Story of Theodore Roosevelt - J. W. McSpadden

From White House to African Jungle

During the last year of his second term as President, Roosevelt announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection. No President had served more than two terms, and although his first one was filling out that of McKinley, he felt that his seven-and-a-half years of service were equivalent to two full terms.

Besides, he was honestly desirous of a change. He was beginning to feel cooped up, and he wanted to get away from the haunts of men. These words which he wrote to a friend at the time are prophetic:

"With the life I have led it is unlikely that I shall retain vigor to a very advanced age, and I want to be a man of action as long as I can."

His eyes were turned towards the tropics; he wanted to hunt big game in the jungle; and he busily laid plans to this end during his last months in office. He arranged with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to collect specimens for them, as he was never a believer in killing merely for the sake of killing. He had also the satisfaction of securing the Presidential nomination in his party for his friend, William H. Taft. And within a few days after he left the White House, in March, 1909, he set sail for Africa.

Of course, there were many people who did not approve of this new jaunt. They said he was too old for such a trip (he was just fifty), that he would get malaria or the "sleeping sickness," a dangerous African disease communicated by the bite of a fly. But Theodore Roosevelt was now a private citizen and felt that he could do as he pleased.

He sailed from New York accompanied only by his son Kermit, a well-grown young man of nineteen and almost as good a shot as his father. They went direct to Naples, where they changed ships to the German East Africa line. While in this port the King and Queen of Italy did him the courtesy of coming personally to call upon him.

On April 21 he reached his first objective point, Mombasa, a port of British East Africa, where he was met by two famous big-game hunters who were old friends of his, R. J. Cunninghame and Leslie Tarlton. The hunting grounds which they had picked out were three

hundred miles inland by train toward the heart of the Soudan.

In order that he might miss nothing of the gorgeous tropical scenery through which they passed he was given a seat upon the cow-catcher of the locomotive. For two days it slowly puffed its way through the wilderness, part of which was a vast Governmental preserve of wild life.

Imagine, if you can, a tremendous menagerie without bars or visible bounds, spanned by the blue arch of heaven, and enlivened by the sight and sound of thousands of beautiful birds! That was what this tired "city man" saw from his front seat in this greatest of all motion-picture theaters.

"At one time we passed a herd of a dozen or so great giraffes, cows and calves, cantering along through the open woods a couple of hundred yards to the right of the train. Again, still closer, four waterbuck cows, their big ears thrown forward, stared at us without moving until we had passed. Hartebeestes were everywhere. Huge black ostriches appeared from time to time."

And many another beast and bird did he meet on this journey. Once in the dusk the locomotive narrowly missed running over a hyena, and the animal gave Roosevelt a fierce yelp of greeting as it sprang to one side.

The train journey ended at Kapiti Plains, where their safari, or caravan, set forth. This was a small army of black boys (the "boys" being grown men) who traveled on foot carrying tents, provisions, and ammunition, while the four white men rode on horses. One boy carried a case of books—"a Pigskin Library of eighty odd volumes." Roosevelt might be ready to forsake civilization, but he could not cut himself off utterly.

So they rode north and west into the jungle. It opened and swallowed them up, and for weeks at a time the world heard nothing from the Roosevelt Expedition, except as an occasional runner reached the railroad again bearing news and letters.

Roosevelt, as might be expected, was having the time of his life. He studied big game at close range in its native haunts, and in one of the few genuinely wild spots still left in the world. Across the kop j es and through the tangled jungle grass he rode, constantly stirring up antelope, giraffe, gnu, gazelles, zebra, hyenas, or listening to the angry chattering of disturbed monkeys or parakeets.

Only occasionally did their guns speak in these first days, and then to secure some particularly choice specimens. Roosevelt was drinking in all the sights and sounds with boyish eagerness—the cries of the wild denizens of the forest, the clarion notes of tropic birds, the rich hues and odors of the vegetation, the flaunting colors of the morning and evening skies. It was in very truth a new world.

What he particularly desired to hunt was some big game—the bigger the better. As they came into the lion country all his hunting sense was on the alert; for here it was hunt or be hunted. The black boys all spoke of the king of beasts in terms of respect. More than one of them bore marks of a lion's claws upon his body.

Finally, after several days of stalking they came upon unmistakable signs. A patch of grass waved in a ravine just ahead of Roosevelt's horse, and his boy jumped back, calling "Simba!"

"Shoot!" called out one of the other hunters.

