10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life

Larry Holzwarth - February 25, 2018

It is fitting indeed that one of the massive granite heads looking out over the Black Hills from Mt. Rushmore is a likeness of Teddy Roosevelt. Everything he did was bigger than life. He was a soldier, a writer, and a cowboy. He hunted big game in Africa and explored the Amazon, in both instances narrowly escaping with his life. He expanded and modernized the US Navy and sent its Great White Fleet around the world to enhance American prestige. He was a President, a Vice-President, a Governor of the State of New York, an Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a Nobel Prize winner. His leadership ensured the Americans would complete the Panama Canal after the French failed in the effort.

He championed the people over big business, was a leading conservationist who expanded the National Park System, pushed for government monitoring of America’s food. From a sickly youth he grew to represent strength and vigor in a way no preceding American President had. As a Police Commissioner of the City of New York rather than remain in his office he often walked a beat, carrying a nightstick. When USS Maine was destroyed by an explosion in Havana Harbor in 1898, it was Roosevelt who secretly sent orders to America’s naval squadrons, ensuring the ships were coaled, ammunition bunkers fully ready for war, actions which contributed to the victory over Spain.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Alice, daughter of Teddy and his first wife, stands in the center of this family portrait. Library of Congress

Here are ten things you may not know about Theodore Roosevelt.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Alice Roosevelt, Teddy’s wife and mother of their infant daughter, died within hours of his mothers death. Library of Congress

His mother and his first wife died on the same day in the same house

Teddy Roosevelt was 22 and a graduate of Harvard when he married his first wife, a Massachusetts socialite named Anne Hathaway Lee. Although Roosevelt was a member of a wealthy and distinguished New York family, and a classmate and friend of her cousin, Richard Saltonstall, she maintained her distance from the young and brash New Yorker for some time. They were introduced in the Saltonstall home, next door to her parent’s home, in the autumn of 1878. The following June Roosevelt proposed marriage. She made him wait eight months for her reply, but at least it was affirmative.

They were married on October 27, 1880, the groom’s twenty-second birthday. His bride was but nineteen. Rather than embarking on a long honeymoon the couple visited the Roosevelt family retreat at Oyster Bay before taking up residence with Teddy’s mother in New York. Teddy’s mother was Martha Stewart Bulloch Roosevelt, herself a socialite before marrying Teddy’s father. She was known to the world as Mittie. According to historian and writer David McCullough Margaret Mitchell used her as her inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara.

Mittie had been widowed by the death of her husband and Teddy’s father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr. in 1878. As the eldest son in the customs of the time it was Teddy’s responsibility to look after his mother. He and his wife enjoyed New York society in the City, and made a belated honeymoon trip to Europe before relocating to Albany in 1882, where Teddy was serving in the General Assembly. Both Anne and her husband hoped for several children and when she became pregnant she returned to the Roosevelt home in New York City while he remained in Albany to conduct state business, and to purchase an estate at which to raise their family.

Anne became pregnant in 1883 and was expected to deliver in February of 1884. Teddy believed that the baby would be born on Valentine’s Day. He was wrong, the baby girl whom they named Alice Lee Roosevelt was born two days earlier. Shortly after, Roosevelt received a telegram informing him of both his mother’s and his wife’s illnesses. Mittie was suffering from typhoid fever. Roosevelt arrived home about midnight of February 13 by which time his wife was wavering in and out of consciousness. His mother died around three in the morning of February 14.

Anne remained in a semi-coma for most of the day, with her husband at her side, before dying during the afternoon of Valentine’s Day. While deaths from childbirth were not uncommon, it was revealed that Anne had been suffering from a form of kidney failure and her pregnancy had masked the symptoms. Teddy Roosevelt was 25 at the time, a widower with a wife and a mother to bury, and a two day old infant daughter to care for. Roosevelt was devastated, later writing, “…the light went from my life forever.”

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
In buckskins tailor made in New York, Roosevelt poses in his Badlands hunting garb. Wikimedia

The Cowboy and Gamesman

Following the death of his wife Teddy removed numerous pages of his diary in which he had written of her before marriage and of their life together. He burned the many letters they had exchanged. He consigned their infant daughter to the care of his sister and returned to Albany following the funerals, determined to bury himself in his work as an assemblyman. He was an effective and progressive member of the Assembly, and became noticed as a rising star in the New York Republican Party. He served in the Assembly for three consecutive terms, 1882, 1883, and 1884.

