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T.R.'s love of Nature

    Roosevelt - Rondon Scientific Expedition

      October 4, 1913     through     May 19, 1914

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We have had a hard and somewhat dangerous but very successful trip. No less than six weeks were spent... forcing our way down through what seemed a literally endless succession of rapids and cataracts. For forty-eight days we saw no human being. In passing these rapids we lost five of the seven canoes... One of our best men lost his life in the rapids. Under the strain one of the men went completely bad... and when punished by the sergeant he... murdered the sergeant and fled into the wilderness... We have put on the map a river about 1500 kilometres in length... Until now its upper course has been utterly unknown to every one, and its lower course... unknown to all cartographers.

                  - Col. Theodore Roosevelt, May 1, 1914

Roosevelt - Rondon Scientific Expedition

- text from Wikipedia:

Theodore Roosevelt had originally planned to go on a speaking trip of Argentina and Brazil, followed by a cruise of the Amazon River. Instead, the Brazilian Government suggested that Roosevelt accompany famous Brazilian explorer Cândido Rondon on his exploration of the previously unknown River of Doubt, the headwaters of which had only recently been discovered. Roosevelt, seeking adventure and challenge after his recent defeat for a third term in the White House, agreed.

Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore's son, had recently gotten engaged to a socialite named Belle and didn't plan on joining the expedition but did on the insistence of his mother to protect his father. The expedition started in Cáceres, a small town on the Paraguay River, with 15 Brazilian porters (camaradas), the two leaders, Roosevelt's son, and American naturalist George Cherrie. They traveled to Tapirapuã, where Rondon had previously discovered the Headwaters of the River of Doubt. From Tapirapuã, the expedition traveled northwest, through dense forests and then later through the plains on top of the Parecis plateau. They reached the River of Doubt on February 27, 1914. At this point, due to a lack of food supplies, the Expedition split up, with part of the Expedition following the Ji-paraná river to the Madeira River. The remaining party then started down the River Of Doubt.

Almost from the start, the expedition was fraught with problems. Insects and disease such as malaria weighed heavily on just about every member of the expedition, leaving them in a constant state of sickness, festering wounds and high fevers. The heavy dug-out canoes were unsuitable to the constant rapids and were often lost, requiring days to build new ones. The food provisions were ill-conceived forcing the team on starvation diets. Natives (the Cinta Larga) shadowed the expedition and were a constant source of concern - the Indians could have at any time wiped out the expedition and taken their valuable metal tools but they chose to let them pass (future expeditions in the 1920s were not so lucky). One of the camaradas murdered another, while a third was killed in a rapid.

The murder was of particular horror to the group as it happened in the middle of one of the most difficult days of the journey. The victim was the leader of the camaradas (the hired help for the trip), a burly man named Paishon, that had through determination, won the affections of Rondon on previous missions into the Amazon. Though at this time in the full throes of illness, upon hearing of the murder, Roosevelt rose from his cot to chase down the offender and execute a swift punishment with the aide of a carbine rifle.

The murderer left the party only to return three days later. He called to Rondon from the bank of the river as the group but no one acknowledged his pleas for help.

By the time the expedition had made it only about one-quarter of the way down the river, they were physically exhausted and sick from starvation, disease and the constant labour of hauling canoes around rapids. Roosevelt himself was near death as a wounded leg had become infected and the party feared for his life each day. Luckily they came upon "rubber men" or "seringueiros", impoverished rubber-tappers who earned a marginal living from the forest trees driven by the new demand for rubber tires in the United States. The seringueiros helped the team down the rest of the river (less rapid-prone than the upper reaches) and Roosevelt made it home alive to live five more years. Due to the trip, his health never fully recovered.[1]

The rubber men were terrified of the Cinta Larga (Long Belt) Indians that lived up the river. Since this expedition was the first to ever descend the River of Doubt, the "rubber men" at first thought they were Indians. They were so frightened of the invading Indians that a small group armed themselves and prepared to attack the expedition. Once they realized that they were not Indians at all, they provided vital food and comfort that most likely saved numerous lives, most certainly that of the former President himself.

After Roosevelt returned, there was some doubt that he had actually discovered the river and made the expedition. To settle the dispute, in 1927 American explorer George Miller Dyott led a second trip down the river, confirming Roosevelt's discoveries.[2] In 1992 Tweed Roosevelt, with the help of 20 men and women, retraced his great grandfather's journey down the River of Doubt.

Download the Maps of the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition

Read T.R.'s lectures about his expedition to Brazil:

Lecture at National Geographic Society - Washington, D.C. - 26 May 1914

Lecture at Royal Geographical Society - London, England - 16 June 1914

Read Candice Millard's article in Time Magazine

Newspaper article announcing discovery of Rio Roosevelt

American Museum of Natural History Journal articles in PDF about the Animals collected by the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition

The Birds of Matto Grosso secured by the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition

Apparently Undescribed Birds secured by the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition

Mammals collected by the Roosevelt Brazil Expedition

New Mammals collected by the Roosevelt Brazil Expedition

A Faunal Naturalist in South America


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Roosevelt - Rondon Scientific Expedition : A Pictorial History