Theodore Roosevelt Water and the West

In one of our biggest collaborations to date, TPS @ MSU Denver, along with five co-sponsors: History ColoradoColorado Humanities, Denver Post Educational Services, Metro State’s One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Theodore Roosevelt Center, held a two-day event which focused on the all-too-important issue of water, while offering a unique perspective that looked through the lens of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. Noted historians Clay Jenkinson (also in character as Roosevelt), Patricia Limerick, and Elliott West discussed water issues in the West from both historical and current standpoints.

The first event held on Friday, June 29th, was a professional development workshop for educators. TPS Consultants Michelle Pearson, Cynthia Stout, and Linda Sargent Wood from Northern Arizona Universtiy ran the workshop. With a focus on Water in the West and Theodore Roosevelt, participants were introduced to the Library of Congress website and its various collections, as well as the The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State and its collections. In order to introduce the concept of primary sources, we provided the participants with a mystery photo activity using the Theodore Roosevelt primary source below:

While analysing the photo, the participants were asked to answer the following questions:

  1. What do you observe?
  2. What do you think you know?
  3. What do you want to find out?

Try this activity on your own using the above picture. This is the essence of inquiry. What were some of your questions? Here’s a hint.

We also asked the following questions in order to stimulate the thought processes of the attendees:

How would you plan an inquiry process for your students using a single primary source such as the mystery photo?

  • What are the logistical considerations when using a single primary source?
  • What are the pedagogical considerations of a beginning inquiry process?
  • How do you help students “connect” to content and ideas unfamiliar to them?
  • What can you do to encourage students’ curiosity and interest in pursuing inquiry?

As the participants answered these questions, Michelle, Cynthia, and Linda had them write their thoughts and reflections on sticky notes, which were then added to a white board at the front of the room. Here are some pictures:



Next was a segment on inquiry, focusing on the Stripling Model and the Dual Inquiry model. Sharon Kilzer, Project Manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, then gave a highly informative talk introducing the vast number of digitized resources available for educators (and the general public) available at the Center. It’s an amazing collection of resources centered around a historical figure. Be sure to check it out!

The most exciting part of the workshop was the segment called “Inside the Historians Studio.” Historians Clay Jenkinson, Patricia Limerick, and Elliott West were asked questions by attendees regarding specific issues related to Roosevelt, water and the West. Some of the questions asked were:

  • “What do you think is the most inaccurate myth about Roosevelt?”
  • “How would Theodore Roosevelt have viewed our various attitudes toward energy and its development?
    • Would he see us as careless and wasteful, or innovative and aggressive?
    • What might he have said about the “Drill Baby, Drill” crowd, green advocates, and those who saw we need to utilize everything in order to strive for energy independence?”
  • “Today, there seems to be world-wide concerns about natural resources–particularly oil. How do we promote more discussions about water concerns (as our life-dependent fuel) which is being eroded world-wide?”
At the close of this first event of the day, participants mentioned what a delight the Inside the Historians Studio segment turned out to be. Many people mentioned that not only was it highly informative, but very entertaining as well. For the second part of the day the symposium moved to the new History Colorado Center, where the attendees (as well as the general public) would be treated to an extended conversation with Theodore Roosevelt himself!

One would think Theodore Roosevelt would be a giant presence in person, but before the night portion of the symposium began, Roosevelt could be found sitting silently just off stage. As soon as TPS @ Metro State Director Peggy O’Neill-Jones introduced him, however, his entire demeanor abruptly changed. With a booming, eloquent voice, President Roosevelt enthralled the 100+ attendees for over 30 minutes, discussing such issues as:

  1. The development of his conservation ethos in the Dakota Territory (1883-1887),
  2. His other acts of conservation:
    • 150 million acres of National Forest,
    • the signing of the Newlands Reclamation Act (1902),
    • the passage of the Antiquities Act,
    • his designation of the first 18 National Monuments,
    • and his invention of the Federal Bird Sanctuaries (National Wildlife Refuge System) in 1903.
  3. His role in the founding of the Boone & Crockett Club,
    • The club’s work to protect Yellowstone National Park from adverse economic development
  4. His tenure as Governor of New York,
  5. His growing friendship with Gifford Pinchot
Following his monologue was a Q&A session led by Patricia Limerick. Although at times heated and passionate, the Q&A session was a fascinating look into the mind of Theodore Roosevelt, as well as Clay Jenkinson’s superb acting talent. This event too topped the attendees’ list of the highlight of the symposium.
The following day featured talks by a myriad of presenters.  The first half of the day centered around the three historians Elliott West, Patricia Limerick, and Clay Jenkinson, along with guest speaker Greg Hobbs, who is a Colorado Supreme Court Justice. Elliott went first, where he presented on the history of the Arkansas River and how it has shaped people and events. Patricia was next with a presentation on the history of water and its misconceptions, which is the focus of her upcoming book. Clay then spoke about the future of the Missouri River. It was then Justice Greg Hobbs’s turn, where he spoke about Colorado water issues and the stakeholders of water.

Following lunch was a panel presentation discussing various “communities of water”, which featured four other historians: Thomas Andrews, who spoke about the environment and water through a novel first-person perspective; Amber Tafoya, who talked about the Hispanic community’s relation to water; Matt Makley, who focused on the relationship between Native Americans and water; and Sid Wilson, who shared personal experiences regarding water and outdoor recreation & people of color.

The panel was then joined by Theodore Roosevelt, Patricia, and Elliott for an informative and engaging discussion that concluded the day, and the symposium.


From left to right: Elliott West, Thomas Andrews, Sid Wilson, Clay Jenkinson (as TR), Matt Makley, Amber Tafoya, & Patricia Limerick

This two day event was easily one of our most ambitious and ultimately, successful ones. We were honored to have such well-known and well-respected historians throughout the duration of our event, as well as a strong list of attendees who remained focused and engaged throughout the entire day.  One attendee came up to me at the end of the event and mentioned how wonderful it was listening to and interacting with “such learned individuals about such important topics.” We hope to continue this success in the future.