The presidential election of 1884 was a divisive one for the Republicans, with more progressive members of the party unhappy with the nomination of James G. Blaine as their candidate for president. Several of the Republicans split from the party and coalesced as a group called the Mugwumps, and Roosevelt supported this faction to a degree but refused to split from the party nominee in the national election. Blaine was defeated in the election by Grover Cleveland and Roosevelt, still grieving over the death of his wife, withdrew from politics and went west.

The Roosevelt family owned a ranch in the Dakota’s but Teddy went to a new location and built another, which he named Elkhorn, in late 1884. Teddy taught himself to ride, and although the local ranchers and their hired hands at first treated him with derision as an eastern dude (with a New York accent polished by years at Harvard), he gradually earned a grudging respect, as much from his tenacity as from anything else. He learned to rope cattle, and to hunt in the North Dakota hills. He wrote three books on the subjects of hunting and ranching, extolling the “manly” qualities they produced in their practitioners.

Even in the open fields of North Dakota Roosevelt was not able to completely divorce himself from politics and the organization of special interest groups. He convinced his fellow ranchers to join an organization called the Little Missouri Stockmen’s Association, a joint effort for the ranchers to consider mutual concerns actions for conservation. Roosevelt operated his ranch as a for profit institution, as did all of the ranchers in the area, making them competitors as well as neighbors, and getting competing businesses to work together for the common good was no small task.

The winter of 1886-87 was one of the most severe ever to hit the United States, with extreme cold and heavy snows which resulted in the loss of livestock for ranchers across the plains states. Roosevelt’s ranch was particularly hard hit, and he suffered financial losses which in today’s money would have been about $1 million. During his time in North Dakota he made several trips home, and in late 1886, with the winter destroying his herds of cattle, he went home to remarry.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Friends from childhood, Edith and Teddy were married in 1886. Library of Congress

Second marriage

Teddy Roosevelt had known Edith Carow since they were children together in New York, the Carow family home being just a short distance from the Roosevelt home. Edith’s father suffered from alcoholism and was frequently absent for long periods. The disease likely contributed to his failing finances and business, and Edith’s childhood was a difficult and often unhappy one. She took refuge in books and in the home of her best friend, Teddy’s sister Corinne.

Teddy, like Edith, loved to read, and the two became friends as well. There may have been a budding romance between the two but when Teddy went off to Harvard he met his future wife Alice, and if there had been a romance with Edith it was soon extinct. Edith met and was friends with Alice during her brief marriage to Roosevelt so there was no animosity between the two, at least not expressed publicly. Teddy, not yet 30, had a small daughter and still retained his desire for a large family. When Teddy proposed to Edith is uncertain, but on December 2 1886, over the objections of his sisters who believed it was too soon, Teddy and Edith were married in London.

After the wedding the Roosevelts moved to the famous house at Sagamore Hill, taking Teddy’s daughter Alice with them, whom Edith would raise as one of her own. With Edith Teddy produced the large and boisterous family he had wanted. Between 1887 and 1897 Alice gave birth to four sons and a daughter, and Teddy insisted that his children embrace the active life which he found so beneficial to himself. Edith loved Sagamore Hill and wanted to spend as many summers as possible there. On more than one occasion she overruled her husband when he was considering a political appointment which would force them to relocate.

Eventually, as First Lady of the United States, Edith created much of what is the modern White House. Before the Roosevelt’s occupied the Executive Mansion there was no clear delineation between the living spaces for the President’s family and the working offices of the administration. For example, what is today known as the Lincoln Bedroom was not a bedroom in Lincoln’s day. He used the room as an office when he needed refuge from the patronage seekers which were so large a part of his day. Edith worked with architects and contractors to redo both the interior and grounds of the White House.

