‘Misfortune still pursues us’: Teddy Roosevelt’s treacherous tropical trek
Death on the River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Amazon Adventure
By Samantha Seiple
Follow former president Theodore Roosevelt along a previously unmapped river in the Amazon.
by Brianna Westervelt
Taking place primarily in 1913 and 1914, this new young adult title details the harrowing and excruciating journey Roosevelt, his son Kermit, and their expedition endured along a stretch of unexplored Amazonian rainforest known as the River of Doubt. If the title sounds familiar, it’s because Kansas City’s own Candace Millard’s book The River of Doubt was a New York Times bestseller and the first full-length treatment of this ordeal, which very likely shortened T.R.’s life. At 224 pages, this is a shorter and simpler read that leaves no doubt what a brutal journey the former President agreed to undertake with foolishly little forethought or planning.
Before author Samantha Seiple dives into the Amazonian narrative, she gives the reader a rapid summary of Roosevelt’s entire political career, from his election to the New York state assembly at age 23 to being thrust into the Oval Office upon President McKinley’s assassination.
But Roosevelt’s real passion always was nature and wildlife, which began when he was a sickly child and sent out West for his health. It’s amazing that he was able to make such a daring trip along the River of Doubt, due to the number of recent health concerns and problems he was dealing with. Like, you know, that bullet lodged in his ribs from an assassination attempt?
Nonetheless, through illness, injury, bad weather, and lack of food, Roosevelt tracked the expedition’s progress and made notes on each day’s events in his journal:
On mapping a previously unknown tract of land: “It was astonishing … to realize no geographer had any idea of its existence,” Roosevelt wrote. “For the first time, this great river … was to be put on the map … rendered possible by seven weeks of hard and dangerous labor we had spent in going down an absolutely unknown river; through an absolutely unknown wilderness.”
On their snail-like progress: “It behooved us to go warily, but also to make all speed possible, if we were to avoid serious trouble.”
On a rather bizarre catch: “We Americans were astounded at the idea of a catfish making prey of a monkey.”
On making sure he made it out of the jungle alive: “It came to me, and I saw that if I did end it [his life], that would only make it more sure that Kermit would not get out. For I knew he would not abandon me, but would insist on bringing my body out, too. That, of course, would have been impossible. I knew his determination. So there was only one thing for me to do,” Roosevelt wrote. “And that was to come out myself.”
These words only give us a glimpse of what the expedition endured, and Seiple expertly crafts her narrative around these primary sources, in addition to the journal entries from the other men on the trip. In the images throughout, readers will learn a bit about the nature and wildlife that surrounded the expedition along the River of Doubt, such as jaguars, anteaters, and piranhas. Also, included in the back matter, are “Teddy’s Travel Tips,” which were adapted from Roosevelt’s 1914 book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, along with highlights from Roosevelt’s career.