Teddy, Elihu, and Alfred…
Two of the greatest honors for a service arm shooter at the United States National Matches are also related with a most prestigious international honor.
One hallowed tradition began a few weeks after the conclusion of the 1904 National Matches, held at Fort Riley, Kansas. President Theodore Roosevelt sat down, on September 25, 1904, and penned a letter to Private Howard Gensch of the New Jersey National Guard, the winner of the President’s Match, which gave even greater meaning to the event’s name as well as greater prestige to the winner. Thus, began the tradition of the President of the United States sending to each winner of this match a personal congratulatory message.
The other involves the six highest scoring civilian competitors in the National Trophy Rifle Team Match and the four highest scoring civilian competitors in the National Trophy Pistol Match who are honored as members of the National Civilian Rifle and National Civilian Pistol Team. The captain and coach of the highest-scoring civilian team in each event are also named as the coach and captain of the appropriate team. All receive Elihu Root gold medals.
But just who is Elihu Root and why is so honored? Perhaps if most shooters had been paying attention in high school United States History classes, instead of doodling various service rifles and pistols in their notebooks, this question need not be asked.
Root was a statesmen who served the United States well. He was appointed Secretary of War by President William McKinley in August of 1899 and remained in the post under President Theodore Roosevelt after McKinley was assassinated in September of 1901.When Roosevelt’s Secretary of State John Hay died in 1905 Roosevelt appointed Root to that office. In his later years he also served New York as a senator.
As New York City Police Commissioner Roosevelt had transformed a dysfunctional and archaic New York City Police Department. As president he saw a War Department in need of the same modernization anddirected Root to bring it up to date. Under Root’sleadership some 70,000 soldiers posted at a collection of dusty western frontier forts and damp stone coastal artillery fortifications swiftly became a modern army with a general staff that was professionally educated at West Point and the Army War College.
Roosevelt and Root were also strong supporters of marksmanship and to that end, on April 27, 1903, they saw the War Department promulgate General Order 61,pursuant to the 1904 Army Appropriations Act,establishing the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP). The NBPRP was the logical outcome of Roosevelt’s belief that, “The first step in the direction of preparation to avert war, if possible, and to be fit for war, if it should come, is to teach men to shoot.”
The order also established The National Matches, commissioned the National Trophy, and established an organization for the instruction of citizens in small arms marksmanship, provided service firearms and ammunition for civilian instruction, and funds for the construction, equipment, and maintenance of rifle ranges.
A few years earlier chemist, engineer, and inventor Albert Nobel sat down at a table in Paris’ Swedish-Norwegian Club. Dabbing a pen into an ink well he signed his last will and testament setting aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes.
Nobel had invented, among other things, the blasting cap, dynamite, gelignite, and ballistite which was the first of the modern smokeless explosives and gun powders. He also bought an iron and steel company which he converted into an armaments factory which quickly became famous for its various caliber automatic cannon, the Bofors Gun.One of the prizes was to be called the Peace Prize, leading the more cynical to think that that this was just balm to sooth a guilty conscious.
While wheeling and dealing with Congress to establish the NBPRP Roosevelt was also busy mediating a treaty between Japan and Russia to end the Russo-Japanese War. The agreement hammered out in Portsmouth, New Hampshire resolved the conflict and brought Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906, the first Nobel of any type awarded to a United States citizen.
Six years later Root was awarded the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize for, among other things, having persuaded Latin American governments to participate in the Hague Peace Conference, limited Japanese and American naval fortifications in the Pacific. He worked with Great Britain, who controlled Canada’s foreign affairs at the time, to negotiate issues between the United States and Canada on an Alaska boundary dispute and competition in the North Atlantic fisheries. All the while he pursued the goalof resolving international conflicts by arbitration.
That the first two United States Nobel Peace Laureates worked in concert toward the creation of the world’s greatest 20th Century army and a 100 year old military firearm marksmanship contest must be considered a great irony.
Today’s best civilian service arm marksmen are bound together at the National Matches by a quest for a prize initiated by Teddy Roosevelt and gold medals bearing the likeness of Elihu Root. Roosevelt and Root are equally connected for creating the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and gold medals featuring the profile of Alfred Nobel.