When Kermit Roosevelt was fifteen, he shared a book of poems he admired with his father, the President of the United States. As an encouragement to Kermit, his father sent a lengthy review of that book to The Outlook, an important publication of the time, saying, “There is an undoubted touch of genius in the poems collected in this volume…”
Theodore Roosevelt had six children: Alice the mischievous, Ted Jr. the hero, Kermit the writer, Ethel the visionary, Archie the warrior and Quentin the colorful.
Unexpectedly, it was Kermit, the writer, who always appeared at his father’s side when the old President needed a protector. When 51 year-old Theodore walked away from the White House and announced he was going to disappear into the jungles of Africa on a yearlong safari, Kermit dropped out of Harvard to accompany him.
Four years later, when Theodore announced he was going to vanish into the jungles of South America to chart the unexplored River of Doubt, Kermit quit his job and left his fiancé to make sure his father remained safe.
Had it not been for Kermit, Theodore Roosevelt would not have come home alive.
This is not a speculation.
Flowing from the mountains of Peru to where it joins the mighty Amazon deep in the jungles of Brazil, the River of Doubt was a mystery. Its length and course were not listed on any map. The only things known for certain were that its shores were lined with cannibals and its waters were full of man-eating piranha, fifteen-foot aquatic lizards and anaconda snakes as long as school busses.
Frank Chapman, the curator for the American Museum of Natural History, said,
“It may be said with confidence… that in all South America there is not a more difficult or dangerous journey than down the River of Doubt.”
Natural History Museum director Henry Osborn wrote to Roosevelt several times pleading with him to abandon his plan.
Roosevelt responded to Osborn in a letter to Frank Chapman:
“Tell Osborn I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and if it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite prepared to do so.”
Fortunately for Theodore, his son Kermit was not prepared that he should do so.
After they arrived in South America, the expedition had to cross 400 miles of wilderness before they reached the River of Doubt. But then they plunged into the jungle.
“Most of the men were veteran outdoorsmen, and many of them considered themselves masters of nature. They were stealthy hunters, crack shots, and experienced survivalists, and given the right tools, they believed that they would never find themselves in a situation in the wild that they could not control. But as they struggled to make their way along the shores of the River of Doubt, any basis for such confidence was quickly slipping away. Compared with the creatures of the Amazon, including the Indians whose territory they were invading, they were all – from the lowliest camarada to the former president of the United States – clumsy, conspicuous prey.”
–The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
The expedition avoided the whitewater rapids by guiding their canoes through them with ropes as they walked along the banks of the river. But when the jungle was heaviest upon them, two canoes broke loose and most of their supplies were lost. The men were forced to stop for several days to build new ones. In an effort to make up lost time they resorted to running the rapids in their canoes. When two canoes got jammed in the rocks in a section of wicked whitewater, Theodore Roosevelt jumped in to free them and slipped, opening a large gash in his thigh.
An infection set in that night and for the next several days, he drifted in and out of consciousness, utterly unable to walk. In a moment of clear thinking, Theodore realized he had no chance and was risking the lives of the other men as well. Drawing the American naturalist George Cherrie to his side, he said,
“Boys, I realize some of us are not going to finish this journey. Cherrie, I want you and Kermit to go on. You can get out. I will stop here.”
Kermit calmly convinced his father that even if he chose to kill himself so that the rest of the men could go on, Kermit would never leave his body behind. Consequently, to kill himself would be to kill Kermit as well.
Kermit Roosevelt spent the next several weeks carrying his father on a stretcher through the jungle. His father lost 60 pounds but Kermit brought him home alive.
These are just a few of the things for which Kermit never really got credit.
Do you remember “Richard Cory,” the poem featured in last week’s Monday Morning Memo? That poem was from the book Kermit shared with his father at the age of fifteen.
Kermit Roosevelt sent a pale beam of light into the darkness of poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, but it was enough to lift him from despair, illuminate his talent, win him three Pulitzer Prizes and establish him as the foremost poet of his generation.
God bless Kermit Roosevelt.
will you shine
Roy H. Williams
ABOUT THE PHOTO: (L) Theodore holding baby Kermit. (R) Kermit on the River of Doubt in South America, with E.A. Robinson at upper right and Laura Richards (one of many friends who helped pay for the printing of Edwin’s first book) looking at him. We’ll continue today’s story in the rabbit hole. Do you know the way in? – Indy
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss wrote a comedic fictional novel about their experience in corporate America and Roving Reporter Rotbart read it, loved it, and called the authors. That conversation is happening right now at MondayMorningRadio.com.
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