Story of Theodore Roosevelt - J. W. McSpadden

In Quest of the River of Doubt

Were this the story of some mere fiction hero, the reader would doubtless feel that enough had been told to depict him as a man of action, initiative, and undoubted courage; whereas pages have literally been left out of this true story of one American's life. One final adventure, however, remains yet to be told.

His voyage to Africa, far from satisfying his longing for the wilderness, only whetted it. For several years he had considered an expedition into the heart of South America, the headwaters of the Amazon. He had been told of one stream in particular, about which so little was known, that it was down on some maps as the "River of Doubt."

He had been invited to address some scientific societies in both Brazil and Argentina, and decided that he would make use of this opportunity to do a little exploring on his own ac count. When he laid the project before the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, they favored it and detached three of their best men, Anthony Fiala, George K. Cherrie and Lee E. Miller, to go with him. His son Kermit was also in the party.

The principal object of the expedition was to collect specimens of flora and fauna in this Brazilian plateau, and then follow the course of Rio de Duvida, the River of Doubt, from its headwaters downward to its junction with the mighty Amazon.

The scenes of his visits in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires were typical of those in Europe. He was greeted with tremendous interest and listened to with close attention. They called him "Le hombre mundial," the man of the world, the great cosmopolite.

While Roosevelt enjoyed these contacts with people of other nations, he was eager to be off into the wilds. As soon as practicable the expedition was organized, with one or two South American members and Indian guides and carriers for the equipment.

From the outset the trip differed from that of Africa in being one of hardship, with very little )pleasure to relieve its tedium. Once in the jungle, and civilization dropped away as behind! a closed door. They waded streams where in lurked the piranha, a cannibal fish a foot long, armed with teeth, which will attack horsey and men with all the ferocity of a shark, if it cents blood. They pushed their way through thorny thickets, cutting a path with machetes. Around their heads swarmed mosquitoes and flies by the million, no less blood-thirst than the piranhas. Red wasps darted about angrily. All the men had to wear thick veils, Although the tropic heat caused the perspiration to pour down their backs. There was not a breath of air in the midst of these thickets. Again they would plunge up to their knees in a swamp ooze which threatened to engulf them.

All the going was not as bad as this, but it was sufficiently trying to test the stoutest. Fiala relates that one day he had charge of the boat containing their supplies while the rest of the party explored inland. By and by one of the Indians accompanying the expedition came back to the shore, panting and grunting.

"All in!" was probably what he intended to say as he rolled over in the corner of the boat and went to sleep.

Twenty minutes later another Indian hove in sight. "Heap plenty work—me tired!" he muttered, and lay down beside the other fellow. Then a third Indian came.

By this time Fiala was worried and organized a relief expedition. About sundown he came across a Brazilian explorer lying exhausted in a little clearing and covered with dust and blood. They sent him back with three men to take care of him, and pushed on. Finally they came upon the Colonel and Kermit staggering toward camp and supporting another Brazilian officer between them. All looked "done up," as well they might.

"Are you all right, Colonel?" greeted Fiala, anxiously.

"I'm bully!" replied Roosevelt, with a dust-covered grin.

This great stamina on the part of a man well past middle age, and unaccustomed to the country, filled the natives with a genuine awe. They looked on Roosevelt as a sort of superman, just as did many Americans, for that matter!

They visited a huge ranch in the interior, where the Brazilian senhor grazed thirty thousand head of cattle, besides innumerable horses, pigs, sheep, and goats. From this ranch they rode out to hunt jaguars, and sighted an armadillo but failed to bag it. A few days later they hunted peccaries. Again it was a tapir hunt which claimed their attention. A book could be—and has been—written about these South American adventures.

Steadily they pushed on into the wilderness until even the occasional Portuguese ranch or Indian village was left behind. They encountered bands of wild Indians, called Nhambiquaras, who were naked, and who had never seen a white man. The explorers traveled on foot part of the time, paddled at other times, and portaged not a little. After over five weeks of effort they reached the headwaters of the River of Doubt, and began to work down-stream.

The hardest part of their journey was yet ahead of them. The country was hilly and without trails, and cut by many streams swollen by the rains which of late had been falling almost incessantly. And always the hordes of gnats, flies, and mosquitoes filled the air.

They followed the river as closely as possible, marking its curves and position on their topographical maps, and taking daily chances on its unknown and treacherous current. Once the canoes were crushed against rocks, and they had to hollow others out of tree-trunks. At another time, Kermit and an Indian narrowly escaped drowning in a whirlpool.

The whole party, one after another, fell sick through their exertions and exposure. Roosevelt bruised one leg severely against a boulder, and contracted a tropical fever. For forty-eight hours they did not know whether he would live or die. Then he struggled to his feet and buckled his belt around him with his old, grim determination. By this time their food was running low, and he realized that his illness was imperiling them all.

"Go on ahead without me," he had implored them the day before; but they shook their heads.

During the next day or two, he was carried for a portion of the time on an improvised litter, until he grew stronger.

A few days later they reached the first outpost of civilization, the house of a man who had a rubber plantation. He was the first civilized being they had met in seven long weeks. Here the party stopped "for repairs," and Roosevelt, iron-man though he was, proved the chief sufferer. His injured leg had developed an abscess, and the fever still clung to him. But after ten days of rest they proceeded down-stream to Manaos, on the Amazon.

Soon after, the Roosevelt party set sail for New York. The Colonel himself looked old and thin. He leaned upon a cane, to favor his injured leg. But he beamed in triumph. He counted the expedition a huge success.

"We put upon the map," he said, "a river some fifteen hundred kilometers in length, of which the upper course was not merely utterly unknown to, but unguessed at, by anybody; while the lower course, although known for years to a few rubber-men, was utterly unknown to cartographers."

In honor of his achievement, the Brazilian Government changed the name of the Rio de Duvida, the River of Doubt, to Rio Teodoro, the River Theodore.