Teddy’s Bear

By Hannah Kroll | Medora, ND

It’s National Teddy Bear Picnic Day today!

The little teddy bear holiday might not be widely practiced elsewhere, but we at Medora love to celebrate these history-stuffed toys. You can probably guess why. The link between the teddy bear and Teddy Roosevelt runs deep. For those who have not yet heard the tale, let’s take a trip back to 1902 – a hunting trip with our 26th president Theodore Roosevelt.

By this time, Roosevelt already experienced the rugged ranching scene of our Badlands. Now, after enduring the rugged political scene as president, he set out for a much-needed break – bear hunting. For five days in the Mississippi heat, Roosevelt and his party searched for his prize. Day after day, he lumbered back to camp without a shot. Poor Teddy! His hunting venture was not as successful as his political campaign. To make matters worse, he had allowed reporters to visit his camp, and stories of his failed hunt could be read in the newspapers.

One particular report, however, turned the hunting trip into history.

It was the day when Roosevelt finally found his bear. He was at camp and one of his friends called for him. The friend had cornered a bear and was holding out for Roosevelt to come and claim it. Roosevelt came. He found the bear, a small creature, kept at bay in the river by the hunting hounds. It had been lassoed with rope and knocked on the head with a rifle. The ragged animal was alive but sat as a dazed and easy target. Roosevelt took in the scene. This hardly resembled fair game, and it certainly did not live up to the ethical standards expected of hunters and conservationists. Just moments before, TR had scrambled for a chance to bag his bear, now he refused and turned away.

Drawing the Line in Mississippi
Cartoon by Clifford Berryman, Washington Post, November 16, 1902.

Reports of the story hit the press. A front-page cartoon in the Washington Post showed President Roosevelt, rifle in hand, walking away from a sad little bear. Audiences loved it. It inspired a toyshop owner in New York. Soon, a line of stuffed bears nicknamed “Teddy’s Bear” popped off the shelves and into the arms of American children.

Now, over 100 years later, teddy bears comfort children and adults in homes around the world. It seems the classic toy’s popularity has outgrown that of the man whose name it honors.

For many of us, teddy bears mark the passages of our personal history. My first bear was a big white one that I unwrapped under the Christmas tree years ago. We were friends for a long time. One of my favorite things was to brandish her like a club and chase after my cousin whose name was – in fact – Theodore. But we sometimes called him “Teddy Bear.”

What connections do you share with these memorable toys? What is your “Teddy Bear” history?

P.S. If you’d like to read about Roosevelt’s bear hunt for yourself, try a visit to Western Edge Books. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris writes a captivating account of the story.

Research source: Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. Random House Trade Paperbacks, Random House Inc., 2001, pp. 170-174

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