45 Amazing Facts About All 44 American Presidents

iStock.com/traveler1116
iStock.com/traveler1116

In March 1789, the U.S. Constitution was officially enacted and the office of the President of the United States was established. The following month, General George Washington was sworn in as the first Commander-in-Chief and since then, 44 men have held the job (one in two non-consecutive terms, which is why we have 45 presidencies total). Below is an interesting tidbit about each person who has held the highest office in the land.

1. George Washington

George Washington with his family.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Not only was George Washington known as the father of the country, he was also known as the "Father of the American Foxhound" for creating a unique breed of foxhound he called "Virginia Hounds."

2. John Adams

John Adams
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

John Adams signed a congressional act creating the United States Marine Band in 1798, which is now the oldest active professional musical organization in the U.S. Known as the President's Own, they played at the first ever New Year's celebration at the president’s house and, later, at Thomas Jefferson's inauguration.

3. Thomas Jefferson

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson.
iStock.com/traveler1116

Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library when the Library of Congress was burned by the British during the War of 1812. He sold them 6487 books from his own collection, the largest in America at the time.

4. James Madison

James Madison
National Archive, Newsmakers

James and Dolley Madison were crazy for ice cream. They had an ice house built on the grounds of their Montpelier estate so that they could enjoy ice cream and cold drinks all summer long, and they were known to serve bowls of oyster ice cream at official government functions.

5. James Monroe

James Monroe
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

James Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, attended Napoleon's coronation at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1804 while he was serving as the American ambassador in the U.K.

6. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams
Henry Guttmann, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Quincy Adams enjoyed skinny-dipping. He was known to take 5 a.m. plunges in the Potomac River as part of his morning exercise routine.

7. Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Andrew Jackson despised banks and made it his mission to defund the Second Bank of the United States (he succeeded). So, it seems particularly ironic that his portrait has graced the $20 since 1929.

8. Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Born in New York in 1782, Martin Van Buren was the first president to have been born after the American Revolution, technically making him the first American-born president. (The seven before him were all born in the American colonies.)

9. William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Harrison kept a goat as his pet, but never bothered to name him. (He called him Billy goat.) He also had a beloved cow he called Sukey.

10. John Tyler

John Tyler
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

John Tyler loved music and had considered becoming a concert violinist before deciding to follow his father's advice and study law. Often, he would play music for guests at the White House and in his later years he devoted himself to perfecting his skill at violin and fiddle. In 2004, when he was sculpted in bronze as part of a presidents' memorial in South Dakota, the artists included his violin in his statue.

11. James K. Polk

James Polk
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When he was 17, James Polk needed surgery to have some kidney stones removed. He had some brandy to numb the pain but was awake for the entire procedure—anesthesia wouldn't be invented for another 30-some years.

12. Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor and his horse, Old Whitey.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Zachary Taylor was a war hero whose beloved horse, Old Whitey, was nearly as popular as he was—numerous times while the steed was grazing on the White House lawn, visitors would approach him to pluck a hair from his tail for a souvenir.

13. Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

A voracious reader, Millard Fillmore was known to keep a dictionary on him in order to improve his vocabulary.

14. Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce
National Archive, Newsmakers

Franklin Pierce had a number of nicknames, including "Handsome Frank," but likely the most embarrassing was "Fainting Frank." As a brigadier general in the Mexican-American war, he sustained a groin and knee injury during a battle in 1847 when he was thrown against the pommel of his horse. He only briefly passed out from the pain, but the nickname stuck around for life.

15. James Buchanan

James Buchanan
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though James Buchanan was engaged once in his late twenties, she broke it off. He became the only president who was a lifelong bachelor.

16. Abraham Lincoln

portrait of Abraham Lincoln
iStock.com/ilbusca

Before Abraham Lincoln found his "look" with his famous beard, he was known for his fairly unkempt appearance. One reporter referred to his "thatch of wild republican hair" with his "irregular flocks of thick hair carelessly brushed" across his face.

17. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In his day, Andrew Johnson was known as the best dressed president. Growing up, his mother sent him to apprentice with a tailor, and he frequently made his own clothes and suits.

18. Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant
Spencer Arnold, Getty Images

In an attempt to unite the North and South, Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday in 1870.

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes
National Archive, Newsmakers

The first Siamese cat to arrive in America was sent as a gift to Hayes and his wife, Lucy, by the American consul in Bangkok. Siam the cat landed at the White House in 1879 after traveling by ship to Hong Kong then San Francisco, and then by train to Washington, D.C.

20. James A. Garfield

James A Garfield
National Archive, Newsmakers

As a child, James Garfield dreamed of being a sailor. He read a number of nautical novels which fueled his imagination, but a teenage job towing barges was as close to a seafaring life as he saw.

21. Chester A. Arthur

Chester Alan Arthur
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Chester A. Arthur oversaw a massive renovation of the White House and its private chambers. Arthur hired Louis C. Tiffany—Tiffany and Co.'s first design director and the man most known for his work with stained glass—to do all of the redesign. To help cover some of the costs, Arthur had 24 wagon-loads of old furniture, drapes, and other household items (some of which dated back to the Adams administration) sold at auction.

22. Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland circa 1885.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

He was born Stephen Grover Cleveland, but dropped Stephen before he entered into politics. He was affectionately called "Uncle Jumbo" by his younger relatives because he was nearly 6 feet tall and weighed about 270 pounds.

23. Benjamin Harrison

Portrait of Benjamin Harrison.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Benjamin Harrison had a tight-knit family and loved to amuse and dote on his grandchildren. He put up the first recorded White House Christmas tree in 1889, and was known to put on the Santa suit for entertainment.

24. Grover Cleveland

Portrait of Grover Cleveland
iStock

Grover Cleveland was also the first (and only) U.S. President to serve non-consecutive terms, so he makes this list twice. Between terms, he moved back to New York City, worked at a law firm, and his wife gave birth to their famous first daughter, Baby Ruth.

25. William McKinley

Portrait of William McKinley
National Archive, Newsmakers/Getty

William McKinley had a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot named Washington Post who served in an official capacity as a White House greeter. The bird also knew the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy"—the president would whistle the first few notes, and then Washington Post would finish the rest.

26. Theodore Roosevelt

Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt
Hulton Archive, Getty

For his official White House portrait, Theodore Roosevelt chose the famed French portraiture artist Theobald Chartran, who had earlier done a portrait of the First Lady Edith Roosevelt. "It was difficult to get the president to sit still," The New York Times reported Chartran said before the painting was unveiled and displayed in France in 1903. "I never had a more restless or more charming sitter." Roosevelt, however, hated the painting, and after hiding it in a dark hall of the White House for years, he eventually burned it.

27. William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

In 1910, William Taft became the first president to attend baseball's opening day and throw the ceremonial first pitch, a tradition that has been honored by nearly every president since (sans Carter and Trump, thus far).

28. Woodrow Wilson

portrait of Woodrow Wilson
Tony Essex/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Woodrow Wilson is among many U.S. Presidents known for their love of golf. Wilson enjoyed daily rounds to stay in shape and relax, particularly during World War I, when he even used black golf balls so he could play through the winter.

29. Warren G. Harding

Portrait of Warren G. Harding
Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers

Warren G. Harding loved playing poker and held weekly games at the White House. Rumor has it he even bet, and lost, an entire set of official White House china.

30. Calvin Coolidge

portrait of Calvin Coolidge
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Though three presidents (Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe) have died on the 4th of July, Calvin Coolidge is the only president to have been born on that date.

31. Herbert Hoover

portrait of Herbert Hoover
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

After he left office, Herbert Hoover wrote a number of books, including The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, the first biography of a president written by another president.

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, taken at the time of their engagement, circa 1903.
Portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, taken at the time of their engagement, circa 1903.
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Franklin married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905, they chose the date March 17 because President Theodore Roosevelt would be in New York City for the St. Patrick's Day parade, and he'd agreed to walk Eleanor, his niece, down the aisle. FDR and TR were fifth cousins.

