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Standing Rock

“I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding; and when the evil nature of these people is sufficiently flagrant, this should be done. Criminals should be sterilized and feebleminded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them… The emphasis should be laid on getting desirable people to breed…"- Theodore Roosevelt, “Twisted Eugenics," The Works of Theodore Roosevelt

Conservation and Eugenics

1905 — US President Theodore Roosevelt cuts all relations with Koreans, turns the American legation in Seoul over to the Japanese military, deletes the word “Korea” from the State Department’s Record of Foreign Relations and places it under the heading of “Japan," approving of what will be a brutal, too often murderous, forty year occupation, during much of which, Koreans are forbidden even to speak their language; an unconstitutional act of the US president, said to have been in exchange for acceptance of the continuing US occupation of the Philippines by Japan, recognized as a half-brother empire of the European colonial powers

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As a former great chief at Washington I was admitted to the sacred room, or one-roomed house, the kiva, in which the chosen snake priests had for a fortnight been getting ready for the sacred dance. Very few white men have been thus admitted, and never unless it is known that they will treat with courtesy and respect what the Indians revere.

Entrance to the house, which was sunk in the rock, was through a hole in the roof, down a ladder across whose top hung a cord from which fluttered three eagle plumes and dangled three small animal skins. Below was a room perhaps fifteen feet by twenty-five.

One end of it, perhaps a third of its length, was raised a foot above the rest, and the ladder led down to this raised part. Against the rear wall of this raised part or dais lay thirty odd rattlesnakes, most of them in a twined heap in one corner, but a dozen by themselves scattered along the wall.

There was also a pot containing several striped ribbon-snakes, too lively to be left at large. Eight or ten priests, some old, some young, sat on the floor in the lower and larger two-thirds of the room, and greeted me with grave courtesy; they spread a blanket on the edge of the dais, and I sat down, with my back to the snakes and about eight feet from them; a little behind and to one side of me sat a priest with a category of fan or brush made of two or three wing-plumes of an eagle, who kept quiet guard over his serpent wards.

At the farther end of the room was the altar; the crude image of a coyote was painted on the floor, and on the four sides of this coyote picture were paintings of snakes; on three sides it was hemmed in by lightning sticks, or thunder sticks, standing upright in little clay cups, and on the fourth side by eagle plumes held similarly erect.

Some of the priests were smoking—for pleasure, not ceremonially—and they were working at parts of the ceremonial dress. One had a cast rattlesnake skin which he was chewing, to limber it up, just as Sioux squaws used to chew buckskin. Another was fixing a leather apron with pendent thongs; he stood up and tried it on. All were scantily clad, in breech-clouts or short kilts or loin flaps; their naked, copper-red bodies, lithe and sinewy, shone, and each had been splashed in two or three places with a blotch or streak of white paint.

One spoke English and translated freely; I was careful not to betray too much curiosity or touch on any matter which they might be reluctant to discuss. The snakes behind me never rattled or showed any signs of anger; the translator volunteered the remark that they were peaceable because they had been given medicine—whatever that might mean, supposing the statement to be true according to the sense in which the words are accepted by plains men. But several of them were active in the sluggish rattlesnake fashion.

One glided sinuously toward me; when he was a yard away, I pointed him out to the watcher with the eagle feathers; the watcher quietly extended the feathers and stroked and pushed the snake's head back, until it finally turned and crawled back to the wall. Half a dozen times different snakes thus crawled out toward me and were turned back, without their ever displaying a symptom of irritation. One snake got past the watcher and moved slowly past me about six inches away, whereupon the priest on my left leaned across me and checked its advance by throwing pinches of dust in its face until the watcher turned round with his feather sceptre.

Every move was made without hurry and with quiet unconcern; neither snake nor man, at any time, showed a trace of worry or anger; all, human beings and reptiles, were in an atmosphere of quiet peacefulness. When I rose to say good-by, I thanked my hosts for their courtesy; they were pleased, and two or three shook hands with me.


On the afternoon of the following day the antelope priests—the men of the antelope clan—held their dance. The snake priests took part. It was held in the middle of Walpi village, round a big, rugged column of rock, a dozen feet high, which juts out of the smooth surface. The antelope-dancers came in first, clad in kilts, with fox skins behind; otherwise naked, painted with white splashes and streaks, and their hair washed with the juice of the yucca root. Their leader's kilt was white; he wore a garland and anklets of cottonwood leaves, and sprinkled water from a sacred vessel to the four corners of heaven.

Another leader carried the sacred bow and a bull-roarer, and they moved to its loud moaning sound. The snake priests were similarly clad, but their kirtles were of leather; eagle plumes were in their long hair, and under their knees they carried rattles made of tortoise-shell. In two lines they danced opposite each other, keeping time to the rhythm of their monotonous chanting.


