An Encounter and Keepsake from Theodore Roosevelt
OBHS Math Teacher Amy Michalopoulos’s Great Grandfather Ralph Bilby documented an encounter with Theodore Roosevelt that deeply influenced his family. Here is Mr. Bilby’s account:
One incident that had a considerable influence on my family related to my father-in-law, E. M. Mansfield. He spent most of his life as a cattleman and rancher. He owned ranches in southern Utah and northern Arizona, but for many years he was superintendent of the Grand Canyon Cattle Company that ran cattle on the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Houserock Valley and up in VT Park.
One summer when they were camped in VT Park, he received word that the president of the company who lived in Los Angeles was coming to the ranch and he wanted Mr. Mansfield to send some cowboys and horses down to the canyon to meet them at the foot of Bright Angel Trail. There was a cable across the canyon there that operated like a windlass. You could wind up the cable and it had a bucket that was brought across. Mr. Mansfield was not too busy that day, so instead of sending someone else, he went himself with a cowboy or two to meet Mr. Marshall, the president.
When he got down to the bottom of the canyon, it wasn’t long until he looked across and saw a party on the other side, and assuming it to be Mr. Marshall, he sent the bucket over. A man got into the bucket and they began winding him back to their side. When the bucket arrived, Mr. Mansfield could see that the man was not Mr. Marshall. The man got out of the bucket, stepped over and said in a rather brusque manner, "I don't know your name, but I'm Theodore Roosevelt." This incident occurred just after Roosevelt had finished his term as President.
It seemed that Mr. Roosevelt had arranged to have a man by the name of Owens, a cattleman and a lion hunter, meet him and take his party on a lion hunt. Some way they had missed connections and Owens had not arrived.
When Mr. Mansfield found out who Roosevelt was, he was, of course, a little flustered, but they continued to bring the rest of his party over. He had two of his sons with him, Archie and Quentin, and his nephew, Nicholas Roosevelt. Mr. Mansfield used to tell us how Colonel Roosevelt took off his coat, took his turn at the windlass, and really tore into it. They finally got them all across and camped down, and then they fixed them some supper.
The next morning, Mr. Mansfield was nervous at having people of that prominence with him, and he wanted to get them out of the canyon before it was too hot. He had forgotten his watch, but when he thought it was about time to get up and get going, he got them all up. A little later, someone looked at his watch and found it was three o'clock in the morning. In any event, they got ready and went up on top to VT Park. Mr. Mansfield let Colonel Roosevelt have some horses and camp equipment and they thus became acquainted and became very good friends.
When Roosevelt returned to Oyster Bay, he not only sent Mr. Mansfield an autographed. photograph of himself, but he also sent him a large gold watch. Engraved on the back of it was something to the effect, "To E. M. Mansfield from Theodore Roosevelt." Of course, Mr. Mansfield treasured that watch and left it to his oldest grandchild, my son, Ralph. I kept it for a long while until Ralph was married and established a home of his own. and then I turned it over to him.
Later as I started thinking about it. I thought how wonderful it would be if one had a watch left to him by Abraham Lincoln, and then wondered how we could prove that this watch actually came from Theodore Roosevelt since anyone could engrave anything on the back of a watch. I had a brother-in-law living in Flushing, Long Island not far from Oyster Bay, George Ernstrom, Ethel Mansfield's husband. I asked him if he would see if he could get in touch with Nicholas or Archie Roosevelt and see if they remembered the incident and would put the story in writing. He did get in touch with Nicholas, and through him with Archie, and they both remembered the incident very well. Archie said, "Oh, by all means," and began to relate how kind Mr. Mansfield was to them when they were in Arizona.
He remembered the watch given Mr. Mansfield by his father and said he would be glad to put the story in writing. He wrote the letter in longhand and sent it in duplicate. One of the copies is with the watch my son now has, and I have the other in my safe deposit box.
My second son, Kenneth, was always very anxious to go to New York City, and he finally got to go there when he was about seventeen years old. Through his uncle, George Ernstrom, he met Nicholas Roosevelt who was then a special writer for the New York Herald Tribune. Roosevelt took a liking to Kenneth and had him out to his home on Long Island, and they became pretty well acquainted.
Nicholas asked Kenneth one day what he wanted to do and he told him he wanted to study journalism at Columbia and that he would like to report the campus news for the New York Herald Tribune, a rather ambitious desire for a youngster of his age.
The next summer he returned to New York and became better acquainted with Nicholas Roosevelt. When he returned home from the second trip there was a wire from Mr. Roosevelt saying that if Kenneth wanted the job reporting the Columbia campus news, he should come on back and take it.
Kenneth returned to New York, went to Columbia, started working for the New York Herald Tribune, and he has never worked anywhere but in that vicinity since then. The meeting between Colonel Roosevelt and my father-in-law had quite a considerable amount of influence on my second son's life.