MONTVILLE, NJ -- American Historical Theatre re-enactor Peyton Dixon brought our country’s 26th president to life for about 70 Montville residents at a re-enactment at the Montville Township Public Library on Feb. 17.
Dixon’s animated, stylistic portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt’s life through colorful anecdotes made the evening educational as well as entertaining.
“Don’t hit unless you have to, but if you have to, hit hard,” “Theodore Roosevelt” told the assembly.
He went on to say, “The negotiators achieved a measure of success, and I achieved a measure of success, by not taking those arrogant coal mine owners and throwing them out the nearest open window.”
At Yosemite Park "Roosevelt" recalled, “I believe that I saw more of the park and my guide saw more of the back of my head.”
Dixon told about Roosevelt’s early years, and his desire to help people and the community.
“I believed that I could do a great deal of good serving in public service and government,” said “Roosevelt.” “I soon found myself to be the youngest member of the New York State Assembly.
“We made good changes in housing, labor and corruption -- not necessarily to the liking of the others in the assembly,” said Dixon as Roosevelt.
“After three years in politics I felt I had made as much of a difference as I could and decided to abandon the ‘guerillas of corruption’ and the ‘jackrabbits of virtue’ for more realistic wildlife. I spent a good many years in the Badlands in ranching.”
Dixon recounted Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands, including a story about meeting a “ruffian” in a tavern, who told everyone in the bar that “ole four eyes” was going to treat. When he pressed the issue, Roosevelt met the challenge.
“I began to rise up and my boxer’s instincts began to kick in, and I hit him, one to the right and I popped him, one to the left.
“His guns fired pointlessly in his hands and his head struck the back of the bar and he fell down on the floor. After that, the remaining members of the tavern took him and ended up putting him into the shed. The next morning he took an early freight train out of town, never to bother the town again.
“No one around town ever called me four eyes again. I dare say if there should be a better lesson to be learned from all of that -- don’t hit unless you have to, but if you have to, hit hard.”
“My time in Badlands renewed my body, mind and spirit. If it were not for my time in the Dakota Territory, I might never have become the President of the United States. And of course, if it were not for my time in Cuba, I might never have been recognized or considered for president,” he said. “I believed it was our country’s responsibility to care for those around us that could not care for themselves. I spoke very loudly for the necessity of engaging in war.”
Dixon told of Roosevelt’s fame achieved in the Spanish-American War, the book that resulted, and the time he served as vice president. After President McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt was called upon to serve as president.
“It was my task, my desire, to ensure the American people a square deal provided they would stand up and take every step necessary to achieve it,” Dixon stated as Roosevelt.
Dixon stated that Roosevelt set up consumer, worker, food, land and resource protection. When coal miners were threatening to strike but a cold winter loomed, Roosevelt told the owners he would send the Army in to work the mine if they did not at least come to the table. Roosevelt believed he had the social responsibility to ensure the rights of workers. He was responsible for the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, Dixon said.
However, Roosevelt believed his greatest legacy was the millions of acres he set aside for public enjoyment. He personally explored Yellowstone and Yosemite with guide John Muir, Dixon related, and established the National Forest Service.
“We have our treasures in forests, canyons, and mountains. They have to last throughout the ages, for our children, with their majestic beauty unmarred. I don’t think any president enjoyed themselves as much as I did. If you can serve the good of the people and enjoy yourself while doing it I consider myself ahead of the game,” Dixon said as Roosevelt.
Towaco resident Matt Picardi came out to see Dixon because of his interest in history. “I’ve read some books about Roosevelt, like River of Doubt and I found it inspiring even one hundred years after he died.”
Peyton Dixon has been re-enacting Theodore Roosevelt for 15 years. He can be reached at Meet Theodore Roosevelt.
The Montville Township Public Library hosts events, seminars, book clubs, movies and many other activities for all ages. For more information click Montville Township Public Library
This program was funded by the Horizons Speakers Bureau of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.