Do you know who we have to thank for the park at the Royal Gorge? I’ll give you a hint, he has a children’s toy named after him! That’s right, it’s Theodore Roosevelt! Today is his birthday so it seemed appropriate to talk about him and his connection with Cañon City and Fremont County.
In 1906, an act of congress, signed by Theodore Roosevelt granted the land surrounding the Royal Gorge to the city of Cañon City as a park for the use and benefit to the public. Prior to this, he had visited the area a few times as both a hunter and a political figure.
In 1900, Roosevelt rolled through the area in a train while a candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket with William McKinley. During this whistle stop tour, Roosevelt stopped in Cañon City and gave a short speech before moving on.
Roosevelt came back through Colorado as the President of the United States in 1905 after a hunting trip and stopped at various cities on his way back to Denver. Both Florence and Cañon City were on the ticket on Monday, May 8th. In Florence, the Mayor issued a proclamation requesting all business be suspended during the noon hour. The train was expected to depart Cañon City at 12:19 pm and depart Florence at 12:38 pm. To truly put this in perspective, the train was expected to arrive in Florence at 12:35 meaning it was only in the city for a total of three minutes before departing! Of course all the best laid plans go awry. According to the article written later that week, the train didn’t arrive in Cañon City until 12:20 pm even though it was expected at 12:05 pm. According to the news write up, about 4500 people gathered to hear the President speak, with even greater enthusiasm shown than when he had come 5 years earlier as a candidate for vice president. During this trip he also passed through the Royal Gorge and paused to take a photo at the Hanging Bridge.
Another known naturalist, conservationist, and hunter in the area is, of course, Dall DeWeese. We like to claim Theodore Roosevelt was one of the many visitors to DeWeese’s lodge in Lincoln Park. It seems logical to think DeWeese could have been part of a hunting trip with Roosevelt in Colorado at some point but his name was never mentioned in any reports of these trips so we have no proof of a friendship existing. While we know DeWeese wrote to Roosevelt pleading for wildlife preservation in Alaska we have no evidence that Roosevelt ever stayed in DeWeese’s lodge. But it’s practically a national pastime to claim a president, really any president, has slept either here or there. So the legend persists!
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.