The familiar imagery of Thanksgiving has been put to many different uses over the years. Let your students explore how one cartoonist used the holiday to make points about President Theodore Roosevelt. Some of your students may only know TR as one of the characters in a popular movie about a museum that comes to life at night. Consider using this cartoon to introduce students to some key facts about this larger-than-life figure in American history and the times in which he lived.
This colorful illustration first appeared in the November 22, 1905 issue of Puck, a humor magazine popular before and during Roosevelt’s presidency. Its quirky depiction of Theodore Roosevelt sharing a Thanksgiving feast in the wilderness with many wild animals immediately captures one’s interest with humorous details, such as a rabbit clearing away dishes and what appears to be a prairie dog raising a glass to join in the group’s toast. As the picture’s caption explains, this toast is given by “The Bear (with deep feeling) ‘Here’s hoping that when next we meet, we see you first.’” If you look closely, can you tell what is leaning against the large rock behind Roosevelt?
Observing the details of the cartoon can provide students with more than just a few laughs; upon closer examination, it offers clues about Roosevelt’s life and passions. For instance, Roosevelt is depicted wearing his Rough Rider uniform, according to the item record. Students can use other Library of Congress resources to learn more about the story of Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, the first volunteer cavalry unit in the Spanish-American War.
Students of all ages may be able to personally relate to the cartoon’s depiction of a kids’ table set up beside the grown-ups’ table at Thanksgiving. The table’s two occupants, Teddy Jr. and a bear cub, each may lead students to dig deeper into the Library’s digitized collections for evidence of Theodore Roosevelt’s personal history. For example, students may read handwritten letters with drawings that Roosevelt sent to his young son, Teddy Jr., which indicate a loving father-son relationship. Or perhaps students may observe a cartoon by Clifford Berryman of Roosevelt with a teddy bear cub and seek evidence about the legendary incident that inspired its creation as well as countless “Teddy bears” for generations of children.
The cartoon’s title and theme of “A Thanksgiving Truce” itself draws attention to Roosevelt’s deep and complex relationship with nature. Both an avid hunter and animal lover, Roosevelt arguably made his most lasting contributions as a conservationist. At the time of this cartoon’s publication, Roosevelt was about halfway through a White House tenure that resulted in the designation of National Forests, National Parks, National Game Preserves, and more.
After analyzing this cartoon, students can:
- Re-envision this cartoon’s theme, “A Thanksgiving Truce,” from a modern perspective. Describe a group of individuals in American politics or news today unlikely to celebrate this national holiday together. What toast might they make during their truce and why?
- Create a timeline of Roosevelt’s life. Draw a cartoon depicting another aspect of Roosevelt’s public service or personal character.
- Create a hypothetical narrative of the legacy of Roosevelt’s contributions as a conservationist from a wild animal’s point of view or from a hunter’s point of view.
To learn more about Theodore Roosevelt’s life and times, check out his entry and more in the Meet Amazing Americans section of America’s Library.
Or, investigate the Theodore Roosevelt Papers, one of the Library’s largest Presidential collections.
How else might you use this or another political cartoon to introduce students to an important figure or event from American history?
This is a good and fun way to teach children about Thanksgiving and our once president. And also have a good laugh.