Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rough Rider Redux: A Photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Downtown New Iberia?

Two days ago an acquaintance sent me the below image from a cache of family photographs owned by his mother, a Broussard from Iberia Parish. (Incidentally, his mother turned ninety only yesterday.) No background information accompanied the photograph, except that it showed a parade in downtown New Iberia.

The photograph, showing downtown New Iberia, early twentieth century.
(Click to enlarge)

I confirmed for myself that the photograph was indeed taken in downtown New Iberia. The two surnames appearing on buildings in the photograph, Siebeck and Renoudet, are historical New Iberia surnames. "O. Renoudet" was a well-known merchant in the town, selling carriages, wagons, and hardware. Moreover, in the photograph's distant background I could discern the rounded cupola of the old U.S. Post Office. This building exists today, perfectly restored, as the Schwing Insurance Building.

Close up of the old post office, New Iberia,
now the Schwing Insurance Building.

I then noticed something peculiar about the parade: it included a sizable number of men on horseback wearing cowboy hats and neckerchiefs. 

The same building today.
(Source: Phone Home Project,
Catholic High, New Iberia)

They reminded me vaguely of the Rough Riders, the cavalry regiment raised by Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish American War (1898). I am familiar with Rough Rider uniforms because as historian and curator to McIlhenny Company on Avery Island, Louisiana, I maintain the Rough Riders uniform of Tabasco sauce heir John Avery McIlhenny.

I then remembered reading somewhere that Roosevelt had visited New Iberia and that he had been greeted at the edge of town by mounted locals dressed like Rough Riders. It was a 2011 article by the late New Iberia journalist Morris Raphael, who, citing 1971 research by LSU history professor Richard H. Collin, wrote "In the year 1914, while Roosevelt was making a barnstorming political drive through South Louisiana, running for President* on the Progressive 'Bull Moose' ticket, he had New Iberia in mind as his destination."

But could the photograph my acquaintance sent me actually show Roosevelt on his visit to New Iberia?

I believe this person to be Roosevelt.

I now believe this to be the case, for a few reasons.

First, there is the presence of the ersatz Rough Riders. A contemporary newspaper article about Roosevelt's visit observed, "Two miles from New Iberia he left his automobile, mounted a horse, and led a large procession of horsemen into the town [New Iberia]." (Collin echoed this primary-source document, noting in his article, "The highlight of the trip [to the Teche country] . . . occurred at New Iberia where four hundred mounted 'Rough Riders,' each with a bandana around his neck, welcomed the Roosevelt entourage at the outskirts of the city. Mayor Alphe Fontelieu, leader of the group, greeted Roosevelt: 'Colonel, we have a horse for you and wish you to take command of our troop.' The colonel was of course delighted . . . [and] he led the happy troupe into town.")**

Newspaper article from September 1914
about Roosevelt's visit to New Iberia.
(Source: Chronicling America)

Second, Collin observed in his 1971 article, "To add even more tone to the ceremony three little girls in patriotic dress were put at the head of the line. . . ." One can actually see those three little girls in the photograph in question.

The "three little girls in patriotic dresses . . .
at the head of the line."
The person I believe to be Roosevelt is directly behind them.

Third, another acquaintance, Laura Hanchey Hall, viewed the above image (I had posted it to my south Louisiana history page on Facebook) and recalled that her grandmother took a photograph with Roosevelt during his New Iberia visit. I examined that photograph, and in it Roosevelt appears to be dressed much like the person in the parade that I think is Roosevelt.

Roosevelt posing with children in New Iberia, 1914.
Note he seems to have been given a neckerchief.

For these reasons, I am convinced that the photograph in question shows former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt riding horseback down Main Street in New Iberia, Tuesday, September 8, 1914. As such, this may be a long forgotten image of the 26th President of the United States.

Article mentioning date of Roosevelt's visit to New Iberia.
But the day fell on a Tuesday, not a Monday.
Rice Belt Journal (Welsh, La.), 4 September 1914.
(Source: Chronicling America)


*Roosevelt was not running for President in 1914. He had run for President in 1912 and lost to Woodrow Wilson. He did not seek office during the next presidential election, in 1916.

**Richard H. Collin, "Theodore Roosevelt's Visit to New Orleans and the Progressive Campaign of 1914," Louisiana History XII (Winter 1971): 5-19.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! I'm finishing up my History II class for college and its nice to know that a president made it to Louisiana (my home state). What a wonderful treasure trove of information.