William Howard Taft: Vetoing his Ride Down the Grand Canyon

horse fall
May 18, 1909: despite his wife's stroke, Taft went horseback riding, which he did almost every day while President 1a. On this day, his aide recorded 1b:
The President was thrown from his horse this afternoon, but luckily not hurt. I am sure he is bruised and that he will be very sore to-morrow, but it was lucky that he was not killed. MORE
Taft had other problems with horses during his political career, including (1) the famous telegram from Secretary of War Elihu Root (see below) and (2) an angry exchange with his military aide at the Grand Canyon when Taft wanted to ride a horse down the trail into the Canyon. The aide, who "had no idea of letting him run the risk of breaking his neck and imposing the Vice President on the country as the Chief Executive," finally persuaded Taft it was not wise 1c. SEE BELOW
The following incident was described in a letter Butt wrote to his sister on November 14, 1909 1c.
Another time [I saw Taft angry] was with me, when we reached the Grand Canyon. Some people interested in the trail down the canyon... persuaded him to make the descent. I knew that he ought not to do it and entered my protest, but he waved me aside and refused to listen to argument. The night before we reached the canyon I went to him and for about the fifth time started on my argument why he should not go. He turned to me, and I think he was really angry, and said:

"See here! You go to hell! I will do as I damn please sometime."

I saw there was no use to argue further, and in fact I was so full of laughter that I could not have gone on without showing my amusement, and that night before retiring he announced with the braggadocio of a big boy that he would ride down the trail the next morning. He was not to leave the train before eight, and I was out bright and early to see what else he could do. I arranged for a drive twelve miles away and lunch there, and then for a drive to Sunset View in the afternoon. Going to his room while he was dressing, I said:

"Mr. President, may I come in for a few minutes' talk?"

"I suppose you are going to talk about the trail again," he said, and I admitted as much.

I then told him that I had learned that he would have to dismount from his horse several times and that the trail was very narrow and this was a difficult thing for a man of his size to do. Moreover, I reminded him that his meeting with [Mexican President] Diaz was only two days off and that he would be so stiff and sore that this meeting, instead of being one of pleasure, would be most uncomfortable. I did not mince words with him at all, for I had no idea of letting him run the risk of breaking his neck and imposing the Vice President on the country as the Chief Executive.

He heard me through and finally turned to me with his face very red.

"Well, damn it, you can have your way; but I'll tell you one thing. I will get even with you some day -- and with [wealthy businessman] John Hammond, too," he yelled, as I went out of the door, for he knew that I had Mr. Hammond as an abettor in my plans.

He really was put out, for his pride had been excited and he hated to back down, especially as he had sworn with an oath that he would go. Postmaster General Hitchcock was with us and just then he was trying to placate the territories [Arizona was not yet a state in 1909], and so when the matter was brought up, he agreed with [Secret Service Agent] Sloan and the rest, and this brought about some coldness between him and John Hays Hammond. Mr. Hammond said he was a fish with no blood in his veins and would throw down anybody to curry a little favor with the President or with some political henchman. Altogether it was not a happy day, except once when the President got a glimpse of the trail down in the valley. I felt that he admitted to himself that I was right, though he has never made such an admission to me and the nearest he has come to it is that he said that doubtless his wife and Cabinet would think I was in the right.

But on the whole he has a wonderfully equable temper and a very sweet disposition.

Cited Sources
  1. Butt, Archibald W. Taft and Roosevelt: The Intimate Letters of Archie Butt, Military Aide. Garden City, NY: Doubleday (1930). Volume 1: pages 1-432. Volume 2: pages 433-862.
    a  p.39  b  p.92  c  pp.206-207

    Comment: Butt, an Army officer, was military aide first to President Theodore Roosevelt and then to President William Taft. On April 14, 1912, Butt was at sea aboard the Titanic returning from a European vacation that Taft had insisted he take. President Taft later said: "When I heard that part of the ship's company had gone down, I gave up hope for the rescue of Major Butt, unless by accident. I knew that he would certainly remain on the ship's deck until every duty had been performed and every sacrifice made that properly fell on one charged, as he would feel himself charged, with responsibility for the rescue of others." Taft was correct. Butt did not survive the sinking.

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