Theodore Roosevelt had been in South America since October 1913. For three months after his arrival, the former president went on a sort of goodwill tour of Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. Once he’d shaken enough hands and given enough speeches though, it was time for the trip which Roosevelt called his last chance to be a boy.
To explore uncharted waters was not the original plan. Roosevelt had decided to visit South America after many invitations and the fact that he son, Kermit, lived in Brazil. He’d then added an expedition for the Museum of Natural History onto his itinerary but it was originally supposed to be through fairly well-known territory. It was Lauro Müller, the minister of foreign affairs for Brazil, who suggested Roosevelt go down an uncharted river. This suggestion was just the sort of assignment for which Roosevelt, and his Brazilian guide, the famed Colonel Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, were looking.
The Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition to explore the River of Doubt traveled overland from December 12, 1913 until February 25, 1914. Then, on February 27, 1914, the expedition started its descent of the last unexplored river of South America. It would take the crew of men into parts of the Amazon Rainforest no white man had ever seen and would take a physical and mental toll that none of the experienced crew could ever have imagined. Plagued by disease, loss of supplies and canoes and the loss of one of their own, this was the adventure which almost killed the great Bull Moose. However, deathly ill and almost beaten by the rainforest, Theodore Roosevelt made it back to New York to tell his tale. It would indeed be his last great adventure.
Other expeditions tried to follow in Roosevelt’s footsteps down the River of Doubt but it wasn’t until 1926 that another crew successfully descended the river. However, the wilderness surrounding the river would remain hostile and remote, along with the native peoples it held. It would be during the 1960s that those tribes would have their first official contact with the outside world.
Today, to honor the man who first braved its uncharted waters, the River of Doubt is officially called Rio Roosevelt, or Roosevelt River.
Photo: Theodore Roosevelt and CaÌ‚ndido Mariano da Silva Rondon. Dickinson State University.
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. Candice Millard, 2005.