Each semester, the Garfield Center for the Study of the American Presidency’s student scholars embark on a trip centered on the U.S. President they are studying. During Hiram College’s spring 3-Week term, the Garfield Presidency Scholars ventured out West to the Dakotas in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt. While no cattle ranching or hunting took place, the scholars explored and experienced what made Roosevelt fall in love with the American West.
“Traveling out West to the Dakotas truly brought together our study of Roosevelt this year. It is no surprise that he fell in love with nature with the stunning Badlands landscape as the backdrop to some of his most formative years,” explains Lisa Lazar, junior Garfield Scholar.
Roosevelt first traveled to the Badlands of the Dakota Territory to seek sanctuary and healing after his mother and first wife died on the same day. There he lived out his dream of being a cattle rancher and cowboy in the last years of the American “wild West” and adopted his conservationist ethic. This would prompt him to preserve the great natural heritages of the United States during his presidency. Roosevelt later said that without his experiences in the West, he never would have become a person who could go on to become president.
A trip to South Dakota would not be complete without a stop at Mount Rushmore. Centered on Roosevelt’s dedication to preserving nature and land for the enjoyment of all, the scholars also visited Crazy Horse, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument.
The scholars also made a pit stop on their way to North Dakota to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming. In North Dakota the scholars stayed in the Badlands, where Roosevelt bought the Maltese Cross Ranch and later the Elkhorn Ranch. They visited the site of the first Elkhorn Ranch and explored Roosevelt’s original cabin. His work in conservation and preservation helped saved the bison – recently declared the national mammal of the U.S. – from extinction.
The trip wasn’t solely centered on Roosevelt’s love of conservation, however. The scholars also visited Dickinson State University to learn about all the hard work going in to the creation of Roosevelt’s presidential library and museum, to be built on a 30-acre site on campus. There, they spoke with educators in charge of the University’s Theodore Roosevelt Center.
“Seldom, if ever, have I been this proud of a group of undergraduates as after that discussion,” says Doug Brattebo, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and director of the Garfield Presidency Center. “These students demonstrated their deep knowledge of Roosevelt’s character and life experiences, his leadership style and choices as president, his triumphs and mistakes and his enduring impact on the Republic. Moreover, they expressed well-developed ideas about how to tell his great American story.”
The newest center of distinction at Hiram College, the Garfield Center for the Study of the American Presidency honors Hiram College’s connection to James A. Garfield. Each year, the Center chooses a significant American president to study, with students examining issues at the core of presidential leadership. After examining Abraham Lincoln (2014-2015) and Theodore Roosevelt (2015-2016), the Garfield Presidency Scholars will examine Thomas Jefferson for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Through presentations, study trips, reflective assignments and outreach activities, Garfield Presidency Scholars gain profound appreciation for the president as person, a historical figure and a leader within the broader and complex governmental system.