T.r.’s Last Adventure


Defeated in his attempt at apolitical comeback in the Presidential election of 1912, the fifty-four-year-old Theodore Roosevelt started off 1913 eager for fresh adventures. The former President accepted invitations from the governments of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile to deliver addresses in their respective capitals and also gleefully agreed to accompany the explorer-priest John Augustine ^ahm on ajourney through the Amazon basin. The American Museum of Natural History in New York added two naturalists, George K. Cherne and Leo E. Miller, to the party that would also include Roosevelt’s second son, Kermit, who had been working for the past year and a half in Brazil. As well as being his father’s beloved “side-partner,” Kermit would prove invaluable as the expedition’s interpreter and photographer. Some of his photographs taken during the trip appear in the following pages.

The story of T.R.’s extraordinary adventure in Brazil is told by Joseph L. Gardner in his new book, Departing Glory: Theodore Roosevelt as Ex-President , from which this excerpt is taken. The book will be published this month by Charles Scribner’s Sons. We pick up the story as the Roosevelt party boards the liner Vandyck in Brooklyn on October

For the sailing the ebullient T.R. wore a gray suit and a soft hat of the same color, a tie with a stickpin, and a boutonnière in his lapel. The decks of the ship, the pier, and even a few surrounding streets were thronged with well-wishers; the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party sent a band; and the ambassadors of the three South American republics T.R. would visit came to see him off.

En route south the Colonel (as Roosevelt now liked to be called) easily proved to be the ship’s most popular passenger. His uninhibited version of the sailor’s hornpipe at an evening entertainment brought cries of “Encore, ” while George Cherrie noted that T. R.’s “two hundred and twenty pounds of avoirdupois were the deciding factor in the ‘tug-of-war’ between the married men and the bachelors on the ship.” A passenger who had originally said he would travel ten thousand miles to vote against Roosevelt was introduced to the exPresident, was charmed by him, and said that the next time he would travel twice as far to vote for him.

The first port of call on the cruise south was Bridgetown, Barbados, where the naturalist Leo Miller joined the party; and on October 17 the liner put in at Bahia, Brazil, where Kermit came aboard. Four days later the Vandyck steamed into Rio de Janeiro. A small fleet of gaily decked craft flying Brazilian and American flags welcomed the former President to the breathtakingly beautiful harbor; T.R.’s reception ashore, wrote Father Zahm, had “all the wild enthusiasm of a national holiday.”

At Rio, Roosevelt was met by Lauro M’fcller, the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs, who suggested a change in plans for his trip through the interior of the continent. At the headwaters of the Paraguay River, at the town of Caceres, Roosevelt would be met by Colonel Candido Mariano da Suva Rondon, an army officer of chiefly Indian blood, who for the past quarter century had been exploring the Brazilian hinterland. Four years earlier, while surveying a route for a government telegraph line through the Mato Grosso, Colonel Rondon had come upon a large, previously unknown river flowing north. To this mysterious stream Rondon gave the name Rio da Dúvida, the “River of Doubt.” Its course seemed to lie roughly along the parallel of longitude 60 degrees west of Greenwich, with a source between the 12th and 13th parallels south of the equator and perhaps an outlet into the Madeira, a major affluent of the Amazon. It was the largest uncharted river between the Gy-Paraná, another tributary to the Madeira, and the Juruena, which flowed into the Tapajós, yet another affluent of the Amazon. It was now Colonel Rondon’s plan to follow the River of Doubt wherever it led, and Roosevelt was invited by the government to join him in this journey into the unknown.

T.R. knew that this was an unrivalled opportunity for another great adventure, his “last chance to be a boy”—and, of course, he accepted. The undertaking was christened the Expedição Scientifica RooseveltRondon; and while the Colonel completed his speaking tour Cherrie and Miller went up the Paraguay to begin collecting species of birds and mammals, and two other members of the party, Anthony Fiala and Jacob Sigg, organized the supplies.


By December 7 Roosevelt was at Asunción, the sleepy capital of the landlocked republic of Paraguay, and two days later he was journeying up the Paraguay River aboard the gunboat-yacht of the Paraguayan president. On the twelfth he reached the Brazilian boundary, where he was met by a shallow-draft river steamer carrying Colonel Rondon and his party. “Spick and span in their white uniforms,” T.R. wrote of this initial meeting, the colonel and his companions came aboard Roosevelt’s boat to introduce themselves. The Brazilian contingent would include four other officers, a doctor, and a geologist. “It was evident,” T.R. noted of Rondon, “that he knew his business thoroughly, and it was equally evident that he would be a pleasant companion. ” T.R. spoke no Portuguese, and the officers apparently understood little English; but Kermit, after his year and a half in Brazil, could easily bridge the language gap.