I was at that time commuting between the Des Moines office of the [Des Moines] Register and [New York] Tribune and the New York Tribune on a contract which specified a month’s turnabout with each publication. It took thirty-six hours to get from one drawing board to the other, and three cartoons to be made in advance in order to span the gap. The day before I was to hop the train was always a hectic one, and with the telephone disconnected it was my habit to shut myself in with strict orders not to be disturbed.
It was on one of those days that I had dimly heard several knocks at the outer door of my office. Late in the afternoon, I heard through two intervening, closed doors, the agitated voice of the managing editor, calling my name. He had come up three times to tell me that Theodore Roosevelt had died that morning at nine o’clock. It was now getting late and he thought I ought to make a cartoon on the subject for the next morning’s paper. The news shocked me into an emotional coma, as it did a great many people. It was a subject which demanded a supreme effort and there were only two and a half hours left before the deadline in the engraving department in order to have a plate ready for the morning issue.
There was not a moment to lose. I couldn’t think of a thing—not anything at all. I looked at the blank sheet of cardboard in front of me in utter despair and, more to be making a mark on that whopping empty sheet of paper than because I had anything fitting in mind, I started sketching in the figure of Roosevelt on horseback, turning in his saddle and waving to me as we had parted after a horseback ride together the last time I had seen him at Oyster Bay, Long Island. Certainly, that did not embody any fitting memorial to one of the most stimulating public figures in that generation.
I threw it on the floor and took a new sheet of cardboard and started drawing a funereal wreath tied with crepe and the head of T.R. drawn in the center. That was no good either, and several others followed. Completely stumped, I sat gazing blankly at my futile attempts covering the floor, when the idea struck me that I might possibly add to that first sketch a trail into the great beyond and allow it to be presumed that Roosevelt was waving goodbye not to me, but to the world. It wasn’t what it should be, but in the mental void I was in at the moment it might be better than nothing. So, I sketched in the trail and the vanishing buffalo, covered wagons, and symbols of pioneer days disappearing in the dim distance. A shadowy sketch of the dome of the national capital filled part of the foreground. It was so inadequate that, again, it landed on the floor with the rest.
Time was up. The managing editor and chief of the engraving department appeared in my doorway. I had to confess that I had failed, but I pointed to the floor and the thin, unshaded lines representing Roosevelt waving his Rough Rider hat in farewell. The managing editor picked it up and gave it the once over, saying, “No, it isn’t very good, is it?”
It was decided they would dig out one of the best T.R. photographs in the files, draw a heavy black border around it and run it four columns wide on the front page. After a few minutes, the managing editor came stampeding to my desk. A recent fire in the Register and Tribune building had destroyed most of the morgue, including every good picture it had contained of the late ex-president. In a panic, he seized, in a panic he picked up the sketch of T.R. on horseback waving farewell and giving it another disparaging glance, told me to get busy on another for the later edition, but what did I want to call this one? “Gone with the buffalo and covered wagons,” was the first line that came to our minds. No, that was no good. How about, "Tthe Long, Long Trail”, which was the title of a song everyone was singing at that time. That would do in a pinch.
The plan was to run this cartoon in the first edition only and pull it out in the next for something more in keeping with the occasion, which I must have ready by nine o’clock. The managing editor had indicated that the wreath of immortals with lots of crepe and the sketch of Roosevelt’s head in the center had at least the quality of dignity and bereavement. Then, dabbing a few more lines on the other two half-finished filler cartoons, I hurried to catch my train.
At breakfast the next morning in Chicago, I caught a glimpse of an extra edition of the Chicago Evening Post. The paper was being passed around with evident interest at the next table, and to my amazement, I saw a man get up from his seat and bring back several copies of the paper, which he passed to the others. There on the front page was "The Long, Long Trail" cartoon. In my excitement of the night before, I had forgotten to put in a stop order on the syndicate mailing list and the mats had evidently gone out to all the subscribing papers.
The next day when I reached the Tribune Office, I found the editorial staff examining the engraver’s proof of that same cartoon with no evidence of enthusiasm. Yes, they had examined it, carefully, and decided not to use it. They would like to have me make something impressive which they could run in the next day's issue, which was to be the day of the funeral. No one ever tried harder. I made several, which were sent down to the plate-makers, from which a choice might be made.
The brass hats hadn’t been able to decide and when I dropped in just before closing the form to see which one they had chosen, they were taking a straw ballot of the reporters and rewrite men in the newsroom. "The Long, Long Trail” won by a margin of one vote. Papers had hardly had time to appear on the street before congratulations began to come in. Reprints and special editions of that cartoon on heavy paper, etchings, bronze tablets, and book illustrations have been run of that “Long, Long Trail” cartoon into several million, and after thirty-eight years, calls still come in for cartoons.
When neither the cartoonist himself nor the editors know a successful cartoon when they see it, you may know by what a thin thread the success or failure of a cartoonist hangs by.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.
Copyright is owned by the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society; it is administered on behalf of the Society by The University of Iowa. While use within the classroom is encouraged without specific authorization, publishing this cartoon in any format requires written permission. See policy and permissions procedure at: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/services/dingdarling_fees.html