April 27, 2012
Theodore Roosevelt posing with a dead hippopotamus, 1909-1910. This copy of the photograph is in the Dickinson State University collection.
On March 23, 1909, Theodore Roosevelt embarked from New York, headed for Africa. He was going on an African safari accompanied by his son Kermit and a large crew of naturalists, porters and guides. It was an expedition sponsored in part by the Smithsonian Institution; Roosevelt was there to hunt big game which would in turn be stuffed and turned over to the Smithsonian for its exhibit halls. The expedition started a yearlong sabbatical from politics for Roosevelt, his first holiday from public life in decades.
The safari itself started a day after Roosevelt’s landing at Mombasa on April 21, 1909, and began with a train ride in-land to a well known hunting spot for lions. From there the great hunt was on. A letter to his sister Corinne in May 1909 gave a rundown of the hunt to date:
I am sitting on a cool verandah with vines growing through the trellises, having returned from a morning hunt in which I killed a Python and an Impalla Antelope. Yesterday I killed two Antelopes, and the day before a Rhino and a Hippo, and the day before that, Kermit killed a Leopard which charged him viciously, after mauling one of the beaters.
The letter continues to list more kills and to assure Corinne that her husband and son would have as much fun as he and Kermit were having on safari. The tone of the letter is gleeful; it was clear that Roosevelt was having the time of his life. Though he would for the duration of the safari be plagued by homesickness for his wife, family and Sagamore Hill, Roosevelt gamely hid that in his letters home.
The safari would continue for a year and end in Khartoum. There Roosevelt reunited with his wife Edith and family and took a vacation in Europe. They returned to the United States in June 1910, to friends and allies that were already calling for TR to be president again.
Kathleen Dalton. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, 2002.
Patricia O’Toole. When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House, 2005.