The Bull Moose and His Connecticut Connections…
John Milius’ 1975 film, The Wind and the Lion,is a semi historic romantic adventure very loosely based on the Perdicaris Incident. Like most of Milius’ work it is meticulously researched and, even if this film does not strictly adhere to history, it is accurate in detail of dress, arms, and other such minutia.
On May 18, 1904, Mrs. Ion Perdicaris, changed to Mrs. Eden Perdicaris played by Candice Bergen for cinematic effect, was kidnapped by Moroccan brigand Mulai Ahmed er Raisulli, self styled “Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, and Last of the Barbary Pirates”, portrayed by Sean Connery, and his band of ruffians. Like many of us The Raisulli believed that, “A man’s worth is numbered in his rifles.”
In response President Theodore Roosevelt dispatched the South Atlantic Squadron under the command of the former President of the Naval War College Admiral French Ensor Chadwick, flying his flag in the USS Brooklyn. Serving in Brooklynwere several companies of Marines led by Major John “Handsome Jack” Myers who earlier had commanded then Private, and later Marine Corps legend, two time Medal of Honor recipient Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly in defense of the US Legation in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion.
With no real plan in place Secretary of State John Hay saw the need to maintain face so he issued a statement at the Republican National Convention that insured Roosevelt’s nomination: “This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisulli dead.”
Brian Keith starred as Theodore Roosevelt and, in an ironic coincidence, Milius cast him 22 years later as William McKinley, the assassinated president succeeded by Vice President Roosevelt, in his TV movieRough Riders. Keith’s portrayal of Roosevelt is lively and dynamicas he displays a man unafraid to exercise the Unites States emerging world power muscle with restraint. Keith engagingly recreates our mythic vision of the energetic Roosevelt exercising the philosophies of ‘Muscular Christianity’, the ‘Strenuous Life’, and ‘The Big Stick.’ In the process he steals the show.
Never is this more evident than in a series of scenes where Roosevelt dictates a succession of letters to Winchester complaining about the fit of a rifle. While it may just seem a throwaway scene it is, in fact, based on Roosevelt’s preference for Winchester rifles, Colt pistols, and actual correspondence demanding firearms perfection.
Roosevelt’s side arm, when he led the charge up Kettle Hill, was, like his favorite rifles, manufactured in Connecticut. His Model 1892 Army and Navy Colt double-action, .41 Long Colt, six-shot revolver was made in Hartford in 1895 and traveled a circuitous path before arriving in Roosevelt’s holster.The pistol was aboard the battleship USS Mainewhen it blew up in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Roosevelt’s brother-in-law, Commander William Cowles, USN, in charge of the Mainesalvage operation, presented the recovered Colt to Roosevelt before he departed for Cuba and immortality.
As a young rancher Roosevelt favored Sharps and Ballard rifles but abandoned them for New Haven made repeating Winchesters, favoring the Model 73, ‘The Gun That Won The West,” in a host of calibers. Before leaving the White House he was laying plans for a yearlong post presidential African safari. So, Roosevelt directed his secretary, William Loeb, Jr. to contact Winchester for a catalog.
Roosevelt was not easy to please and a testy ongoing correspondence between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 275 Winchester Avenue, New Haven, Connecticut ensued. On one occasion he tartly wrote, “I am really annoyed at the shape in which you sent out those rifles…It was entirely useless to send them out to me in such shape.”
Roosevelt did not want his name and purchases to be used in Winchester advertising. Acutely aware of the corporate benefits of having Roosevelt use its products they wished to keep him happy. His instructions were obeyed to the letter but not in spirit. However, the publicity loving President seemed to turn his eye, blinded in a boxing accident, toward the wayward company and its word of mouth promotions.
Using Presidential prerogative, Roosevelt contacted General William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance, in 1903, setting up a third Connecticut connection. He sent a favorite Winchester to Crozier asking to have one of the new Springfield 1903 carbines to be, “made like it for me.”
Crozier’s widow, Mary Williams Crozier, a native of New London, Connecticut, directed her estate provide funds to West Point, General Crozier’salma mater, for a building to be named in his honor. The US Military Academy was unable to honor the request and so the money was donated to, what was then, Connecticut College for Women in New London. A handsome student union, the Crozier-Williams College Center, rose on the campus in honor of the general and Mrs. Crozier’s father,Charles Augustus Williams, a local philanthropist. Today, in a recessed alcove in a wall of “The Cro,” can be found General Crozier’s medals and awards, illuminated for all to see.
Roosevelt left for Africa with two Model 1995 Winchesters in .405 and .30-06, a Model 1886 in .45-70, and an 1894 chambered for .30 Winchester Center Fire, the legendary .30-30, along with enough crates of ammunition to allow the expedition, described in Roosevelt’s African Game Trails, to send home to museums, “4,897 specimens of mammals more than 4,000 birds, about 2,000 reptiles and batrachians…besides a vast multitude of other specimens that defy a brief description”in just eleven months.
None of this would have been possible without the Bull Moose’s Connecticut connections.