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When he is where he cannot get into a scrape: The Story of Kermit Roosevelt

Oct 10, 2011

A second son was born premature to Theodore and Edith Roosevelt on October 10, 1889. Kermit Roosevelt was considered the sensitive one among the Roosevelt children, and Theodore once lamented the boy did “not have enough nerve” as he’d flinch when letting off roman candles.

Kermit attended Groton School, as all the Roosevelt boys did, and loathed it. He did not get along with the headmaster, Rector Endicott Peabody. He often snuck out of his dormitory at night and went drinking or to the opium dens of Boston throughout his school years there. His mother Edith had some inkling of her son’s bad habits but thought her veiled hints would be enough to bring Kermit to his senses. Sadly, Kermit’s wayward ways would be a problem his entire life.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Ethel Roosevelt

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Ethel Roosevelt, June 24, 1909. MS Am 1541.2 (29). Houghton Library. Harvard University. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. For reproduction or publication permission, contact the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library.

Often his father’s protector, Kermit accompanied Theodore on his great hunting expedition to Africa after his presidency. During the safari, Theodore fretted that the boy who hadn’t had enough nerve had grown too reckless. He chased cheetahs, let prey get too close to him, and kept going even after dangerous falls from his horse or after he’d become lost from the rest of the group.

Back in the States, Kermit completed his studies at Harvard in just two and a half years and took a job with a railroad in Brazil. It was during his time in Brazil that his parents arrived for Theodore’s goodwill tour of several South American countries and for his expedition with Cândido Rondon. Worried about her husband’s health, Edith pleaded with Kermit to go with his father. Though reluctant to leave his job and his new fiancé, Belle Willard, Kermit agreed. Kermit’s presence on the expedition was vital, since Kermit kept his father alive and the expedition moving as Theodore’s health, and then his own, deteriorated.

Uninterested in attending the officers’ camp in Plattsburgh, New York, with his brothers before the outbreak of World War I, Kermit had to rely on his father to convince Lloyd George to get him an officer’s commission in the British Army. Kermit served with distinction and was awarded the British Military Cross. However, his service in the war was overshadowed by his brothers’ successes.

Following the war, Kermit became a successful steamship executive, but alcoholism and bouts of depression continued to plague him as it had his uncle Elliot. The outbreak of World War II saw Kermit serving with the British Army in North Africa, but his health problems due to alcoholism led to his discharge. Concerned for her husband, Belle talked President Franklin D. Roosevelt into giving his cousin a commission as major in the United States Army and stationed him at Fort Richardson in Alaska. It was there on June 4, 1943, that Kermit died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Source: Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, 2002.

[Editor’s note: Roosevelt’s handwriting can be difficult and we are unsure of some words. Also, we have kept the original spelling and grammar of the letter intact.]

Transcript of Letter:

On Safari

June 24th 1909

Darling Ethel,

What has Mrs Mann said is done? Or does she yet know anything? What has been decided on for the future as regards Ted & Carrie? I have not heard one word about their affairs during the three months since I sailed.

Kermit continues to be a dear, the most pleasant of companions when he is where he can’t get into a scrape, and a constant source of worry owing to his being very daring, and without proper judgment as to what he is, and what he is not, able to do. He is very hardy, a very good rider, and bears himself admirably in danger; but he does not know his own limitations, and forgets that at nineteen there is much one has to learn. I am very proud of him, and devotedly attached to him; but, Heavens, how glad I shall be to get him out of Africa!

We have had such good luck in every way during these past two months that I suppose we must have some bad luck to make up for it. We are as rugged as bears; this safari life is really exceedingly comfortable; and we have had really good success in hunting. Yesterday we were out from nine in the morning until ten at night, returning with among other trophies the skin of a lioness I had shot at eight paces.

Today I have been resting, and merely killed a buck for meat; but Kermit is off hunting with Tarleton, and has already been gone eight hours. [P.S. He killed a fine lioness]

The pigskin library has been the greatest possible pleasure. Yesterday one of the volumes came back in my saddle pocket (which Fritz Lee gave me, and which I have used steadily) in company with a dead puff adder, rather to the detriment of the pigskin.

Our gun bearers, tent boy, and saiser are Mahommedan and heathen negros who would amuse you immensely; Kermit talks Swahili to them quite fluently! I much like to hear him play his mandolin, by the way. Altogether, this is a “great adventure.”

Your loving father

P.S. Your three little letters have just come; I can’t say how much I enjoyed them.

Posted by Krystal Thomas on Oct 10, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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