Burroughs, John

Theodore Roosevelt and John Burroughs at Fort Yellowstone in 1903. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs division.John Burroughs (1837-1921) was one of several naturalists whom Theodore Roosevelt knew because of his role in the evolving conservation movement of the early twentieth century. Born in New York two decades before Roosevelt, Burroughs contributed to the American understanding of nature through his large literary output, which included works about Henry David Thoreau and his friend Walt Whitman, whom he admired. 

He worked for the U.S. Treasury Department from 1863 through 1872, when he resigned to focus full-time on his writing. In 1903, Burroughs published an article in The Atlantic Monthly that challenged the sentimental and improbable characterizations of animals then being published by those he termed “nature fakers.” A battle lasting half a decade ensued as naturalists sided with Burroughs or with those he criticized. Roosevelt felt as Burroughs did. 

In April 1903, the two men toured Yellowstone Park together and Burroughs wrote about it in Camping and Tramping with Roosevelt, published in1906. In 1907 Roosevelt publicly entered the nature-fakers controversy when he gave an interview and circulated an article defending Burroughs and stating his own views. Roosevelt esteemed Burroughs and called him Oom John, an affectionate term meaning “uncle” in Dutch. John Burroughs continued to publish until his death in 1921.