Guthrie Kicks-Off Centennial

On November 17 and 18 of this year, Guthrie, Oklahoma will kick off a year-long celebration of Oklahoma's 100th birthday. Thousands of visitors from across the country are expected to visit Oklahoma's first capitol city during the state's Centennial Celebration. Activities include historical reenactments surrounding Oklahoma's statehood and some very special appearances, including Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.

Actually, you might well expect that Roosevelt would be present for the festivities; he was the president who signed the proclamation declaring Oklahoma a state in 1907. The crowd will also have the chance to meet Oklahoma's first governor, Charles Haskell. Both men will be looking well for their age, thanks to gifted actors, period costumes and the imagination of Guthrie's Centennial Committee. What may be surprising to some historians is to see the two historical figures celebrating side by side, especially considering a dispute between the two men once severely affected their political and personal relationship.

Some historians simply refer to it as "The Incident of 1908." The account of what happened is recorded in an address made by Charles Haskell on Oklahoma's Silver Anniversary on November 16, 1932. According to Haskell, Roosevelt had urged William Howard Taft, a presidential candidate in 1908, to "center his fire" on Haskell, because a "personal attack" would aid Mr. Taft in his bid for the presidency.

The insinuation was that, as a former representative of the Standard Oil Company, Haskell had helped secure campaign funds from his previous employer. Roosevelt was initially advised there were no grounds for the complaint. However, the former president, whom Haskell described as a "somewhat determined character," pursued a two-year legal battle attempting to prove the accusation. When Roosevelt lost the case in 1910, Haskell was vindicated of any wrongdoing.

According to other records in the state's library, Haskell also publicly questioned Roosevelt's moral character during the legal proceedings, perhaps in retaliation or in an attempt to explain the real cause of Roosevelt's animosity toward him. It involved another "incident" which had occurred three years earlier.

In April of 1905, President Roosevelt came to Oklahoma to hunt wolves. According to sworn affidavits by witnesses, the area where the hunt took place was Big Pasture, an Indian reservation about 18 miles west of Frederick, Oklahoma. It was a time when liquor was prohibited on Oklahoma's reservations and Haskell was a staunch prohibitionist. The witnesses claimed that Roosevelt brought "four mules, each carrying four cases of beer, whiskey and champagne" onto the reservation, knowing well that it was an act punishable by imprisonment. Haskell claimed, "Roosevelt imbibed himself most heartily and left a trail of bottles to mock the law."

Eventually, Haskell and Roosevelt buried their differences and adopted an attitude of mutual admiration. Seven years later, according to Haskell's address, Roosevelt "became convinced that he had been in the wrong in that fight and made a personal apology to his opponent." He quoted Roosevelt as saying, "I fought Haskell and I was wrong, and I am not going to delay an apology for the wrong we did him. It won't be long until I will be gone and it will be too late to do the manly thing." Haskell said that the public apology, which Roosevelt made sure was recorded in official public records, was "conclusive evidence of (Roosevelt's) genuine manhood and high character.…"

According to George Watts, Chairman of the Guthrie Centennial Committee, the role of Governor Haskell will be played by one of his actual descendents. Richard Lemin, a Deer Creek middle school world history teacher, will play the role of Teddy Roosevelt. He had previously portrayed the president in 1982 at Oklahoma's Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) and volunteered to return for the Centennial Celebration in Guthrie. Lemin said that he has portrayed a number of historical roles but President Roosevelt is one he feels well suited to bring to life.

"I couldn't play Abraham Lincoln, but I do slightly resemble Roosevelt – middle-aged, heavy-set, big moustache and smile," said Lemin. "He was energetic, outgoing and outspoken, which also somewhat describes me. The rest I try to carry off with acting."

Lemin shared some interesting trivia about Roosevelt, including the fact that he was the youngest man to become president; he was 42 when President McKinley was assassinated (President Kennedy was the youngest elected president at 43 years of age.). He also said that Roosevelt hated the name "Teddy" because it was forever associated with the bear, which made fun of his love of hunting.

Roosevelt was one of America's first environmentalists, creating the first National Park to help preserve the western frontier. He was also the first American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the peace in the Russo-Japanese war.

Historian Thomas Bailey wrote of Roosevelt, "He was a great personality, a great activist, a great preacher of moralities, a great controversialist, a great showman. He dominated his era as he dominated conversations. The masses loved him; he proved to be a great popular idol and a great vote getter."

Plans for Guthrie's Centennial Celebration kick-off include a big parade, live entertainment and the Grand Opening of a special statehood exhibition at the Oklahoma Territorial Museum. An appearance by Teddy Roosevelt is also planned where he will once again be '"loved by the masses." Maybe this time, after 100 years, should the president wish to celebrate by enjoying a beer in Oklahoma, no one will object…not even Governor Haskell.

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