33. Harry S. Truman

Harry Truman takes the oath of office in 1945; standing beside him are his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret.
Harry Truman takes the oath of office in 1945; standing beside him are his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret.
Central Press/Getty Images

Though Harry Truman met his wife, Bess, in the fifth grade and they were high school sweethearts, they didn't marry until they were in their mid-thirties.

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of a WWII map.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even though Ike's military career spanned both world wars and made him one of only nine men who have ever attained the rank of five-star general, he never once saw active combat.

35. John F. Kennedy

JFK during a campaign.
Keystone/Getty Images

JFK lived off of his family's considerable trusts, so he donated all of his congressional and presidential salaries to charities like the United Negro College Fund and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson behind a podium.
Keystone/Getty Images

Lyndon Johnson had two beagles named Him and Her. The dogs became national celebrities after being frequently photographed with the president; they were heavily featured in a 1964 Life magazine profile that stated, "Not many dogs have been privileged to shoo birds off the White House lawn, get underfoot at a Cabinet meeting, or mingle with dignitaries at a state ball."

37. Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon playing the piano.
National Archive/Newsmakers

Nixon's mother encouraged him to play piano at an early age and he went on to learn violin, clarinet, saxophone, and accordion. In 1961, he even performed a song he wrote on The Jack Paar Program.

38. Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford in 1934.
Michigan University/Getty Images

Ford attended the University of Michigan, where he was a star football player. The team won national titles in both 1932 and '33 (Ford's sophomore and junior years). After graduation, he turned down offers to play with both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers; instead, he took a coaching job at Yale University because he also wanted to attend their law school.

39. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jimmy Carter was known for his frugality, and he went so far as to sell the presidential yacht while he was in office. The USS Sequoia had been in use since the Hoover administration, but by 1977, it cost $800,000 a year in upkeep and staffing. Carter sold it for $236,000.

40. Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan in 1965.
Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images

Ronald Reagan's last acting role was also his first go as a villain. The film, 1964's The Killers, was based on an Ernest Hemingway story and was intended to be one of the first made-for-television movies. The network, however deemed it too violent for TV, so it was released in theaters instead.

41. George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara Bush in November 1978.
George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara Bush in November 1978.
Dirck Halstead/Liaison

George and his wife, Barbara, met as teenagers in 1941 and were married just over two years later. They died within months of each other in 2018, and their 73-year marriage was the longest of any first couple. (The second-longest presidential marriage was that of John and Abigail Adams at 54 years. Adams was the only other president whose son also held the job.)

42. Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton does a crossword puzzle
Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Bill Clinton enjoys crossword puzzles so much he once wrote the clues for a New York Times puzzle in 2017.

43. George W. Bush

George W. Bush goes jogging with an injured army veteran.
President George W. Bush jogs with Army Staff Sergeant Christian Bagge, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq, at the White House in 2006.
Matthew Cavanaugh-Pool, Getty Images

In 1993—two years before he became the governor of Texas—George W. Bush ran the Houston marathon, finishing with a time of 3:44:52. He is the only president to have ever run a marathon.

44. Barack Obama

Obama playing basketball with his staff.
President Barack Obama plays basketball with cabinet secretaries and members of Congress on the White House court in 2009.
Pete Souza, The White House via Getty Images

Barack Obama's love of basketball was well-documented during his presidency, but according to one of his high school teammates, he earned the nickname "Barry O'Bomber" because of all the tough shots he was known to take (and miss).

45. Donald Trump

Donald Trump with a book.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Of the many commercial products that Donald Trump has put his name on, the Tour de Trump—a bike race meant to be the American answer to the Tour de France—might be the oddest. It was called that for its first two years (1989-'90) before being renamed the Tour de DuPont for its final six years as an event.