Roosevelt quickly fired, and a wounded lion half-grown, followed by another, broke cover running away. The hunters were disappointed, but in mercy killed the wounded cubs.

That same afternoon in a dried watercourse they encountered a full-grown lion, who when roused came straight at Roosevelt with an angry roar of defiance. The first shot from his gun only wounded him. The animal swerved to one side so that his second shot missed. As the beast still showed fight, three of the hunters fired at once and he fell dead.

The party was fortunate enough to bag another lion the same day, Roosevelt firing the finishing shot; and near a water-hole where they camped they got three more. They spent two weeks at a ranch in the Kitanga Hills before crossing the veldt to the Kilimakiu Mountain.

Once while stopping to visit at an ostrich farm, a black boy came running up to tell them there was a rhinoceros on the hillside less than a mile away.

One may well believe that Roosevelt and the rest lost no time in springing to their saddles and galloping away to the spot indicated. They did not have to seek this huge beast. He was standing in plain sight, and by the look in his pig-like, wicked eyes, he did not propose to wait until somebody "started something." He felt that he himself was the official starter.

Head down, he charged at Roosevelt, who led the procession. Almost at the same instant Roosevelt fired, but though he was using one of the heaviest guns and undoubtedly wounded the animal he did not stop it. Roosevelt stood his ground and fired again. The rhinoceros finally crumpled when only a few paces from him, and lay dead.

Then came other rare game—giraffes, water-bucks, impalla, and once a python whose neck he fortunately broke with a bullet when it charged him. One day in stalking a hippopotamus, he came upon this tropic scene:

"As we crept noiselessly up to the steep bank which edged the pool, the sight was typically African. On the still water floated a crocodile, nothing but his eyes and nostrils visible. The bank was covered with a dense growth of trees, festooned with vines; among the branches sat herons; a little cormorant dived into the water; and a very large and brilliantly colored kingfisher, with a red beak and large turquoise breast, perched unheedingly within a few feet of us."

Their first encounter with elephants, near Mount Kenia, was quite as exciting as the earlier events. In a dense woodland they found a herd of elephants feeding and selected a particularly fine bull. Roosevelt crept up as closely as he dared, then as the bull grew uneasy and lifted his trunk, he fired. The wounded beast came straight at him with a trumpet of rage, when a second bullet, well directed, laid him low. Had the hunter hesitated or tried to run, he would have been crushed under foot.

A moment later, before Roosevelt had time to reload, the bushes parted and another elephant, evidently the mate of the slain one, came charging through. This time discretion was the better part of valor. Roosevelt dodged behind a tree, while Cunninghame fired.

The beast trumpeted shrilly and continued on down the glade. It did not again try to attack the two hunters.

Space does not permit us to tell in more detail of this famous African hunt, which actually lasted nearly eleven months. Roosevelt himself has given us a highly entertaining book on the subject, entitled African Game Trails.

The party came through in excellent physical shape, considering the nature of the county and the hardships of the trip. Roosevelt himself had a few touches of fever, and members of the party suffered at times from malaria, dysentery, and heat prostration. None, fortunately contracted the sleeping sickness.

Roosevelt kept a list of "game shot with the rifle during the trip," and it is amazing for its variety. He shot nine lions, and Kermit eight. They did not limit their kill on these marauders. Others running into eight or more specimens each were hyenas, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, wart-hogs, zebras, giraffe, buffalo, bushbuck, hartebeest, gazelles, and waterbuck. This by no means exhausts a list, many of the names of which would re unfamiliar to the reader who is not a naturalist. It includes over fifty different animals and a score of different birds, as well as snakes, lizards and crocodiles.

Roosevelt and Kermit kept only a dozen trophies for themselves. They shot nothing that was not used either as a museum specimen or for meat—usually for both purposes.

"We were on hunting grounds practically as good as any that ever existed; but we did not kill a tenth, nor a hundredth part of what we might have killed had we been willing. The mere size of the bag indicates little as to a man's prowess as a hunter."

This is a worthwhile sportsman's creed and might be learned with profit by hunters of wild game, great and small.

To the Smithsonian Institution they forwarded hundreds of fine specimens; and the "Roosevelt Collection" which may be seen there to-day remains as a unique monument to a former President.

Finally they embarked on the headwaters of the Nile, and floated down to Khartoum, where Mrs. Roosevelt and his daughter Ethel were gladly awaiting the wanderers. Thence they went down the Nile through Egypt to Cairo, and "Bwano Tumbo" the Mighty Hunter, came in touch again with the outside world.