Q&A with Jeff Heatley, author of BULLY!

On Veteran’s Day, Jeff Heatley will be at the Montauk Lighthouse with Mia Certic, Director of the Montauk Historical Society to discuss and sign copies of his book, BULLY! Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, & Camp Wikoff. An architectural photographer, Jeff is the publisher of the indispensable Art & Architecture Quarterly/East End, an online publication devoted to art, architecture, and historic preservation. Recently, we spoke to Jeff about BULLY!

For people unfamiliar with Camp Wikoff, what was its purpose and where was it located?

  • Following the Spanish-American War, Camp Wikoff was a quarantine camp established in Montauk in August 1898 for the Fifth Army Corps, which included Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. More than half of the 22,500 soldiers suffered from tropical fevers – malaria, typhoid, dysentery, yellow fever; but, also, malnutrition, causing a nationwide scandal. And, more than 350 of those debilitated soldiers died at Montauk during the two-month existence of the great encampment. Montauk was selected because of its deep-water harbor at Fort Pond Bay, rail service, isolation, and northern latitude.

How did you initially become interested in Camp Wikoff?

  • In the late 1960s/early 1970s, my father handled marketing for Nick Monte, owner of Gurney’s Inn. When there was a possibility that Third House & Ranch would be put up for sale, Nick Monte was interested in purchasing the property and making it available to guests of Gurney’s Inn. There was a rumor that Theodore Roosevelt had once stayed at Third House, and, if he had, that would be a marketing “hook.” My father asked me to find out if Theodore Roosevelt had ever stayed at Third House. Starting my quest at the New York Public Library Newspaper Archives, I was amazed by the press coverage of Camp Wikoff, which taken together created a vivid picture of a camp, balancing life and death, with limited supplies and support. Moreover, the daily papers, unable to reproduce halftones, relied on artists to illustrate the various aspects of the camp, from fallen soldiers to bronco busting.

What specific sources did you draw upon for Bully?

  • In the 1890s, there were ongoing newspaper circulation wars in New York City, led by Hearst’s New York Journal and Pulitzer’s The World. Because the writing was so vivid & coverage so complete, I saw little reason to re-write the story of Camp Wikoff – better to let those who were there describe what they witnessed first-hand. This was possible as news was limited to daily newspaper reports, absent radio, television and the internet. In addition, I included reports & editorials from eight local papers. To these chronological accounts, I added Theodore Roosevelt’s personal letters written during this period, giving a clearer picture to his decision-making process in regard to military & political matters.

As you just alluded to, Theodore Roosevelt was among the returning soldiers at Camp Wikoff. How did his experience at the camp affect his trajectory in politics?

  • In 1898, Teddy Roosevelt was THE national war hero, setting an example the nation embraced. Coincidentally, there was also a gubernatorial election that year in New York and calls went up for Roosevelt to run for Governor; however, the incumbent Republican Governor, Frank S. Black, was seeking re-election. A political struggle followed, which ultimately led to Roosevelt’s nomination as the Republican Gubernatorial candidate in Saratoga on September 27, followed by his election victory on November 8. News coverage of Roosevelt at Camp Wikoff was critical to his political rise.