Roosevelt swung down from his pony Manitou and raised his Winchester. He positioned himself behind his horse. The five Indians riding in a deadly gallop were almost upon him. It had been ten years since Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and Geronimo was still on the run. The Indian Wars had simmered down, but atrocities still occurred on both sides. Roosevelt would later write, “There is always danger in meeting a band of young bucks in lonely, uninhabited country—those that have barely reached manhood being the most truculent, insolent, and reckless.”
Roosevelt knew he might die if he stood his ground, but he would surely die if he gave up his rifle or tried to outrun the Indians. He cocked his Winchester and took aim over the saddle of his horse. His glasses hit the stock and sweat tickled his nose. His hat was pulled low. The Indians whooped and shrieked with their rifles over their heads. Roosevelt breathed in the heated air of the Badlands and the ropy smell of his saddle. Later he would write, “The level plain where we were was of all places the one on which such an onslaught could best be met.”3
Being in the open gave him an advantage. Roosevelt drew a bead on the Indian in the middle. Men who knew they might die would think twice before charging someone with a rifle aimed at their chest. Still, Roosevelt knew the Indians had the odds. He might take one of them—but of course the others would kill him. Maybe take his scalp or hack him to pieces as they had left others. All he could really do was wait. He was a man from New York who just a year earlier had frantically taken a train in the middle of the night to find his destiny. It was a murderous world there, too.
Forging A President How the Wild West Created Teddy Roosevelt