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Pet Kansas badger once roamed White House

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Sep. 10, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Ad Astra

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating Kansas history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.

For more information on other badger tries for the White House, go to this link to Forbes magazine for a chat with Randall, the honey badger and his political plans: http://onforb.es/S0KiNG

Randall, the narrator of the viral Honey Badger video on the Internet, announced earlier this summer he thinks a Honey Badger ought to run for president and form a Honey Badger political party.

But even if successful, it wouldn’t be the first time a badger — let alone a Kansas-born badger — lived in the White House.

President Theodore Roosevelt left Washington for a railroad tour of the American West in the spring of 1903. He traveled 14,000 miles in eight weeks, visiting 25 states, 150 towns and making more than 200 speeches.

Along the way, his six-car train rolled into western Kansas and pulled to a stop at Sharon Springs where the local paper, The Western Times, reported on May 8, 1903, that Roosevelt had “a corking good time.”

He slept late, attended a church service and rode on horseback across the Kansas prairie.

At the Methodist church service, he was accompanied by Secret Service agents and Kansas politicians. When the service ended, Wallace County residents lined up to shake the president’s hand.

“The census shows Sharon Springs to have a population of 170, I have shaken hands with 700 and hope to meet the rest of them,” Roosevelt told people.

As he visited with the Kansans, 12-year-old Pearl Gorsuch was reported to have shyly stepped forward and asked the president a question: Would he like a badger?

Pearl ran off and later showed up with a 2-week-old baby badger and other family members. The president presented Pearl with a carnation and a gold and silver locket and took the badger from her father, Josiah Gorsuch. He then gave a tour of his private railroad car, the Elysian.

As Roosevelt was examining the tiny badger, it began to nibble on his finger. He was delighted.

“Bother politics,” Roosevelt said. “This last day in Kansas is the best of them all.”

When Roosevelt’s train left Sharon Springs, the little badger took up residence in the presidential car. He dined on milk and potatoes and slept in a cage.

“I rather think you will like Josiah the badger,” Roosevelt said in a letter to his children while in California. “So far he is very good tempered and waddles around everywhere like a little bear.”

Once at the White House, Josiah became a celebrity pet to Ethel, 12, and Archibald, 9, two of Roosevelt’s children. He had the run of the presidential mansion.

Ethel Roosevelt would write in her journal on Aug. 21, 1903: Josiah “is always amusing us with his antics, like shredding the furniture with his sharp little claws, or chasing the gardener up a tree. Father just throws his head back and laughs his booming laugh.”

The pet badger lived with Roosevelt’s menagerie of other animals — 10 dogs, two cats, two ponies, a hog, a garter snake, five guinea pigs, a rat, a macaw, a hen and a one-legged rooster.

But as Josiah grew and aged, he developed an ugly temper. He could be heard “hissing like a teakettle.”

In less than a year, Josiah was sent off to Bronx Zoo in New York where he lived out the remainder of his life.

“It’s a sad day here,” Ethel Roosevelt wrote in her journal on the day Josiah was sent to the zoo. “Father says we can visit Josiah anytime we want, but it won’t be the same without him.

“Father also said if the Republicans ever throw him out, he might start his own party and call it The Badger Party, and we all think that would be just bully!”

He didn’t.

Roosevelt left the White House in 1909. Three years later, he helped form the Progressive Party, which was nicknamed the Bull Moose Party.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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