Teddy and Edith’s relationship was such that they set aside an hour or so every day (when Teddy was home) for private conversation, during which he often sought her counsel. Her love of privacy led her to destroy the many love letters she had received from Teddy over the years of their marriage, sent while he was off on one of his many long trips. By all accounts, the marriage was a happy one, although Edith and Alice, Teddy’s daughter from his first marriage, had an often stormy relationship. Alice grew up to be Alice Roosevelt Longworth. She was part of many stormy relationships.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
The success of the negotiators at Portsmouth whom Roosevelt brought together led to a Nobel Peace Prize, the first for an American. Wikimedia

The Nobel Prize

Until the Spanish-American War the United States had demonstrated little influence on global affairs. Although the nation was respected militarily and economically by the nations of Europe it had done little to intervene other than within the western hemisphere. The Spanish American War brought the United States overseas possessions in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, including the Philippines. The US had since the early 1800s maintained a naval squadron in the Mediterranean, now it needed a continuous naval presence around the globe.

The Russo-Japanese War was a conflict between Tsarist Russia and the Empire of Japan which began after years of competition over access to ports and spheres of influence between the two empires. Interestingly it began with a Japanese sneak attack on the Russian fleet in port just before the delivery of the declaration of war, an act for which the Japanese gave an encore in 1941. In 1905, concerned over the threat to American possessions and potential conflicts should one of the contending empires emerge much stronger from the war, then President Roosevelt offered to mediate a settlement.

Both sides agreed to participate and the conference was held at the Portsmouth Naval Base, actually located in Kittery, Maine across the river from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The conferees held twelve separate negotiating sessions. When it became apparent to the Russians that the Japanese were not going to agree to a key point – that of reparations – they announced that the war would resume and threatened to leave the conference. The Russians also gained the support of the American media pressuring the Japanese, in which they were joined by the American President. The Russians agreed to stay.

Eventually a deal was struck, the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed, and the Russo-Japanese War ended. The balance of power in East Asia was stabilized and peaceful relations between Russia and the Japanese lasted until the onset of the Sino-Japanese War thirty years later. Both empires were also made aware of the growing interest of the United States in the maintenance of its overseas possessions and in maintaining the stability of the region.

The successful intercession of Theodore Roosevelt in bringing to an end the Russo-Japanese War on terms acceptable to the belligerents also brought a new respect from the European nations which were even then involved in the arms races and interlinking treaties which would lead to the First World War just a few years later. Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work bringing the two empires to the bargaining table and for achieving a deal. He was the first American to win a Nobel Prize in any category. Unable to attend the ceremony, it was picked up for him by the United States Ambassador to Norway. After retiring as President, Roosevelt finally was able to deliver his acceptance speech during his tour of Europe in 1910.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Roosevelt, at center just left of the flag, and the Rough Riders stand atop Kettle Hill. Wikimedia

The Rough Riders

When USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, having been appointed to the post by President William McKinley. He worked under Secretary of the Navy John Long, a man of uncertain health who gave Roosevelt free rein in making decisions and establishing policy. Roosevelt was of the opinion that Spain was responsible for the destruction of USS Maine, and even if they weren’t he wanted to see the Spanish ejected from Cuba. Roosevelt on his own initiative ordered the squadrons in the Caribbean and the Asiatic fleet to be ready for action.

Once war became official in the spring of 1898, Roosevelt resigned as Assistant Secretary and with Colonel Leonard Wood formed a volunteer unit of cavalry, the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The press began calling them the Rough Riders, more because of the condition and diverse nature of the unit than their riding ability. The Rough Riders served in a division commanded by Joseph Wheeler, who had served the Confederate States of America more than thirty years earlier, and it consisted of what would be in a later day called a motley crew. They deployed in Cuba in late June 1898, and when Wood was promoted to command a brigade Roosevelt assumed command.

The Rough Riders are famous for their charge up San Juan Hill. It was actually Kettle Hill, just over one week after their arrival in Cuba, and though they were called Rough Riders the assault on the hill was made on foot. Roosevelt was the only mounted member of the unit, which was ordered up the hill in support of infantry. The order came from Roosevelt, he had no higher authority and by the time he reached the summit he too was on foot, after his horse failed to successfully negotiate a barbed wire emplacement.

Spanish forces in Cuba surrendered in July 1898 with the United States declaring a total victory, both in Cuba and in the Philippines, where the insurrectionists there were soon at war with the Americans who had driven out the Spanish. Before the summer was over most of the volunteer units which had supplemented the US Army and Marines were clamoring to be sent home, having volunteered for action and adventure, and having no desire to sit idle as occupation troops. For the United States the Spanish-American War had been a rousing victory.

