Teddy Roosevelt and the gift from Sugar Pine

Pieces of the Past

Bill CoateJanuary 26, 2012 

When it was reported that the town of Raymond was going to be honored with a visit from President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, everyone wanted a piece of the action, especially the flatlanders around Berenda and Madera. Before it was all over, they got their wish, but it didn't make some Fresno folks very happy.

Meanwhile the folks from the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company were busy making sure they would not be forgotten.

Roosevelt was completing a tour of Yosemite in May of 1903, when he acceded to the requests of a host of Raymondites to speak to them. "A.C. Shaw, one of the prominent business men of Raymond" received a letter from a Mr. Loeb, the president's secretary, stating that Roosevelt would grant his request and address the people of Raymond on the morning of his arrival."

Roosevelt delighted a large crowd of mountain folks with a rousing speech given from the front porch of Bowen's store at Raymond.

From there, the president descended to the Valley floor where he found a huge crowd assembled at Berenda awaiting just a glimpse of him. What they got was vintage Roosevelt, in his own inimitable style.

According to the Madera Mercury, approximately 3,000 Madera County residents were at the Berenda train depot and another 2,000 "were made up of contingents from Merced, Selma, Sanger, Hanford, Fresno and other small towns outside of Madera County." Although the dedication of the Maderans eventually paid off, the day didn't have a very promising beginning.

The Mercury reported that county residents were "badly buncoed." They had been promised four cars to transport them from Madera to Berenda by the Southern Pacific Railroad. When the train arrived, however, none were available, "all owing to the usual bad management" of the railroad. Four hundred men, women, and children waited at the depot from 5:30 a.m., its announced arrival time, until 6:15. When the train finally pulled into the station, all of the cars were filled, even to the steps. The Maderans were left to get to Berenda on their own hook.

All of the roads leading to Berenda were dotted that day with carriages, bicycles, wagons and even an occasional automobile. By the time that Roosevelt arrived, the platform was filled, as was the roof of the depot.

The Madera Mercury reported that at 7 a.m., the presidential train from Raymond pulled into the station amid the cheering of the people and waving of flags.

A committee of Fresno people, who were loaded with an address for the president, attempted to "butt in" and usurp the honor of introducing the Chief Executive. However, their plans failed, for as soon as the train stopped, President Roosevelt, who was standing on the rear platform of the last car, began to speak and shut off all attempts at oratory on the part of the Fresno people.

One fellow named Ned, followed by a crowd of people from the "fever districts of Fresno," tried to talk, but President Roosevelt, having evidently been informed of the characteristics of the Fresnans, who wanted everything in sight, waved Mr. Ned aside with the remark, "I'm addressing this audience." Roosevelt then turned and continued his speech much to the delight of Madera County residents.

The President's remarks extolled the virtues of the work ethic that, in his opinion, characterized all that was great in America.

"If you have a man with those characteristics (propensity for hard work), you have a good citizen. 'You there,' pointing at a gray bearded man who stood in the front ranks of the crowd, 'You there with the Grand Army button on. You remember that there were men who talked and told of the big things they were going to do, while you and the rest of the boys in the ranks were digging ... or policing. They talked on and did nothing. You were the men who did things. You dug the kitchen sink when you had to, and you fought when you had to.'"

At that point, one of the train officials informed the president that the schedule demanded an immediate departure, whereupon, Roosevelt informed the chagrined trainman, "Just tell them to wait a minute. Look here, I like this crowd."

After a huge outpouring of laughter, the crowd shouted back, "And we like you." Roosevelt concluded his remarks by acknowledging the "nobility of labor." He said, "It made no difference what a man is doing, if he does it well."

At that point he was handed a branch of blossoms by a rosy cheeked girl and responded by stating, "Another thing I want to say is that while I am congratulating you on your crops, I congratulate you most on your crop of children." The President was of course cheered "lustily."

At that point, the mountain folks stole the show. They gave Roosevelt another gift from Madera County. It was a tablet of Sugar Pine, 31 inches by 31 inches. In the center of the piece was a photograph of the "largest Sugar Pine in the world." The tablet bore the following inscription: "Presented to President of the U.S. of America -- Theodore Roosevelt -- May 18, 1903 -- A souvenir of the forest through which you passed on your way to the Yosemite."

With that the train pulled out, and the crowd gave President Roosevelt one last cheer. When the cars were out of sight, everyone packed up and went home. They would never forget their encounter with the old Bull Moose himself and apparently he would never forget them. After all, he did have that souvenir from Sugar Pine.

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