American Boys' Life of Theodore Roosevelt/Chapter 8
Bringing down a Grizzly Bear—Back to New York—Appointed a Civil Service Commissioner—The Work of the Commission
It was while in the Bighorn Mountains that Theodore Roosevelt got his first shot at a bear. He had been wanting such a chance for a good many years, but up to that date the bears had kept well out of his sight.
In his writings he has said much about bears, both common and grizzly, and told of their habits, and how they have been tracked down and shot at various times of the year. He holds to the opinion that the average bear would rather run away than fight, yet he tells the story of how one bear faced the hunter who had shot him, and gave the man one blow with his powerful paw that proved fatal.
One day his companion of the hunt came riding in with the carcass of a black bear killed in a network of hollows and ravines some miles from their present camp.
"The hollows are full of bear tracks," said Merrifield. "I am sure, if we go up there, we'll get one or more black bears and perhaps a grizzly."
"Then let us go by all means," responded Theodore Roosevelt. And no time was lost in moving to the new locality.
The hunters had been out nearly all of the next day, when, on returning through the forest toward nightfall, Roosevelt came across the footmarks of a large bear. He tried to follow them, but night closed in on him, and he had to return to camp. That very night the bear came around the camp, looking for something to eat.
"Let us try to bring him down," cried Roosevelt, seizing his rifle, while his companion did the same. But outside it was pitch dark.
"Do you see him?" questioned Merrifield.
"Neither do I."
Both listened, and at a distance heard the bear lumbering off slowly through the woods. They went forward a short distance, then came to a halt.
"We'll have to give it up for the present," said Theodore Roosevelt. "But I am going to have him, sooner or later, if the thing is possible."
Early the next morning both of the hunters sallied forth and discovered that the bear had been at the carcasses of some game left in the forest. The tracks were fresh.
"He has been here, no doubt of it," said Merrifield. "Shall we wait for him to come again?"
"We might as well," was the answer. "He'll get hungry again, sooner or later."
So the pair sat down to watch. But the bear was shy, and kept his distance. Then it grew dark once more, so that but little could be seen under the trees.
"He knows enough to keep away," said Roosevelt's companion.
"Hark!" was the reply and both strained their ears. There was a faint crackling of twigs, and they felt certain it was the bear. But it was too dark to see anything; so both shouldered their rifles and walked back to camp.
Here was another illustration of Theodore Roosevelt's method of sticking at a thing. Two days had been spent in trying to get that bear, and yet he did not give up. On the following morning he sallied forth once more, as full of hope as before.
The bear had been at the carcass again, and the trail was now one to be followed with ease.
"I'm going to hunt him down to his lair," said Theodore Roosevelt, and stalked off with his companion beside him. Soon they were again deep in the woods, walking perhaps where the foot of white man had never before trod. Fallen trees were everywhere, and over these they often had to climb.
"Getting closer," whispered Roosevelt's companion, and pointed to some fresh claw scratches on the bark of fallen trees.
They now moved forward as silently as Indians, sure that the bear could not be far off. Suddenly Merrifield dropped on his knee as if to take aim. Roosevelt sprang to the front, with rifle raised. The bear was there, standing upright, only a few paces away. Without hesitation Theodore Roosevelt fired. His aim was true, and the great beast fell with a bullet straight between the eyes. The leaden messenger had entered his brain, and he died with scarcely a struggle.
"The whole thing was over in twenty seconds from the time I caught sight of the game," writes Mr. Roosevelt, in his book "Hunting Trips on the Prairies" (Part II of "Hunting Trips of a Ranchman"). "Indeed it was over so quickly that the grizzly did not have time to show fight at all or come a step toward me. It was the first I had ever seen, and I felt not a little proud as I stood over the great brindled bulk which lay stretched out at length in the cool shade of the evergreens. He was a monstrous fellow, much larger than any I have seen since, whether alive or brought in dead by hunters. As near as we could estimate he must have weighed about twelve hundred pounds."
There is a bear story for you, boys. And the best of it is, it is every word true. In later years Theodore Roosevelt brought down many more grizzlies, but I doubt if he was as proud of them as he was of that first capture.