Soon a march was composed by James W. Casey entitled Charge of the Rough Riders and dedicated to “Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.” Roosevelt was nominated for the Medal of Honor but Army officials were loath to award it to a mere volunteer and not until 2001 was it awarded. Roosevelt found the title of “Colonel” to be particularly pleasing, for the rest of his life he preferred that style of address, even considering it to be a higher honor than “Mr. President.” Returning to New York and bolstered by his fame in the press he was asked by party officials to run for governor. Charge of the Rough Riders was soon his campaign song.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Roosevelt in full uniform. He trumpeted his military achievements when campaigning for governor. Library of Congress

Governor of New York

When Roosevelt ran for governor near the end of the same year in which he had served in Cuba he relied heavily on his war record when he made stump speeches and appeared at other campaign functions. Even with his popularity the Colonel whom the voting public called Teddy – a named which grated on him but he endured it – did not exactly give him overwhelming support. His victory over the Democratic candidate, a member of New York’s Van Wyck family and a judge of high repute, was by less than 1% of the votes cast.

When he spoke at his inaugural, Roosevelt announced that while he was a loyal Republican and partisan to his party, he recognized the need to put the needs of the people of the state above those of partisan politics. Roosevelt was determined to achieve a level of popularity for himself and his programs with voters. This would allow him a measure of independence from the party power structure in the state, and the ability to demonstrate that failure to support him among the party power structure could cause the loss or losses of their positions.

To get his message through to the people Roosevelt relied on the press, and to ensure that the message was presented undistorted he set a schedule in which he held two press conferences every work day. Some were mere announcements of policy or administrative action and others were give and take question and answer sessions. The two a day policy meant that errors or distortions appearing in the early editions of the afternoon papers could be corrected by the time the final editions were printed. Despite the growing support of the public for many of his policies and programs, Roosevelt could not accomplish all that he wanted. Party conservatives often blocked him, backed by big business interests.

He did marshal through legislation which improved the civil service system in the state, eliminating much of the graft and patronage which had marked it in the past. In education he eliminated racial segregation in public schools and obtained increases in the salaries paid to teachers. He was an active supporter of conservation, establishing fish and game preserves and placing more of the state’s land in conservation, including the Forest Preserve’s. Much of what he did made enemies within the part’s controlling faction.

In the end, he lost to the controlling faction, led by Senator Thomas Platt, who had him blocked for a second term as governor by controlling the 1900 Republican National Convention and nominating Roosevelt to be the candidate for vice president, joining the ticket of the popular William McKinley. McKinley was the incumbent President of the United States and winner of the Spanish-American War (which he had tried to avoid). McKinley’s first vice-president, Garret Hobart, had died in 1899 and the office was unfilled. McKinley and Roosevelt won election in a landslide.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Roosevelt became president following the assassination of William McKinley in September 1901. Library of Congress

Accession to the Presidency

On September 6 1901 President McKinley was attending the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when he was shot twice by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. When it at first appeared that the President may recover Roosevelt left for a camping vacation in the Adirondacks (there was at the time no law which allowed for presidential succession in the event the president was disabled). However, unknown to the doctor’s treating McKinley the gangrene which would kill him and which the doctors had no means of fighting had already set in, and the President died on September 14. Interestingly, his assassin was tried and sentenced to death before the end of the month and was executed by the end of October.

The new 26th President was and is the youngest man to take the oath of office, being just 42 years of age. It was not long before youthful vigor was a hallmark of his administration. Roosevelt sought to improve the lot of the average citizen and he did so throughout the remainder of his first term and through his second. He carried two big sticks, in international affairs it was the US Navy and in domestic affairs it was the Constitution of the United States. Special interest groups, monopolies, trusts, and other entities harmful to the common man one by one encountered the president and his policies, and one by one they lost.

Roosevelt protected the consumer and the nation’s health through the Pure Food and Drug Act and established federal standards for meat. Federal regulations of big businesses were enacted and enforced. His Justice Department broke up monopolies wherever they were found to be against the common interest, or were in violation of the law. Political graft and patronage was rooted out and exposed. He decided that just because the French couldn’t build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama was no reason the Americans couldn’t and started the process which would lead to its completion.

