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Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858 - 1919)
Roosevelt once said his father, a strong and healthy philanthropist,
was the best man he ever knew. Young Theodore, on the other hand,
suffered from asthma and poor eyesight. He remembered his father
"walking up and down the room with me in his arms at night,
when I was a very small person, and of sitting up in bed gasping"
with his parents trying to help him.
Born October 27, 1858, Theodore had a bent for science. He collected
bugs, mammals and birds, and soon began lifting weights to improve
his strength and health. At thirteen he took taxidermy lessons from
a man once an associate of Audobon's. His father gave him his first
gun in 1872 and hunting soon became a passion, one of many to follow.
Roosevelt eventually graduated from Harvard, married Alice Hathaway
Lee and studied law for two years at Columbia University in New
York. In 1882, when he was elected assemblyman of New York's 21st
District, he began writing and developed a deep interest in history.
But tragedy struck in 1884. After receiving word his wife had just
given birth to a baby girl, he returned home to find both Alice
and his mother dying. Roosevelt drew a large cross in his diary
for February 14, 1884 (Valentine's Day) and wrote beneath: "The
light has gone out of my life."
Filled with anguish, he left his newborn daughter with his sister,
"Bamie," and withdrew to the Dakota Badlands. There, on
his ranch, Roosevelt began to heal emotionally, writing and living
the vigorous life. He was a working cowboy, not a dude rancher,
and roped steers, shot a charging grizzly in self defense, got appointed
deputy sheriff and chased outlaws. He once three punched and turned
the lights out on a bad man waving a gun who threatened him in a
Two years later, he returned to the east and married his childhood
playmate, Edith Carow. Theodore reentered politics, achieved prominence
in the New York Legislature and became police commissioner of New
York City. After two years he resigned to become President McKinley's
assistant secretary of the Navy. As war with Spain neared, Roosevelt
formed the Rough Riders, made up largely of cowboys. He led a famous
charge in Cuba, was promoted to colonel, came home a hero and soon
got elected governor of New York in 1898.
Meanwhile, the republican bosses, disturbed by what many New York
politicians perceived as Roosevelt's unconventional approach to
politics, managed to relegate him into a position where he could
do little harm: the Vice Presidency of the United States. But when
McKinley was assassinated, Theodore Roosevelt, to the horror of
many, was President.
Enter Gifford Pinchot
and Roosevelt had become friends during Roosevelt's tenure as New
York's Governor. Once, while on his way to the woods, Pinchot arrived
at the governor's mansion to find the chief of state playing gleefully
with his children. Roosevelt then asked his guest if he'd like to
do a little boxing. Never one to turn down a challenge, Pinchot
obliged and "had the honor of knocking the future President
of the United States off his very solid pins."
The two had much in common. They both grew up in New York city,
came from wealthy, influential families, had traveled extensively
abroad, could speak French and German, were both amateur naturalists
as children and shared a passionate love for the outdoors. By the
time Roosevelt became President, their friendship had grown significantly.
They rode, walked, thought, played and swam together. Pinchot's
unique relationship with the President gave him access to the oval
office that no division chief had ever had before or since. He became
the President's most trusted advisor on matters of conservation,
which Roosevelt considered one of the great accomplishments of his
Later, in writing about his time at the White House, Roosevelt
"Among the many, many public officials who under my administration
rendered literally invaluable service to the people of the United
States, Gifford Pinchot on the whole, stood first."
The Bull Moose Party
Roosevelt chose not to run for a third term and spent a year on
a safari in Africa. Disturbed by the shifting political climate
back home and the fear his reforms were endangered, he returned
to the United States, formed the Progressive Party and ran as its
presidential candidate. The party was nicknamed Bull Moose, because
Roosevelt once said he was "fit as a bull moose."
Disillusioned with President William Howard Taft and the Republican
Party's shift to the right, Gifford Pinchot joined the progressives
and campaigned vigorously for Roosevelt. He wrote a considerable
portion of its platform which called for the direct election of
U.S. senators, women's suffrage, public control of natural resources
and many social reforms.
Milwaukee, at the height of the campaign, Roosevelt was shot by
a would-be assassin. He calmed the revengeful crowd by demanding,
"Don't hurt him. Bring him here so I can see him." When
his secretary suggested he go to the hospital, he retorted, "Get
me to that speech. It may be the last I shall deliver, but I am
going to deliver this one." With the bullet lodged in his chest,
he told the audience it had passed through his spectacle case and
his speech, which he waved at the crowd. "It takes more than
that to kill a Bull Moose." He did not go to the hospital until
the meeting had ended.
Despite such high drama, the party wound up splitting the Republican
vote, resulting in the election of Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt
came in second, Taft third.
The River Of Doubt
After the election, Roosevelt accepted an offer to speak and travel
on a scientific expedition to South America. The American Museum
of Natural History sponsored the trip and plans were to explore
the Paraguay River. But when a Brazilian official asked them if
they would like to explore the unexplored River of Doubt, Roosevelt
and his party agreed, much to the dismay of the museum back home.
The 900 mile journey nearly killed him. In partnership with Brazil's
leading explorer, Colonel Rondon, the party encountered snakes,
piranha, mosquitoes, waterfalls and rapids, malaria (which Roosevelt
contracted), starvation and murder, for one man killed another over
food. One of the naturalists on the trip said that had Roosevelt
not been with them, none would have come out alive. Colonel Rondon
renamed the river the Rio Roosevelt, which is how it appears on
Roosevelt later wrote:
"The Brazilian wilderness stole ten years of my life."
But, he said, "I am always willing to pay the piper when
I have a good dance, and every now and then I like to drink the
wine of life with brandy in it."
Theodore Roosevelt never fully recovered from his trip to Brazil.
He returned to his home at Sagamore Hill, supported the war effort
during World War I, but denounced President Wilson as inept.
He was well on his way to an impressive political comeback and
probably reelection to the Presidency in 1920, but the energetic
years now began to take their toll. He once said:
"Life is a great adventure and I want to say to you,
accept it in such spirit. I want to see you face it ready to do
the best that lies in you to win out. To go down without complaining
and abiding by the result....the worst of all fears is the fear
He died quietly in his sleep at his home on January 6, 1919, at
age sixty, just five years after returning from the River of Doubt.