12 Facts About Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Two bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Two bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
scgerding/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The only U.S. national park named after a person—America's 26th presidentTheodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) was established in North Dakota by Harry S. Truman in 1947. The park honors Roosevelt, who lived as a ranchman in the Dakota Territory in the 1880s and, as president, conserved 230 million acres of public land for future generations. Read on for things to do and see, plus what to know before you go camping, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

1. The plans for Theodore Roosevelt National Park began not long after Roosevelt’s death in 1919.

Medora, North Dakota, was chosen as the site of the memorial, and in 1921, the state’s legislature asked its reps in Congress to help set aside land for that purpose. One early proposal called for a park of more than 2000 acres, but that was controversial—the land was valuable to ranchers. Some believed a national monument was more appropriate than a national park.

Then, in the 1930s, drought and overgrazing led many homesteaders to abandon their land, which they sold to the federal government; some of those lands were set aside to create a park. In 1935, the land—which was in a north unit and a south unit—became the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area, and in 1946, it was taken over by the Fish and Wildlife Service and became the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge.

On April 25, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the bill that created Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park; at that time, the land included the South Unit and the site of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch. The North Unit of the park was added the next year. Finally, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law that changed the memorial park to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In 2018, it received nearly 750,000 visitors.

2. Before the land became Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Native Americans hunted in the area.

A flint spearpoint and other projectiles from the Archaic Culture (5500 BCE to 500 CE) have been found in the park, as have artifacts from the Plains Woodland Tradition (1 to 1200 CE) and pre-Columbian peoples. Though one of the pre-Columbian sites includes a bison processing camp (or what remains of it), there was no permanent occupation of the area of that time, according to the park’s website.

There are a number of sites from what the website calls the Historic Period, which lasted from 1742 to the 1880s, and included artifacts like “stone rings, a rock cairn, and four conical, timbered lodges. Two of the lodges, presumably used by men engaged in seasonal eagle trapping, are still standing today … One archaeological interpretation indicated that the use of the badlands for hunting, gathering, and spiritual pursuits, though undertaken by numerous cultures and groups over millennia, had not significantly changed over that entire time span.” The Mandan and Hidatsa, among many other Native tribes, hunted in the area, and the lands have spiritual significance for some tribes as well.

3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park contains 70,488 acres.

The park is spread over three units. The South Unit, which is located in Medora off I-94, is its most visited area. The North Unit, 50 miles off the same highway, is more remote. Both units have scenic drives—though the drive in the South Unit is currently closed due to slumping—and hiking trails. The South Unit also has a petrified forest with a 10.3-mile trail.

The third unit of the park is its smallest, and very out of the way: The roads leading to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit are unpaved and sometimes require four-wheel drive. No roads go directly to the site to preserve the solitude TR would have felt living there, so getting to the site requires a bit of a walk along a mowed pathway.

4. Visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park can see the future president’s Maltese Cross ranch house.

Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin.
Erin McCarthy

When Theodore Roosevelt first came to the Dakota Badlands to hunt bison in 1883, he stayed with some cattle ranchers and decided to invest in a ranch himself. Before he left, he invested $14,000 into Maltese Cross Ranch. The cabin was built seven miles outside of Medora, and it was unusual for the area: While most houses were made of sod, Roosevelt’s ranch was made of ponderosa pine. It had a singled, pitched roof, which created an upper half-story where his ranch hands could sleep. There were three rooms (a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom for TR), and white-washed walls.

The cabin got new owners in 1900, and after Roosevelt became president, it went on tour: It could be seen at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, then to Portland, Oregon, for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. For a time, it sat in Fargo, North Dakota, and then on the state capital grounds in Bismarck. Finally, in 1959, the cabin came back to what was, by then, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. Today, it can be found in the South Unit of the Park behind the Visitor’s Center.

The building is mostly original; the roof and shingles were removed at one point and have been restored. Inside, visitors can see several authentic Roosevelt artifacts, including a traveling trunk with “T.R.” on the top and a hutch.

5. Visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park can go out to the site where Roosevelt’s second ranch house once stood.

A gate in front of the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site.
A gate in front of the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site.
Erin McCarthy

In 1884, Roosevelt decided to abandon politics after the deaths of his wife and mother and settle at his ranch in the Dakotas permanently. But his Maltese Cross cabin was located on a popular route into Medora, and people were always stopping by. Grieving and seeking solitude, Roosevelt rode out to a site 35 miles north of Medora that had been recommended to him.

