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Site last updated
26 June, 2013
Theodore Roosevelt
Chapter XIV: The Explorer
by Pearson, Edmund Lester


    I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
    Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy'd
    Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
    That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
    Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
    Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
    For always roaming with a hungry heart
    Much have I seen and known,--cities of men
    And manners, climates, councils, governments,
    Myself not least, but honor'd of them all,--
    And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
    Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. ...
    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
    As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
    Were all too little, and of one to me
    Little remains; but every hour is saved
    From that eternal silence, something more,
    A bringer of new things; and vile it were
    For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
    And this grey spirit yearning in desire
    To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

    Tennyson's Ulysses.
Mr. Roosevelt took his defeat without whimpering. When he was in a fight he gave blows and expected to receive them. His enemies often hit foul blows, and this his friends resented, especially when the attacks actually provoked an attempt at murder. When his private character was assailed he defended himself, promptly and successfully. But neither he nor any of his friends asked that he should be sacred from all criticism; nor feebly protested that he was above ordinary mortals, and only to be mentioned with a sort of trembling reverence. He was too much of a man to be kept wrapped in wool.

In 1913 he traveled through South American countries to speak before learned bodies which had invited him to come before them. Afterwards, with his son Kermit, some American naturalists, and Colonel Rondon, a brave and distinguished Brazilian officer, he made a long trip through the wilderness of Brazil, to hunt and explore. Some of the country through which they traveled was little known to white men; some of it absolutely unknown. They hunted and killed specimens of the jaguar, tapir, peccary, and nearly all of the other strange South American animals.

In February 1914, they set out upon an unknown stream called the River of Doubt. They did not know whether the exploration of this river would take them weeks or months; whether they might have to face starvation, or savage tribes, or worse than either, disease. They surveyed the river as they went, so as to be able to map its course, and add to geographical knowledge. Strange birds haunted the river, and vicious stinging insects annoyed the travelers. They constantly had to carry the canoes around rapids or waterfalls, so that progress was slow. Some of the canoes were damaged and others had to be built. Large birds, like the curassow, and also monkeys, were shot for food. The pest of stinging insects grew constantly worse,--bees, mosquitoes, large blood-sucking flies and enormous ants tormented them. The flies were called piums and borashudas. Some of them bit like scorpions.

Kermit Roosevelt's canoe was caught in the rapids, smashed and sunk, and one of the men drowned. Once they saw signs of some unknown tribe of Indians, when, one of the dogs belonging to the party was killed in the forest, almost within sight of Colonel Rondon, and found with two arrows in his body. The river was dangerous for bathing, because of a peculiar fish--the piranha--a savage little beast which attacks men and animals with its razor- like teeth, inflicts fearful wounds and may even kill any unfortunate creature which is caught by a school in deep water. Some members of the party were badly bitten by the piranhas.

As their long and difficult course down the river continued, and as their hardships increased, one of the native helpers murdered another native--a sergeant--and fled. Roosevelt, while in the water helping to right an upset canoe, bruised his leg against a boulder. Inflammation set in, as it usually does with wounds in the tropics. For forty-eight days they saw no human being outside their own party. They were all weak with fever and troubled with wounds received in the river. Colonel Roosevelt (who was nearly fifty-six years old) wrote of his own condition:
The after effects of the fever still hung on; and the leg which had been hurt while working in the rapids with the sunken canoe had taken a turn for the bad and developed an abscess. The good doctor, to whose unwearied care and kindness I owe much, had cut it open and inserted a drainage tube; an added charm being given the operation, and the subsequent dressings, by the enthusiasm with which the piums and boroshudas took part therein. I could hardly hobble, and was pretty well laid up. "But there aren't no 'stop conductor,' while a battery's changing ground." No man has any business to go on such a trip as ours unless he will refuse to jeopardize the welfare of his associates by any delay caused by a weakness or ailment of his. It is his duty to go forward, if necessary on all fours, until he drops. Fortunately, I was put to no such test. I remained in good shape until we had passed the last of the rapids of the chasms. When my serious trouble came we had only canoe-riding ahead of us. It is not ideal for a sick man to spend the hottest hours of the day stretched on the boxes in the bottom of a small open dugout, under the well-nigh intolerable heat of the torrid sun of the mid-tropics, varied by blinding, drenching downpours of rain, but I could not be sufficiently grateful for the chance. Kermit and Cherrie took care of me as if they had been trained nurses; and Colonel Rondon and Lyra were no less thoughtful. [Footnote: "Through the Brazilian Wilderness," p. 319.]
It is known that his illness was more serious, and his conduct much more unselfish than he told in his book. When he could not be moved, he asked the others to go forward for their own safety and leave him. They refused, naturally, and he secretly resolved to shoot himself if his condition did not soon improve, rather than be a drag on the party. In his report to the Brazilian Government, which had made the expedition possible by its aid, Mr. Roosevelt was able to say:

"We have 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. Until now its upper course has been utterly unknown to every one, and its lower course, although known for years to the rubber men, utterly unknown to cartographers."

The Brazilian Government renamed the river in his honor, first the Rio Roosevelt, later the Rio Teodoro. Branches of it were named in honor of other members of the party, the Rio Kermit and the Rio Cherrie,--the latter for the American naturalist, Mr. George K. Cherrie.

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