An aluminum Roosevelt Elk Herd Installation has arrived at Sagamore Hill after a long journey from Olympic National Park, the home to the largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1893, Chief of Mammalogy for the USDA, C. Hart Merriam, was joined by Theodore Roosevelt at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. As they examined the displayed heads of several of elk native to the area of the Olympic Mountains in the Pacific Northwest, Roosevelt identified for Merriam the characteristics that made it unique from the more common Plains elk.
In 1897, Merriam recalled this conversation with Roosevelt when he identified the Olympic elk as a distinct subspecies. He wrote:
I deem it a privilege to name this splendid animal Roosevelt’s wapiti. It is fitting that the noblest deer of America should perpetuate the name of one who, in the midst of a busy public career, has found time to study our larger mammals in their native haunts and has written the best accounts we have ever had of their habits and chase.
In a letter dated December 9, 1897, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt responded, “I deeply appreciate the compliment, and I am only sorry that it will never be in my power to do anything except to just merely appreciate it!” Little did he know that in just 4 short years he would be President.
As President, Roosevelt did not forget his commitment to the Roosevelt Elk (Cervus Roosevelti). However, his attempts to create a National Elk Reserve in the region of the Olympic Mountains in Washington had been stopped by Congress. By 1909, the Roosevelt Elk’s herd had shrunk dramatically and was hitting critical levels for survival. Using the Antiquities Act, Roosevelt then created Mount Olympus and 615,000 acres surrounding it a national monument that was off-limits to any kind of hunting, timbering, or extraction.
The elk installation at Sagamore will rest on the front lawn of the Theodore Roosevelt home, looking toward the speaking porch. Constructed of aluminum, these full-scale, stylized elk mirror their natural surroundings.
Photo of Roosevelt Elk Herd Installation, courtesy Sagamore Hill.