To demonstrate to the world the rising power of the United States Roosevelt dispatched a fleet of sixteen modern battleships on an eleven month round the world cruise, all of them with their hulls painted white, giving the endeavor the name the Great White Fleet. The considerable logistics difficulties presented by the cruise helped the US Navy develop a global means of fueling and maintaining their ship’s during extended deployments. It also demonstrated to the Congress the strategic value of the Panama Canal.

Roosevelt became the first president to intervene to settle a labor dispute when he brokered an agreement resolving the Coal strike of 1902. He expanded the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission in response to complaints of gouging by some railroads. He summed up all of his policies and his philosophy in a term far less remembered than his big stick. Roosevelt believed in any dispute between reasonable parties, all parties are deserving of a fair shake. He called it the Square Deal.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
This cartoon from the time mocks some of Roosevelt’s maneuvering to obtain permission to build the canal and its defenses. Wikimedia

The Panama Canal

For hundreds of years transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific by ship required a long, arduous, and, dangerous trip around Cape Horn, the site of some of the stormiest and most dangerous waters on earth. Cape Horn could be avoided by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, increasing the length of the journey enormously, or by unshipping at the Isthmus of Panama, crossing the Isthmus, and embarking again on the Pacific Coast. This too was dangerous, for health reasons due to yellow fever and malaria, and corrupt local governments which often sheltered bandits, not to mention the bandits themselves.

The French began building a canal across the isthmus in 1881. By 1884 more than 200 workers per month were dying from yellow fever, malaria, bites from the poisonous snakes which thrived in the Panamanian jungle, and other causes. The French effort persisted until 1889. In 1894 another French company resumed work, accomplishing just enough to retain French rights to the franchise allowing the work across Panama, at that time part of Colombia. US interests, spurred by Roosevelt and others, explored ways of purchasing the French interests.

A treaty between the United States and Colombia was negotiated through which the United States obtained a lease in perpetuity for the land through which it would complete the canal, but the Colombian government refused to ratify it, and when a rebellion in Panama arose Roosevelt moved quickly to support the rebels. US diplomats urged the Panamanian rebels to declare independence and when they did the United States immediately recognized the new nation of Panama. Roosevelt then sent US ships to intervene in the Panamanian Revolution. Secretary of State John Hay negotiated a treaty with the new Panamanian ambassador which gave the United States a lease on the land, permission to build the canal and defenses to protect it, creating the Canal Zone.

Members of both major political parties in the United States and many Panamanians were outraged, and foreign reaction to Roosevelt’s militaristic actions expressed alarm, many condemning them as acts of war against Colombia. Roosevelt considered it simply fait accompli, especially after the Canal Zone treaty was ratified by the Senate. “I took the isthmus,” Roosevelt said, “started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me.” The United States eventually paid reparations to Colombia in exchange for Colombian recognition of the independence of Panama.

The United States purchased the remaining French equipment and paid roughly $1.00 per cubic yard of completed excavations, beginning work on the canal in 1904. Most of the French equipment was discarded quickly, often replaced with equipment designed specifically for its purpose related to canal construction. The Panama Canal was first transited by shipping in 1914. Wider locks to accommodate larger ships have twice been installed, but the original locks remain in operation after more than a century of use. Today it takes under eight hours to transit the canal, and about 15,000 ships do so annually.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Roosevelt with John Muir atop Glacier Point. Roosevelt was among the first to present the press with what are now known as photo ops. Library of Congress

Roosevelt’s relationship with the press

As with nearly all president’s, Roosevelt’s relationship with the press was complicated. In many ways he used the press to gain support of his programs and gain public approval for his battles with big business and trusts. For all intents and purposes, the modern relationship between the press and the White House evolved from his model. The daily press briefing was initiated during his presidency and he allowed reporters and columnists unprecedented access to the White House, creating space within the White House for the reporters to work there.

Early in his presidency he noticed that there were reporters attempting to shelter themselves from the rain under the portico of the White House. Roosevelt directed his staff to create what became the press room, and with reporters on hand throughout the business day he found coverage of his doings increased. As a former writer himself, he understood the need to provide enough information to ensure the writer would produce copy pleasing to his or her editor, and he complied. He detested writers who launched personal attacks on politicians without proof, coining the term muckraker, to describe them.

