As I sit here writing the final article in our wonderful #TRThursday series, I find myself a bit emotional thinking about the man, Roosevelt, his last many adventures, his death, and the impact that such a character has had on history. Many, including myself, will chide his presidency as being one of progressive policies that altered the course of American politics and mushroomed the role of government to give us the nanny-state we live in today. However, as a man, there are few who can but admire his tenacity, vigor, and adherence to the moral virtues he so often espoused: Industry, honesty, grit, strength, sobriety, and so many others. For a man who was such a prominent media figure, it really is amazing that his life was essentially scandal-free.
In this last article of the series, we’ll look briefly at what may have been his greatest adventure, and also his death, which, in true Rooseveltean style, he predicted.
- #TRThursday articles give us some manly insight and wisdom from Theodore Roosevelt every Thursday. Sometimes a quote, sometimes a snippet of his life...always manly! Read other TRThursday articles here. -
One Final Adventure
Following his presidency and unsuccessful run at a third term in office, Roosevelt had a number of years of adventure ahead of him, all of which can be gleaned the life of a man determined to live every moment to its fullest. The most notable of these excursions is his African Hunting Trip and the exploration of the deep-jungle, South American waterways.
The River of Doubt (Rio da Duvida)
Roosevelt had already left his mark — or marks — on history, but at the age of 55 he wanted to leave his mark on the map. He knew that most of the major discoveries in the world had already taken place and time was running out for anyone, not just himself, to make new, significant contributions to mapping the globe. Roosevelt found his opportunity in South America. The expedition was led in part by Colonel Rondon, a famous Brazilian explorer familiar with the tribes and passages of the area. The entire story is one of the most awesome adventures I have ever read about, particularly because it involved a group of men who found themselves in dire straights because of their own desire for adventure and discovery.
Candace Milliard details the expedition wonderfully in her book, The River of Doubt (get it from Amazon or Audible), but there is one event that was particularly Rooseveltean worth sharing in this short space.
Along for the expedition were Rondon’s “camaradas”, the title given to poor, Indian laborers, who lived the jungle life and did most of the tiring work of the expedition such as carve out canoes from freshly fallen trees. Roosevelt, his son Kermit (now a fully grown man), and a few camaradas set out for a jaguar hunt early in the morning. The party had been gone from camp longer than expected and a few of the men began to worry. Finally, one of the Indians came running in from the jungle, said “Burroo-Gurra-Harru” which translates as, “Plenty work, tired.” and crumpled in a corner and immediately went to sleep. A few minutes later another of the camaradas came in with the same pronouncement followed shortly by a third. Concerned for the Colonel and his son, several men went into the jungle to search for the former President. I’ll leave the rest of the story to a reporter who witnessed the event:
“After walking through the forest for a short distance we came to a small open space, where we found one of the Brazilian officers lying on the ground so dead tired that he could go no further. Leaving him in the care of three natives to carry him back to camp, I pushed on farther and in another clearing I saw Colonel Roosevelt and Kermit dragging the other Brazilian officer after them through the jungle. I shall never forget the awesome appearance of the intrepid Colonel as the falling rays of the sun streamed through the trees and lit up his dusty and begrimed features. His clothes were torn to tatters and Kermit was in the same condition, but had not his father’s warlike look.
I called out to him, “Are you alright, Colonel?” and he replied, “I’m bully,” and then went to camp with the used-up officer. Next day the Colonel and Kermit were about the camp as if nothing had happened out of the ordinary, but the Brazilians were laid up for two days.” – From Candace Milliard’s The River of Doubt
The 55 year old Colonel had out-hunted the Brazilian natives on their own turf and earned their respect.
Here are a few pics of the Colonel and his crew on their expedition.
Roosevelt Dies, as he Predicted
Roosevelt nearly died in his South American expedition. His shin never truly healed after injuring it during a hunting trip when he was young, and a second injury in the jungles led to a tropical fever which grew worse each passing day. Knowing he was slowing the men down considerably, who were already short on supplies, the Colonel asked his son, Kermit, to leave him behind. Kermit refused and eventually Teddy was nursed back to health.
Though Roosevelt had several close calls in his life, he always counted on going out at the age of sixty, which is exactly the age he was when he died. A doctor recounts the story of one of Roosevelt’s last visits:
“Roosevelt: Well, anyway, no matter what comes, I have kept the promise that I made to myself when I was twenty-one.
Dr. Richards: What promise, Theodore?
Roosevelt: I promised to myself that I would work up to the hilt until I was sixty, and I have done it.”
On January 6, 1919, the man who, as a boy, fought to “make his body”, to pull the air into his lungs with all his might, and became to a nation the very essence of masculine willpower and vitality, lay attended to as he had been so many days in his youth. In immense pain and only able to be moved with the assistance of others, he watched the flames dance in the fireplace at Sagamore Hill. His wife Edith and the doctor in attendance agreed that morphine might make him feel a bit more comfortable. Shortly after it was administered he asked James Amos, the family’s servant, to help him to bed. “James, will you please put out the light?” were to be the last words he ever spoke. He died in his sleep.
Upon the death of Theodore Roosevelt, his son Archibald telegraphed his siblings saying simply, “The old lion is dead.” Thomas Marshall, the Vice President is quoted as saying, “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
There is much more to learn from this amazing man of history and I’m sure #TR will make his appearance in future articles. I hope you enjoyed getting to know Theodore Roosevelt a little better as a result of these articles. If you are really a fan, check out the books below as they are where most of my information on Roosevelt has derived.