T.r.’s Last Adventure

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“It was time to get out, ” T.R. concluded. “The wearing work, under very unhealthy conditions, was beginning to tell on every one.” Half the camaradas had been down with the fever; and although Kermit and Cherrie had recovered from their attacks of fever, the younger Roosevelt and Lyra suffered greatly from bleeding sores on their legs, sores that had developed from the bruises incurred during the river work. The Colonel, at last, could admit that he himself was in bad shape—from the fever and from the abscesses on his injured leg. But the worst was past, and the “north was calling strongly.…” At nightfall they could see the Big Dipper well above the horizon—“upside down, with the two pointers pointing to a north star below the world’s rim; but the Dipper, with all its stars.” At Sagamore Hill, he knew, spring had come, “the wonderful northern spring of long glorious days, of brooding twilights, of cool delightful nights.” Each of the three North Americans—Cherrie, Kermit, and the Colonel—“was longing for the homely things that were so dear to him, for the home people who were dearer still, and for the one who was dearest of all.”

“Our adventures and our troubles alike were over,” T.R. wrote of their last two weeks on the Rio da Dúvida. A rubberman was hired as a guide; and even though there were additional rapids to traverse, “it was all child’s play compared to what we had gone through.” Their guide could tell them what lay ahead, and trails for portaging had been blazed around the worst rapids; soon they were making fifty kilometers a day. On April 27—exactly two months after embarking on the River of Doubt—the Expedição Scientifica Roosevelt-Rondon reached the hamlet of São João. A three-day journey downstream aboard a river steamer brought them to Manáos, where they learned that the two other parties had come out safely down the Tapajós and Gy-Paraná rivers. Leo Miller later recalled that Colonel Roosevelt, by the time of his arrival at the river city, “had wasted to a mere shadow of his former self; but his unbounded enthusiasm remained undiminished.” The young naturalist was sorry that Fiala had already left for New York and could not record the arrival at Manáos on motion-picture film—as he had the expedition’s departure overland from Tapirapuan three months earlier; “the two pictures side by side would have told an interesting story.”

“We have had a hard and somewhat dangerous but very successful trip,” T.R. wired the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs, General M’fcller, from Manáos on April 30. He briefly recounted the expedition’s tribulations but then triumphantly recorded that they had “put on the map a river about 1500 kilometers in length running from just south of the 13th degree to north of the 5th degree and the biggest affluent of the Madeira.” Roosevelt concluded, “My dear Sir, I thank you from my heart for the chance to take part in this great work of exploration. ”

At Manáos, Roosevelt said goodbye to the thirteen remaining camaradas , giving each some gold sovereigns—one of which, he later learned, each man kept as a token of his journey with the famous North American. An Amazon steamer took the rest of the party to Pará, or Belém, where final farewells were said between the Brazilians and the Americans. Together with his admiration for the “hardihood, courage, and resolution” of Rondon, Lyra, and Doctor Cajazeira, Roosevelt confessed to a “strong and affectionate friendship for them”; he was glad to have “been their companion in the performance of a feat which possessed a certain lasting importance.”

“The Brazilian Wilderness,” wrote William Roscoe Thayer, a historian and Roosevelt’s friend, “stole away ten years of his life.” Corinne Roosevelt Robinson claimed that her brother returned from the trip “a man in whom a secret poison still lurked”; he was never thereafter “wholly free from recurrent attacks of the terrible jungle fever.…” Passengers on the liner Aidan were shocked by the Colonel’s appearance when he came aboard at Belém on May 7; he was thin and gaunt and subject to frequent attacks of fever. But his appetite soon picked up. At Bridgetown, Barbados, where the ship stopped, he purchased fifty books and, sitting in the sun on deck each day, read them all before the Aidan reached New York on May 19.

 

When the liner stopped at quarantine shortly before four that afternoon, a tug pulled up; aboard were the ex-President’s wife, Edith, and two other sons, Theodore, Jr., and Archre. Two additional tugs carried photographers and reporters. Passing in the channel was the Hamburg , which had borne the Colonel across the Atlantic in 1909 on a trip to Africa; she signalled a greeting with three whistles and disappeared into open waters. The newspapermen were dismayed to see how thin and old the Bull Moose hero looked; “Roosevelt Returns 35 Pounds Lighter,” the New York Times headlined its story about the arrival. Side by side the paper ran “before” and “after” pictures of the Colonel. The Times writer described T. R. as being “thinner and older looking, and there was something lacking in the power of his voice. His face had a hearty color, but there were lines that were not there before.” Yet, the reporter concluded, “none of the old time vivacity of manner was lacking.” Calling attention himself to the cane he was leaning heavily on, T.R. joked, ”… you see I still have the big stick.”