Roosevelt enjoyed an afternoon shave while in the White House and he used the time to converse with the press, answering questions and making announcements. He also recognized the value of the press photographers and provided them with what would today be called photo ops. For example, to demonstrate to the nation his faith in a new type of warship – the submarine – he made a descent in one in Long Island Sound and had the press and photographers along on an escort vessel to record the event and report it to the public.

Roosevelt used the press to overcome the influence of big business in both Houses of Congress throughout his administration, never to better results than in his creation of independent agencies to monitor the nation’s food supply and quality. When congressional criticism of the reports on the terrible conditions within the nation’s meatpackers threatened Roosevelt’s attempts to reform the industry, he used the press to investigate the charges of the muckraker’s, specifically Upton Sinclair’s. The press generated stories across the nation reporting most of the conditions described were true, and public opinion backed the president.

Roosevelt responded angrily to the press when stories appeared in several newspapers which charged corruption in the events surrounding the United States acquisition of the Canal Zone and the lease payments to Panamanian and other officials and appointees. He directed the Justice Department to prosecute the New York World – owned by Joseph Pulitzer – and it did, for libel, but the case was eventually thrown out of court on a technicality.

10 of the Most Intense Moments From Theodore Roosevelt’s Life
Roosevelt poses with one of the more than 1,000 big game animals on a safari to obtain specimens alive and dead for the Smithsonian Institution. Library of Congress

The Former President

After Roosevelt left office he sojourned to Africa to lead the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition. The safari was financially backed by the Smithsonian Institution and the earnings from Roosevelt’s articles written while it was underway. Over 11,000 animals were either trapped or killed during the safari, including just over one thousand big game animals, and they were shipped to the United States for mounting or display at several locations across the United States. Roosevelt later wrote African Game Trails, an account of the expedition, in which he defended the large number of animals taken.

He then traveled to Europe. On his tour of pre-war Europe he met with the German Kaiser, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, and the British King. He found much in common with these fellow imperialists, though he did deliver a speech in England calling for a treaty limiting the rapidly expanding European Navies. He also had the opportunity to deliver his long delayed speech accepting his Nobel Prize. In this address he again called for the reduction of navies and the creation of a “League of Peace” through which all nations could work together to resolve disputes.

Although he had backed Taft as his successor he expressed his dissatisfaction with him upon his return to the United States in 1910. Divisions within the Republican Party led to the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives that year, and Roosevelt’s criticism of the president increased. In 1912 he announced his candidacy for president and indicated that he would accept the Republican nomination if offered. It wasn’t. Roosevelt announced that he would run for the Progressives of either party and formed a third party, officially named the Progressive Party, but known to its supporters and history as the Bull Moose Party (after Roosevelt told the press that he was as healthy as a bull moose). Roosevelt was its nominee for president.

While campaigning in October Roosevelt was shot in the chest. He was wounded after the bullet penetrated his eyeglasses case and a copy of a speech he was to deliver. He announced the wound to his audience and delivered the speech, though he could be seen bleeding through his shirt. After his speech the doctors who examined the wound found the bullet in his chest muscle and decided it was less dangerous to leave it there. In the ensuing election Roosevelt garnered more votes than the Republican nominee, Taft, but they both lost to Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt consoled himself over his defeat with another hunting expedition, this one to South America.

During the South American expedition, which he documented in the book Through the Brazilian Wilderness, Roosevelt’s health began to decline, accelerated by an infection he acquired from a cut to his leg, malarial fever, and the bullet still in his chest. He still managed to explore and chart the River of Doubt to the Amazon, a journey of more than 600 miles. He returned home to recovery and politics, and played a significant role in the Republicans wresting control of the House of Representatives in 1918. He died in January 1919 at the age of 60, at Sagamore Hill.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“How Theodore Roosevelt Invented Spin”, by David Greenberg. The Atlantic, January 24, 2016

“Mornings on Horseback”, by David McCullough (biography of Roosevelt’s early life)

“The Path Between the Seas”, by David McCullough (story of building the Panama Canal)

“Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt”, entry, The Theodore Roosevelt Center online

“Portsmouth Peace Treaty”, entry, Portsmouthpeacetreaty.org

“The Soldier”, entry, Theodore Roosevelt Association online

“TR’s Legacy – The Environment”, entry, PBS online

“TR – The Last Romantic”, by Howard Brands (biography of Roosevelt)

“Roosevelt African Expedition Collects for SI”, archive, The Smithsonian Institution Archives