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In the year 1884, four months after Theodore Roosevelt’s wife and mother died, there was still a Wild West; and though it would end soon, there was yet room for one more man who had lost everything. Roosevelt boarded a train in the middle of the night. The engine chugged out of the station as he stared out at the fading lights of the East. He didn’t hurry the train along this time. He was leaving and heading into the unknown darkness. His last words to a World reporter were that he was heading West and “what I shall do after that I cannot tell you.”


The twenty-four-hundred-mile journey took him first to Chicago, where he switched to the St. Paul Express, which then plunged into the great flat plains of the American Midwest. When he crossed the Red River at Fargo and slipped past the Western Boundary of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt knew he had reached the vast Dakota Territory.

—Forging a President

Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t born as the rough riding, big-game-hunting, Amazon-exploring legend that America has come to love. So how did he become the larger-than- life character portrayed in history books? He was forged by the last vestige of the Wild West—the Badlands of the Dakota Territory. Yet this side of one of America’s most popular presidents has mostly gone unexplored

In this episode I talked with William Hazelgrove, author of the book Forging a President: How the Wild West Created Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt once stated, “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

Faced with tremendous heartbreak and extreme adversity, Roosevelt headed West for comfort and healing. Little did he know that the ways of trappers and thieves would create his bombastic personality, and later lead him to run for president of the United States.

In this episode we discuss

  • The tragedy and heartbreak that led Roosevelt to leave the city and move West
  • Why the Dakota Territory recreated Teddy Roosevelt
  • What Roosevelt learned from the “broken country” of the Wild West and how it applied to his presidency



Williams’ book Forging a President



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This article is part of our larger selection of posts about American History. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to American History.

Cite This Article
"How Teddy Roosevelt Became The Man He Was in the Badlands—William Hazelgrove of “Forging a President”" History on the Net
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February 22, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/teddy-roosevelt-became-man-badlands-william-hazelgrove-forging-president>
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