The idea that our natural resources were inexhaustible still exists. Even though there is as yet no real knowledge of their extent and condition. The relation of the conservation of natural resources to the problems of American welfare and American efficiency had not yet dawned on the public mind. The reclamation of arid public lands in the West was still a matter for private enterprise alone; and our magnificent river system, with its superb possibilities for public usefulness, was dealt with by the American government not as a unit, but as a disconnected series of pork-barrel problems, whose only real interest was in their effect on the reelection or defeat of a Congressman here and there—a theory which, I regret to say, still obtains.

The idea that the president is the steward of the public welfare was first formulated and given practical effect in the Forest Service by its law officer, George Woodruff. The laws were often insufficient, and it became well-nigh impossible to get them amended in the public interest when once the representatives of privilege in Congress grasped the fact that I would sign no amendment that contained anything not in the public interest. It was necessary to use what law was already in existence, and then further to supplement it by presidential action. The practice of examining every claim to public land before passing it into private ownership offers a good example of the policy in question. This practice, which has since become general, was first applied in the American Forests. Enormous areas of valuable public timberland were thereby saved from fraudulent acquisition; more than 250,000 acres were thus saved in a single case.

Even more important was the taking of steps to preserve from destruction beautiful and wonderful wild creatures whose existence was threatened by greed and wantonness. During the seven and a half years closing on March 4, 1909, more was accomplished for the protection of wild life in America than during all the previous years, excepting only the creation of the Yellowstone National Park. The record includes the creation of five National Parks—Crater Lake, Oregon; Wind Cave, South Dakota; Platt, Oklahoma; Sully Hill, North Dakota, and Mesa Verde, Colorado; four big animal refuges in Oklahoma, Arizona, Montana, and Washington; fifty-one bird reservations; and the enactment of laws for the protection of wild life in Alaska, the District of Columbia, and on National bird reserves.

These measures may be briefly enumerated as follows:

The enactment of the first game laws for the Territory of Alaska in 1902 and 1908, resulting in the regulation of the export of heads and trophies of big animals and putting an end to the slaughter of deer for hides along the southern coast of the Territory.

The securing in 1902 of the first appropriation for the preservation of buffalo and the establishment in the Yellowstone National Park of the first and now the largest herd of buffalo belonging to America.

The passage of the Act of January 24, 1905, creating the Wichita Game Preserves, the first of the National animal preserves. In 1907, 12,000 acres of this preserve were inclosed with a woven wire fence for the reception of the herd of fifteen buffalo donated by the New York Zoological Society.

The passage of the Act of June 29, 1906, providing for the establishment of the Grand Canyon Game Preserve of Arizona, now comprising 1,492,928 acres.

The passage of the National Monuments Act of June 8, 1906, under which a number of objects of scientific interest have been preserved for all time. Among the Monuments created are Muir Woods, Pinnacles National Monument in California, and the Mount Olympus National Monument, Washington, which form important refuges for animals.

The passage of the Act of June 30, 1906, regulating shooting in the District of Columbia and making three-fourths of the environs of the National Capital within the District in effect a National Refuge.

buffalo slaughter

The passage of the Act of May 23, 1908, providing for the establishment of the National Bison Range in Montana. This range comprises about 18,000 acres of land formerly in the Flathead Indian Reservation, on which is now established a herd of eighty buffalo, a nucleus of which was donated to America by the American Bison Society.

The issue of the Order protecting birds on the Niobrara Military Reservation, Nebraska, in 1908, making this entire reservation in effect a bird reservation.

The establishment by Executive Order between March 14, 1903, and March 4, 1909, of fifty-one National Bird Reservations distributed in seventeen States and Territories from Puerto Rico to Hawaii and Alaska. The creation of these reservations at once placed American in the front rank in the world work of bird protection. Among these reservations are the celebrated Pelican Island rookery in Indian River, Florida; the Mosquito Inlet Reservation, Florida, the northernmost home of the manatee; the extensive marshes bordering Klamath and Malhuer Lakes in Oregon, formerly the scene of slaughter of ducks for market and ruthless destruction of plume birds for the millinery trade; the Tortugas Key, Florida, where, in connection with the Carnegie Institute, experiments have been made on the homing instinct of birds; and the great bird colonies on Laysan and sister islets in Hawaii, some of the greatest colonies of sea birds on Earth.

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people."

"The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value."

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."


Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States, pseudowarrior, author, conservationist, environmentalist


Theodore Roosevelt often observed that American democracy is too sturdy to be destroyed by a foreign enemy. But, he warned, it could easily be destroyed by "malefactors of great wealth" who would subvert American political institutions from within.'


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