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“my Dear Selous…”
A long-buried series of letters to an African game hunter reveals T. R. as half thinker, half boy scout
April 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 3
Roosevelt was reluctant to engage a white manager for the party. He had met people who had taken trips in Africa and said they had got on perfectly well without this luxury, and the President saw himself in a romantic role as boss of his own caravan. He said he would feel like “a Cook’s tourist” if he had such a guide, but Selous did not agree, and neither did Buxton, Sir Alfred Pease, or any of the other experts who by this time were in on the act. After a short struggle Roosevelt submitted to the counsel of experience.
Accompanying the letter of August 19 are the lists he mentions, one of them in his own hand; the other, obviously sent by Selous and amended by the President, makes fascinating reading. Roosevelt has changed “i tin Salt” to “2 tin Salt,” adding in brackets, “I like plenty of salt.” Pepper and mustard are struck out. In the list for individual loads, Cocoa is changed to Coffee, and Pâté de foie gras , as well as sets of “3 course French lunches,” are sacrificed in favor of cans of Boston baked beans. Imperial French Plums gave way to canned peaches, and mixed pickles to canned tomatoes. Roosevelt wanted ginger snaps instead of German Rusks, and even instead of Ginger Nuts. He wrote after “i lb. tin Marrowfat,” “What is Marrowfat? Can’t we have Boston Baked Beans instead?” Marmalade was dropped in favor of strawberry jam; Curried Prawns disappeared altogether; a tin of mushrooms got changed into more canned peaches, and “i bottle Mixed Spice” was translated to canned tomatoes. Roosevelt didn’t want Patna Rice or Mixed Sweets, but he approved of Selous’ “1 lb. tin Eating Chocolate,” only altering it to “2 lb. tin sweet Eating Chocolate.” The he-man took out the Bottle of Almonds and Raisins for canned tomatoes, and put in more canned peaches in the place of “i lb. tin Preserved Ginger.” The pound tin of Plum Pudding, almost certainly supplied by Selous against Christmas in the field, was removed in favor of yet more canned tomatoes. Nothing took the place of the deleted Mashed Turnips, at which one can scarcely wonder, but we find more canned tomatoes using space originally set aside for Quaker Oats. Sago? Capers? Roosevelt didn’t ask what they were, though he probably wondered; he just took them out and put in Boston baked beans, and moved in more beans in substitute for asparagus.
This does not mean that the President took his friend’s efforts cavalierly. On the contrary, his letters are full of expressions of appreciation and gratitude, and he speaks several times of his plans for trips after he has left Africa, when he intends to visit England and hopes to see Selous. “I do hope that you will be there and that I shall see you. I would feel as tho the salt had gone out of the trip if you were not there,” he wrote on September 12, 1908. The postscript to a letter dated the twenty-fifth of the same month shows that he is still anxious about his status if he engages a white hunter, though he has nearly fixed on a man named Judd for the job.
Would Judd thoroly understand that I would not want him to do any hunting, and that of course I should have to be boss in the ultimate decision as to where the caravan went or what it did? In other words I should want him to take charge of the caravan and be the guide, but not to do the hunting with me save in exceptional cases. I do not want to do any game butchering, but what shooting is done must be done by Kermit and myself.
So far this is typewritten; in addition he has written with his pen, “I fairly dream of the trip. It seems too good to be true. I never expected to be again in a good game country; and never at all in such a game country as East Africa must be; I long to see the wild herds, and to be in the wilderness.”
The Selous papers include a concentration of letters written about this date from Pease, Buxton, and others, all addressed to Selous and all dealing with aspects of the exciting future during which a United States President will go on safari in East Africa. Several facts emerge from them. The white hunter engaged by Roosevelt is Cunninghame, not Judd. Both men are considered good, but Selous rather prefers Cunninghame, and a warm recommendation of him from Carl Ethan Akeley of the Field Museum in Chicago settles the matter. Then there is Mr. McMillan from St. Louis, who now divides his time between a residence in London and a farm near Nairobi: he would like to entertain Mr. Roosevelt at his Nairobi place. Roosevelt must decline with thanks because he is committed to Pease, but a new possibility appears: Selous too is contemplating a safari in East Africa, and though it will be a comparatively short affair of two months, couldn’t he arrange to go out at the same time as the Roosevelt party? The President suggests it. The Roosevelts are to transship at Naples, where Selous could join them. It develops that McMillan would be delighted to put up the Englishman, since he can’t have Roosevelt, and so it is settled.
A mid all this bustle is one sour note—Selous and Buxton quarrel. Selous thinks Buxton is interfering and being too officious during such important preparations. Buxton hastens to apologize. It is no wonder if tempers are growing short, for tension rises, and every letter from the President seems longer and more repetitious. He, too, is restive, though never bad-tempered, at the increasing cost of operations. Simultaneously Cunninghame, now signed, sealed, and delivered, writes to Selous expressing grave doubts of his ability to handle the caravan all by himself, for it now comprises not only the Roosevelts but the extra scientists and taxidermists who are coming along. Cunninghame wants another white man to keep an eye on camp management while he is out escorting the guns.