profusely from his neck and the Roughrider goes up put his thumb on the wound stop the blood. But every time he takes the stuff off it starts gushing in so he knows that this black man is going to die if he leaves. And this in the Roughrider want to get back to his life I mean he wants you mean but you can’t leave this guy. And so he stays there for almost I think it’s 45 minutes or actually there’s some help can come in stop and so he literally saved this man’s life. This African-American. And later the Buffalo Soldiers in the hospital and he said I myself can’t believe that this man a white man did this for me a black man. I mean it did but you know I love him. You know you saved my life. So that’s the kind of things that happen in war. And race doesn’t matter. You know you’re you’re a brother and you’re fighting side by side and you all have the same goal and it’s too bad I didn’t continue.

You know afterwards at least on the battlefield all those racial barriers were down.

Mike Yarbrough: Yeah yeah. Yeah that’s awesome and you know I think a lot of guys that are Listen to this. They’ve been into the military. You know it’s some civil rights you is a big wake up call just to the diversity of America and the people that are going to be serving alongside and you quickly have to get rid of those notions if there’s any kind of you know thoughts about inferiority about people about race or anything like that. You know that’s going to go away. And you really do begin to judgment based on their performance and their character not necessarily and hopefully not at all based on you know something as stupid as you know what the color of their skin is. Yes. Yes you’re absolutely right. So how did how did Theodore Roosevelt actually do in terms of San Juan Hill so I know you are just. The whole you know experience of raising the regiment all that kind of stuff. I’m thinking particularly in battle I know you’ve talked about him being very bold you know out front leading the way. You know that kind of stuff when I’ve read some of his actually his stuff on the Rough Riders I don’t get a real sense of like you know he doesn’t either he doesn’t take account of the number of men that he killed or the you know he does talk a little bit about a few near misses that he had and he mentions the one guy that he killed with the pistol that he got from the plane right.

Yes but I don’t know like you know is he a you know is he a crack shot or did he you know was he the guy that’s you know. And I don’t want to compare it all to you kill 20 guys who are the best on the team is not like that but just kind of want to you know how did he actually do out there in terms you know. I knew he had eyesight issues in terms of shooting and stuff like that. But what are your thoughts on that.

Mark Lee Gardner: Oh he I mean he he did exceptionally In fact more than one gave him considerable credit for the outcome of that day at least the success on that side of the field. He was part of the cavalry division which was on the north side of the field the south southern side was the Infantry Division and that also included African-American soldiers as well as White true white regiments too. But no you know on his part of the battlefield in front of his his unit was was Ketil Hill. And as I mentioned before you know the Roughrider were being held in reserve and the regulars were up ahead of them.

OK well finally you know Roosevelt’s chomping at the bit to get orders to move forward. I mean he was you know for one thing it’s like we’re just standing here getting shot to pieces. We’d much rather be get out of here and we’re going to get shot shot get shot. Charging forward. Get shot just the feel right on the ground. So he finally got the orders to advance.

And at the base of Kettle Hill they run into this line of regulars who are also waiting for orders and apparently they didn’t get the order because Roosevelt ordered advance and support the regulars who are supposed to be charging up the hill. Well the regulars when he get there just motionless there and they’re waiting for orders and Roosevelt was very flustered and he says well do you know where is your commanding officer. Well he’s all over here. And Rosa says well I’m your commanding officer here you know I’m a colonel you’re a captain I order you to charge. And it got kind of him around like you know. I mean here’s a volunteer officer. And then he didn’t want to do something his regular officer might be trouble for. So he you know he just he hesitates and Roosevelt said well if you’re not going to let my men through. And so he starts with the rough riders. Well once the rough riders are started these other regulars they’re not going to stand by They’re going to join. I mean it becomes kind of a pellmell charge instigated by Roosevelt. And in fact it’s the Rough Riders are charging up and in some of the black troopers they yell out you know what are you doing in the rough right we’re going to take that hill on the black troopers said well I’ll be damned if some rough riders are going to get ahead of me as well so they’re all tarty because you know you’re a Roosevelt you know.

Like I said it’s his you know willing this to happen.