On the site, Roosevelt found the skulls of two elk, their horns interlocked, and named what he would come to refer to as his Home Ranch in their honor. He bought the rights to the site for $400; his nearest neighbors were at least 10 miles away.

Two friends of Roosevelt’s from Maine, Bill Sewall and Wilmont Dow, came to the Dakotas and built the 30-by-60-foot house of cottonwood pine; it had 7-foot high walls, eight rooms, and a veranda. Also on the site was a barn, a blacksmith’s shop, a cattle shed, and a chicken coop.

In Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Roosevelt wrote:

“My home ranch-house stands on the river brink. From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand—though they do not often read the books, but rock gently to and for, gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite, until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the after-glow of the sunset."

But the cattle business was not meant to be Roosevelt’s future. He eventually returned to New York, and after a hard winter where he lost 60 percent of his herd, he sold the ranch in 1898. By 1901—the year Roosevelt became president—the ranch was gone. A local said that all that remained was “a couple of half-rotted foundations."

Today, visitors to TRNP can take a scenic drive on gravel roads, then hike three-eighths of a mile to the Elkhorn site, located between the Little Missouri River and black, white, and yellow Badlands bluffs. There, they can stand on the foundation stones that mark where TR’s Home Ranch once stood, listening to the birds, insects, and low mooing of cattle, as he would have done. (They might even encounter a cow or two on the trail!)

6. More than 185 species of birds have been spotted in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The black and brown Spotted Towhee in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Spotted Towhee in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Wildnerdpix/iStock via Getty Images Plus

They include bald and golden eagles, blue-winged teal, American wigeon, turkey vultures, prairie and peregrine falcons, and the sage grouse. The park has a handy checklist [PDF] to help visitors keep track of the birds they’ve seen.

Birds aren’t the only animals you might see: TRNP is also home to elk, prairie dogs, pronghorns, feral horses, big horn sheep, coyotes, badgers, beavers, porcupines, mule deer, longhorn steers, rattlesnakes, and bison.

7. There are hundreds of bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Whether you call them bison or buffalo (though Americans use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference!), you’ll have a chance to see plenty of them at TRNP. Both the north and south units have herds—200 to 400 animals in the south and 100 to 300 in the north. Full-grown bison bulls can stand up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 2000 pounds, so visitors should give them a wide berth or risk getting charged and possibly gored.

The American bison (Bison bison) was once critically endangered and nearly went extinct. (Roosevelt was one person who was instrumental in saving the species from extinction.) The animals were reintroduced into the park in 1956. Because all of the living bison are descended from a small number of animals, monitoring the genetic diversity of the herd is important. Every couple of years in October, park staff round up the animals in both units by using helicopters to herd them into progressively smaller enclosures. Eventually, each animal ends up in a squeeze shoot, where staff takes hair (for DNA analysis) and blood (to test for disease) samples and weighs and measures the animals. Bison born since the last roundup are given tags and microchips so they can be tracked.

8. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a few prairie dog towns.

Two black-tailed prairie dogs coming out of a burrow in the ground.
Two black-tailed prairie dogs coming out of a burrow in the ground in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
RONSAN4D/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Black-tailed prairie dogs are abundant in TRNP. Roosevelt himself described them as “in shape like little woodchucks,” and called them “the most noisy and inquisitive animals imaginable.” Visitors can see the first of many prairie dog towns in the park near the Skyline Vista trail.

9. In prehistoric times, Theodore Roosevelt National Park was home to a Champsosaurus.

Fifty-five million years ago, during the Paleocene Epoch, North Dakota—including the area of TRNP—was a swamp, and in that swamp lived a reptile called Champsosaurus. The animal looked like modern-day crocodilians called gharials and could measure nearly 10 feet long.

10. You can go camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

There are three campgrounds in TNRP, but visitors just can’t drive in and set up a tent—reservations must be made, fees must be paid, and, in some cases, permits are required to camp in the park.