While Theodore Roosevelt was spending a large part of his time in hunting and in literary work, and in studying political economy, Grover Cleveland's first term as President came to an end, and Benjamin Harrison was inaugurated to fill the office of Chief Magistrate.
At that time the question of Civil Service was again being agitated. Theodore Roosevelt was a warm advocate of the merit system, and knowing this, President Harrison appointed him, in 1889, a Civil Service Commissioner, and this office he held for six years, until his resignation in 1895. When Benjamin Harrison's term of office was up, and Grover Cleveland was reëlected to the Presidency, it was thought that Roosevelt would have to go, but his friend, the newly elected President, wished him to remain as a commissioner, and he did so for two years longer, thus serving both under a Republican and a Democratic administration.
To some of my young readers the term Civil Service, as applied here, may be a bit perplexing. For the benefit of such let me state that civil service here applies to the thousands of persons who work for the government, such as post-office clerks, letter carriers, clerks in the various departments at Washington, like the Treasury, the Congressional Library, the Government Printing Office, the War Department, and the hundred and one other branches in which Uncle Sam needs assistance.
For seventy or eighty years these various positions had been under what is commonly called the "spoils system." "To the victor belong the spoils," had been the old motto, which generally meant that the party happening to be in power could do as it pleased about dealing out employment to those under it. A worker might have been ever so faithful in the discharge of his duties, but if the administration was changed, he ran the risk of losing his position without any notice.
Statesmen of both great political parties had long seen the injustice of the spoils system, but few cared to take the matter up for fear of offending their political friends. But as matters grew worse, those who were honest said they would stand such a system no longer, and they began to advocate the merit plan, whereby each worker for our government should stand on his merit, so that he could not be removed from his position without just cause. This merit system is in operation to-day and is a most excellent thing, only becoming dangerous when extended too far.
There were two other commissioners besides Mr. Roosevelt on the Commission, but all worked together in harmony, although in many moves taken Mr. Roosevelt was the leader. About this work he has written a notable essay called "Six Years of Civil Service Reform," in which he reviews much of the work done. In this essay, among many other things, he says:—
"No republic can permanently endure when its politics are corrupt and base; and the spoils system,—the application in political life of the degrading doctrine that to the victor belong the spoils,—produces corruption and degradation. The man who is in politics for the offices might just as well be in politics for the money he can get for his vote, so far as the general good is concerned." Certainly wise words and well worth remembering.
The work of the Commission was by no means easy, and the members were often accused of doing some things merely to benefit their own particular party or friends. Politicians of the old sort, who wanted everything they could lay hands on, fought civil service bitterly, and even those who might have been expected to help often held back, fearing they would lose their own popularity. Yet on the other hand, some members of Congress upheld the Commission nobly, and when President Garfield was assassinated by a half-crazy office-seeker many more came forward and clamored to put public offices on the merit system by all means.
Part of the work of the Commission was to prosecute the head of any bureau or department where an employee had been discharged or had suffered without just cause. Such cases came up in large numbers and were prosecuted with all the vigor of which the Commission were capable.
"We were not always successful in these trials," says Mr. Roosevelt. "But we won out in the majority of cases, and we gave the wrong-doing such a wide publicity that those who were guilty hesitated to repeat their actions." And he goes on to add that during his term of service not over one per cent. of those who worked for Uncle Sam were dismissed purely for political reasons. This was certainly an excellent record, and our government will do well to maintain such a high standard in the future.
To give a further idea of the work required in the way of examinations for positions under our government, let me state that during the year from July 1, 1890, to July 1, 1891, 5251 applicants were examined for the departments service, 1579 for the customs service, 8538 for the postal service, 3706 for the railway mail service, making a total of nearly 20,000, of which about 13,000 passed and the balance failed. Since our war with Spain, the work of the government has been vastly increased, and the places to be filled every year run up into figures that are startling.
One of the best and wisest acts of the Commission was to place the colored employees of the government on an equal footing with the white employees. In the past the colored employees had occupied their places merely through the whim or goodwill of those over them. Now this was changed, and any colored man who could pass the examination, and who was willing to attend strictly to his labor, was as safe in his situation as anybody.