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Theodore Roosevelt: Naturalist and Outdoorsman




If you had known Theodore Roosevelt as a child, sickly and suffering from asthma and poor eyesight, one could never imagine him growing up to be come a proficient big-game hunter, outdoorsman, leader of a military unit, to become the 26th President of the United States. He was also an accomplished author, his best known work being The Winning of the West, published in four volumes. He was a charismatic man that gained the love of the public, who stated upon his departure from the White House at the end of his presidency:

I do not believe that anyone else has every enjoyed the White House as much as I have.

Nicknamed “Teddy”, a stuffed toy bear was named for him by a toymaker after a cartoonist portrayed Roosevelt with a bear cub.


His hunting trophies was donated to the Smithsonian Institute, the institution that sponsored and outfitted Theodore's African Expedition. Theodore would keep the connection with the National Museum of Natural History his entire life.

During his childhood he had his own natural history cabinet, which he offered as a donation to the Smithsonian when Theodore was in his twenties. Serving as the Vice President in the McKinley administration, his treasured chair on the Smithsonian Board of Regents had to be pushed aside when President McKinley was assassinated and Theodore assumed the office of the President of the United States. Despite his popularity with the people, President T. Roosevelt declined to run for the presidency in 1908, choosing William Howard Taft, Secretary of War, as his successor – who won the election against William Jennings Bryan.

In April of 1909, Theodore and his son, Kermit, landed in Mambasa to head a safari which included 250 porters and guides, to trek across British East Africa into the Belgian Congo and back to the Nile – a trip ending in Khartoum. The expedition gleaned 1,100 specimens that included 500 big game specimens. The hunting expedition lasted one year, ending when Roosevelt went to England to attend the funeral of King Edward VII and then to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the Russo-Japanese War. He returned to the United States in June of 1910.

Theodore's foreign policy could be narrowed down to a quote from him:

Speak softly and carry a big stick.


It pretty much summed up his dynamic character as well. When he was excited and/or pleased about something, his favorite word was “Bully!”

There is no doubt that Theodore Roosevelt remains one of the most interesting characters in the history of US presidents to date.

He wrote extensively about hunting and his expeditions and thoughts in journals. Back in his day, like today, firearm enthusiasts still quarrel over what type of firearm is best for a given purpose and matters concerning preference in caliber and repeating capabilities. …

I suppose all hunters are continually asked what rifles they use. Any good modern rifle is good enough, and, after a certain degree of excellence in the weapon is attained, the difference between it and a somewhat better rifle counts for comparatively little compared to the difference in skill, nerve, and judgment of the men using them. Moreover, there is room for a great deal of individual variation of opinion among experts as to rifles.
I personally prefer the Winchester. I used a .45-75 until I broke it in a fall while goat-hunting, and since then I have used a .45-90. … There is the same difference of opinion among men who hunt game on other continents than ours. … In a letter to the London Field he [Royal Carrol] happened to mention that he preferred, for rhinoceros and other large game, the .45-90 Winchester to the double-barrel .577, so frequently produced by the English gun makers. His letter followed by a perfect chorus of protests in the shape of other letters by men who preferred the double-barrel. …
Of course, the element of penetration is only one of twenty entering into the question; accuracy, handiness, rapidity of fire, penetration, shock – all have to be considered. …

Entirely apart from the merit of guns, there is considerable element of mere fashion to them. For the last twenty years there has been much controversy between advocates of two styles of rifles – that is, the weapon with a comparatively small bore and long, solid bullet and a moderate charge of powder, and the weapon of comparatively large bore with a very heavy charge of powder and a short bullet, often with a hollow end. The first is the type of rifle that has always been used by ninety-nine out of a hundred American hunters, and indeed it is the only kind of rifle that has ever been used to any extent in North America; the second is the favorite weapon of English sportsmen in those grandest of the world's hunting grounds, India and South Africa.
When a single-shot rifle is not used, the American usually takes a repeater, the Englishman a double-barrel. Each type has some good qualities that the other lacks, and each has some defects. … Personally, I think that the American type is nearer right. … The favorite weapon of the American buffalo hunter was a Sharps rifle of .45 caliber, shooting about 550 grains of lead and using ordinarily 90 to 110 grains of powder …

Judging from what I have been told by some of my friends, however, it seems not unlikely that the best sporting rifle will ultimately prove to be the very small caliber repeating rifle now found in various forms in the military service of all countries – a caliber of say .256 or .310, with 40 grains of powder and a 200-grain bullet. These rifles possess marvelous accuracy and a very flat trajectory. The speed of the bullet causes it to mushroom if made of lead, and gives it greater penetration if hardened. Certain of my friends have used rifles of this type on bears, caribou and deer; they were said to be far superior to the ordinary sporting rifle. A repeating rifle of this type is really merely a much more perfect form of the repeating rifles that have for so long been favorites with American hunters. But these are merely my personal opinions, and, as I said before, among the many kinds of excellent sporting rifles turned out by the best modern makers each has its special good points and its special effects; and equally good sportsmen, of equally wide experience, will be found to vary widely in their judgment of the relative worth of the different weapons. Some people can do better with one rifle and some with another, and in the long run it is “the man behind the gun” that counts most.

[Excerpt from Hunting in the Cattle Country and Hunting in Many Lands, 1895 (Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt)]


Also: Theodore Roosevelt and the Environment



"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." -- Theodore Roosevelt, speech, 1910




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