They hadn’t voted for him. Alton B. Parker, the nondescript judge from New York who would become more a footnote than a memory had carried the Lone Star state by more than three to one, but that was more a reflection of the solid South’s enthrallment to the Democrats than any manifest disapproval of the incumbent president. Just about everybody, whether they voted for him or not, liked Teddy. And now the man with the big stick and bigger grin, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was coming to Sherman.
The news of the visit broke in the Sherman Daily Register on January 14, 1905 pushing stories of the Washington D.C. hearings on polygamy in Utah out of the way. Under the headline, “PRESIDENT COMING,” other entries noted that the exact date of the visit, the first Texas stop in a tour of the Southern states for Roosevelt, who had been reelected to his first full term in November, had not been set.
In the next few weeks, stories on the worsening situation in Russia, where reverses in the Russo-Japanese War were fueling a nascent rebellion against Czar Nicholas II, held the public’s attention, but even those potentially world changing events, took second spot to any news of the president’s visit.
“With that degree of system and regularity which assures success in any effort, committees having in hand the matter of receiving and welcoming President Roosevelt into Sherman are moving steadily forward,” reported the Daily Register on March 24. The story noted that “thousands upon thousands” of yards of bunting had been secured for the event.
Taking note of the building excitement, not just in Sherman but in nearby towns and counties, the committee predicted there would be at least 15,000 spectators in town for the event. “We are not willing to have this affair take its place among the leaders of its class in the history of the city and country, but have set our hearts upon making it the most notable,” said an unnamed member of the reception committee. “Sherman is just now donning her robes of progress and prosperity, and this visit of the President of the United States could be no more fitting function with which to properly start this epoch of the city’s history. It is true this reception will cost a considerable amount of money, but we are a hospitable people and delight in meeting our neighbors and friends.”
By March 28, the date of the president’s arrival had been set. He would be in Sherman on April 5, along with Secretary of the Navy Paul Morton and the presidential entourage. Things were moving apace.
“Sherman will be in gay colors when the president comes Wednesday,” reported the paper on March 31. And that wasn’t all. “It is learned today, that all business will be suspended between 3 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon, in honor of the President’s visit. This will be done in order that Sherman citizens may have an opportunity to see the Nation’s Chief Executive, and, too, as a mark of respect to the distinguished visitor.
“Early next week the entire line of march to be traversed by the party of the President will began to assume its holiday attire. A perfect sea of fabrics have been brought to Sherman and will show forth the National colors, portraits of the President, patriotic sentiments, and quotations from utterances of Mr. Rosevelt (sic).” The estimation of the crowd had been pushed up to 20,000.
The official lineup of events went out to the public on April 1. Roosevelt was to arrive in a special railroad car over the MK&T and be in Sherman at 3:40 on the 5th. If you wanted to see the great man, you had best not be late. After a short carriage ride to the courthouse square and a speech of 15 to 20 minutes, the president would be back on the train and rolling out to Dallas at 4:20. Ten thousand copies of the Sherman program were printed for distribution.
The members of the welcoming committee were to meet at the Binkley Hotel at three, where carriages would take them to Sherman’s impressive new two-year-old Union Terminal. The town band would up on Mulberry St., across from Goban’s Gallery, and when the musicians led the procession from the railroad station, four mounted officers and four marshals were detailed to clear the streets from curb to curb.
Roosevelt was going to attend a reunion of his old First Volunteer Cavalry comrades from the Spanish-American War while he was in Texas, and to mark that former members of the famed “Rough Riders” would form up, six abreast behind the band and just in front of the presidential carriage. Civil War veterans from both the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans would flank the horsemen.
This event was something the town fathers though most important for the young people of the community. College students were to be lined up on Federal lot and along both sides of Travis Street, beginning at the high school and extending south. Public school children, whites ones at least, would gather on high school grounds and the colored students would be located at the vacant lot next to Hardwick & Etter’s mill supply house on Houston.
The president would speak from the bandstand on the southeast corner of the courthouse plaza, and when his remarks were concluded the entire parade was to move along to the Houston & Texas Central depot on Houston Street. Detailed instructions on where and when each of the groups participating in the ceremonies would meet, were listed in the paper.
What else Sherman did to get ready for the president’s visit is lost to history. There are no existing copies of the Daily Register for next four days, but from the accounts in the paper on April 6, it must have been a bang-up good show.
“Rousing Reception,” read the headline. “Chief Executive Given Genuine Southern Welcome — Continuous Ovation.” “Plans Perfect — Program Carried Out Without a Single Hitch — Sherman’s High Prestige Gloriously Maintained”
The lead on the story said it all, “Sherman did herself proud yesterday,” it read.
The turn out had been even more than expected. Some estimated the crowd at 60,000, although that was doubtless inflated by an understandable civic pride. More conservative guesses put it at 20,000 to 35,000 with thousands of people streaming in from surrounding counties and from the Indian Territory across the Red River. Someone suggested that there had never been such a crowd in any city the size of Sherman.
It was an orderly group too. “The most perfect order was maintained during the day,” noted the paper. “Perfect good humor and satisfaction prevailed.”
Roosevelt’s train pulled in five minutes late, but no one cared. When he rose to address the audience on the square he captured them from the outset. “You can have no idea what a pleasure it is for me to be here in Texas again,” he said, to cheers and applause. “If you are half as glad to have me, as I am to be here, we will call it square.” (Cheers) “It is nearly seven years ago that I came here (to Texas) to take part in raising the regiment, some of my comrades from which are here to escort me today.”
And he took the hearts of all Texans as surely as the Rough Riders took Kettle Hill when he noted, “This mighty empire [Texas], it is going to be, it is now, one of the two or three greatest States in the Union. However much you prophesy as to its greatness can not go wrong, for the greatness will overtake the prophecy.”
When Roosevelt finished, J.M. Culver, of Howe, pressed forward calling out, “I want to shake hands with the president.” Sherman Mayor A.A. Fielder invited Culver up to the platform, and he got his wish. “When you’re through in Washington, we want you to come to Texas to live,” Culver told Roosevelt.
“It would give me great pleasure to do so,” said Teddy. “There is no other place that has more charms for me than Texas.”
And then it was over. The presidential train chugged off to Dallas and thousands of people were left with memories that they would hold close for a lifetime.