They all go up hill and you know Roosevelt on his horse. He’s the only guy to mount it so he’s drawn all kinds of fire. He’s largely in the lead and he doesn’t get to cattle Hill you know he’s not the very first. Some of his own men beat him up he has to stop because there’s a barbed wire fence. This meant he had to dismount but he get there very you know close to the top and that’s where you know these men jump out of the trench and try to they shoot at Roosevelt in an orderly and Roosevelt shoots back in kill these men or kills one he misses one killed the other one. But anyway so you know so he you know he’s definitely the motivating force behind this this assault on Capitol Hill. Once they get to the top of the hill hill now he sees the stand one right in front of him and he sees to his left are the infantry titbits going up the hill supported by Gatling gun fire from the Gatling gun battery under Lieutenant Parker. And so he wants to support this movement. And so he jumps ahead and yells charge. Well only about five men hear him and the rest are you know they’re dodging bullets they’re shooting over there trying to help the tree they’re shooting at the Spaniards on the San Juan ridge. So Roosevelt got 100 yards down the hill down Capitol Hill. There’s a little valley between Kendall and San Juan. And he looks back and you see these five men.

It’s like I can’t take this part a fan one with five men so he tells the five guys you wait here which is a really boneheaded just answer. You decide later. Right. Because all these guys get wounded get mortally wounded while they’re waiting on TR TR goes back.

He finds a commanding officer that you know of the Cavalry Division. I want to I want to charge this part of San Juan. You know can I take you know whatever other are available and the guy gives permission although you have to hold some back in reserve. And so. So Roosevelt lead this charge on Capitol Hill. I’m sorry on San Juan Hill and this time a bunch of guys fall on there’s a few hundred that follow him. And you know one of the confusing things about the battle they were actually there was more than one block house on San Juan Hill. So the very famous blockhouses known as the San Juan block house that was taken by the infantry. It was another block house a few hundred yards to the north. It was taken by Roosevelt the Rough Riders and other members of the cavalry division including some of the Buffalo soldiers. So all of it San Juan Hill together but there’s more than one block house. So basically Roosevelt you know lead the charge on Capitol Hill and then once Capitol Hill is taken he leads another charge on San Juan Hill and that takes that portion of the line with the Rough Riders and other members of the Calvary unit so to get back to your question. He was very important in significance of that day’s results. And you know one of the great quotes this in my book. There was a lieutenant colonel who was charged with kind of writing a report on the Santiago campaign.

And in his published report he wrote that in the assaults on Capitol Hill in San Juan Hill the courage and energy of Colonel Roosevelt Risso conspicuousness to command General admiration. There is no doubt that the influence of his personal qualities. While the successful issue of the attack was largely due. Well that was Arthur Lockwood Wagner and he was in the regular army. He wasn’t a volunteer. So a lot of regular army guys weren’t fans of the volunteers. He’s a regular army officer praising the you know the role of Roosevelt on July 1st 1898 men.

Mike Yarbrough: It really is a fantastic story. And and guys listen go out get the book Rough Riders.

Theodore Roosevelt his cowboy regiment and the immortal charge of San Juan Hill by Mark Lee Gardner. There’s so much more to this story that we didn’t cover here. There’s a lot of historical relevance to how this even shaped our some of our military stuff. You know the Spanish are firing at us with smokeless powder. We can’t see them up in the trees we can’t see them you know. Roosevelt comes back home and is like look guys we’ve got some work to do on our on our ammo and our guns.

But there’s you know there’s tons of just moments of just this thing that is the difficulty of the endeavor but also just the the energy of Roosevelt and the camaraderie between these guys.

Mark how can how can people get in touch with you if they want to find out more about you and get a lead to some of the books that you’ve written.

Mark Lee Gardner: It it’s my website site. Mark Lee Gardner dot com. And there’s links there to purchase the books any place books are sold. You can find my books. And so yeah

Mike Yarbrough: Well this has been a fantastic conversation and I really really appreciate you coming on the podcast. I know you guys are going to get a lot from this. So thanks again for being here.

Mark Lee Gardner: You’re welcome, Mike, I had a lot of fun.

More on Mark Lee Gardner

Get the Book: Rough Riders by Mark Lee Gardner

Wolf & Iron Podcast #021 – Author and Historian Mark Lee Gardner on Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, Writing, and History

Mark Lee Gardner on the Web



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