Camping isn't the only thing you can do in the park: It's also possible to canoe or kayak down the Little Missouri River if the water is deep enough.

11. The colors of the rocks in Theodore Roosevelt National Park tell a story.

A rock formation in Theodore Roosevelt National Park with gray, yellow, and light colored-layers.
hartmanc10/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The massive and unusual formations in TRNP, created by erosion over millions of years, are awe-inspiring—and you can tell a lot about them from the colors of their layers [PDF]. Brown and tan layers indicate sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone, which came from the Rocky Mountains, while blue-gray is bentonite clay laid down by the ash of far-away volcanic eruptions. (The clay can absorb up to five times its weight in liquid, which is why it’s used in … kitty litter.)

Black is a layer of coal, and red is the delightfully named clinker, which is formed when coal veins catch fire and cook the rock above it. Locally, the red rock is called scoria, but clinker is its scientific name.

One coal vein located in the park caught fire in 1951 and burned for 26 years. Apparently, visitors could roast marshmallows over the fire, which finally burned out in 1977. Fires in the Badlands aren’t unusual; they can be caused by lightning strikes or even set purposefully to reduce hazards or benefit certain species.

12. There are a number of interesting historic sites near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

While you’re in the area, check out the Chateau de Mores—the mansion that was home to a French marquis who dreamed of bringing a cattle-slaughtering business to Medora—and the Von Hoffman House. And don’t miss the Medora Musical, a variety show held in an open-air amphitheater that features the history of the town’s most famous and infamous figures—plus an appearance by the president who once called the area his home.

When Abraham Lincoln Turned Down the Chance to Fill America With Elephants

Getty Images
Getty Images

When a new president takes office, it’s normal to get showered with diplomatic greetings, gifts, and political overtures. But when Abraham Lincoln’s administration moved into the White House, they turned down what could have been the greatest gift of all: the chance to populate the United States with wild elephants.

In 1861, Lincoln received a pile of swag from King Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut of the country then known as Siam. You might know him better for his role in the hit musical The King and I, which fictionalized his relationship with English governess Anna Leonowens. What is true is that Mongkut was eager to “get to know” the West better—during his reign, he managed to open up and begin modernizing Siam.

The gesture wasn’t actually meant for Lincoln: In fact, Mongkut had sent the presents to “whomsoever the people have elected anew as chief ruler in place of President Buchanan.” He sent along a pile of lavish gifts, from a precious handmade sword to photos of himself and his daughter to two gigantic elephant tusks. But much more meaningful was the king’s offer to send along a generous stock of elephants that could be bred on American soil.

It’s no wonder Mongkut offered that gift: Pachyderms were not only native to what is now Thailand, but were also prized as important and valuable creatures. “It has occurred to us that, if on the continent of America there should be several pairs of young male and female elephants turned loose in forests,” the king wrote, “after a while they will increase till there be large herds as there are here on the continent of Asia until the inhabitants of America will be able to catch them and tame and use them as beasts of burden making them of benefit to the country.” Mongkut acknowledged that he hadn’t yet figured out how best to ship over some elephants, but that it sounded like a good idea to him.

In a master stroke of diplomacy, Lincoln’s administration disagreed. In Lincoln’s reply, which was penned by Secretary of State William Seward, he deftly informed Mongkut that his gifts belonged by rights to the American people and would be placed in the National Archives (where they remain to this day). As for the elephants, the administration deftly dodged the issue altogether.

"This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States,” wrote Lincoln via Seward. “Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.”

By refusing the elephants, Lincoln’s government managed to honor the far-away king without taking on a complicated burden. It was a move that acknowledged not only the king’s respectful gesture, but gave him a much-needed nod. Mongkut realized that in order to survive, Siam would need to engage in trade with the West—and that kindness would go much further than the fear displayed by some of his closest neighbors.

There’s no telling what would have happened if the Lincoln administration had said yes to Mongkut’s gift. Perhaps to this day, the United States would be a place where herds of wild elephants roamed free.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER