How Theodore Roosevelt Almost Lost His Life On The Amazonian River Of Doubt

Theodore Roosevelt was unique among the occupants of the presidential office. Besides all of his achievements during his tenure as chief executive, he led a remarkable private life as well. He had worked as a rancher, a big game hunter, a combat commander, and, in the last great escapade of his life, he transformed himself into the role of explorer.

As the co-leader of the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition of 1913-1914, he added his name to the list of Amazonian explorers who risked their lives to penetrate the secrets of that lush and intimidating canopy. How this came about, we will now relate.

Roosevelt was the type of man who was never happy when idle. He always had to be involved in some great enterprise. He had an irrepressible spirt and dominating will that burst beyond the acceptable boundaries of the “proper” society of the era. When his doomed 1912 presidential election “Bull Moose” campaign ended, he was left with nothing to do.

But Roosevelt could not be happy for long with nothing to do. He had planned on taking a speaking tour of South America, and a leisurely ride along the Amazon River. But for some reason the Brazilian government asked Roosevelt if he would like to accompany one of their explorers (Candido Rondon) on a planned expedition along the so-called “River of Doubt” (Rio da Duvida).



With no qualifications or experience for such an arduous project, Roosevelt accepted. That a fifty-five year old ex-president would agree to such an offer is nothing less than incredible, but nevertheless comports with the Rooseveltian personality profile. He was a man who could not refuse a dangerous challenge.

The Amazonian basin one hundred years ago still contained vast tracts of unknown geography. Even the Brazilian government had only the vaguest idea of what lay inside the largest region within its borders. Rondon’s plan was to trace the course of the Rio da Duvida, and find out exactly how it joins the Aripuana and Madeira Rivers (see map).

Roosevelt’s wife was terrified, but managed to convince her son Kermit (who had just become engaged to be married) to accompany his father for the purpose of “watching out” for him. Thus the stage was set for one of the more surreal episodes in the annals of American presidential history.

The Amazon basin is nothing to be trifled with. It permits all who enter the opportunity to taste its power. Roosevelt and his son would both lose their health; but they came very close to losing their lives.

The expedition began at the town of Tapirapua and traveled northwest, reaching the River of Doubt in February 1914. The plan was to travel along the river, collect insect and wildlife specimens, and document the geography of the area. But in the Amazon, nothing related to travel is ever simple.


Kermit Roosevelt

Problems began immediately. Roosevelt had put his trust in Rondon’s proven organizational ability; but unfortunately for both men, lesser figures had botched the logistical details. Food ran short, medical supplies were scare, and the Brazilian porters (called cameradas) did not work well with each other.

As a result, by the time the expedition began down the Rio da Duvida, everyone was already weakened and sick. This region of the Amazon is one of the most malarial in Brazil, and in 1914 knowledge of the disease was still in its infancy. No one in the party was spared its ravages (although Rondon himself did live to the age of 92, dying in Rio de Janeiro in 1958).

There were other problems. The types of canoes chosen for the river turned out to be too heavy; these sunk often, with the inevitable loss of precious provisions. Almost nothing was known of the Indian tribes in the area, and these turned out to be either hostile or apathetic. As the journey became more and more arduous, discipline and morale broke down.

One man drowned in the rapids early in the trip. One porter was murdered by another. The survivor was abandoned in the jungle to his fate (a swift death).

Roosevelt himself suffered grievously. A minor leg wound, caused by a scrape against a sharp river rock, became infected. In his starved and diseased state, the wound would not heal. Delirium and fever followed; he became so bad that he actually begged his son and the party to leave him in the jungle. Roosevelt’s incredible willpower, with Kermit’s encouragement, somehow managed to keep him alive.


The expedition was almost certainly saved from ruin by small parties of rubber-harvesters encountered along the way. These laborers (called seringueiros) helped the party haul its canoes, and gave them additional food and provisions. Finally, in April 1914, the group reached the junction where the River of Doubt connects with the Aripuana River.

Rondon had arranged for a relief party to meet them at this river junction. Roosevelt himself was given medical attention and began a slow recovery. But his jaundiced frame would never quite be the same. He would die five years later, his life almost certainly cut short by the ravages he had undergone in the Amazon.

The River of Doubt was renamed “Rio Roosevelt” by the Brazilian government. The expedition actually had been successful in what it set out to do: it brought back numerous botanical, insect, and animal specimens, and charted the course of the river for the first time. Roosevelt returned in triumph to New York and defended his expedition’s accomplishments in a presentation given to the National Geographic Society.

It had been an incredible accomplishment for an amateur adventurer of fifty-five years who had never been in the rain forest before. But perhaps that is an inaccurate assessment.

For he was still, after all, Theodore Roosevelt.

Read More: 4 Things I Observed From My Trip To New York City

61 thoughts on “How Theodore Roosevelt Almost Lost His Life On The Amazonian River Of Doubt”

  1. Not bad for a person who started out as a skinny asthmatic child. It’s too bad most of our ex-presidents are content to idle their time taking big buck for speaking engagements instead of hunting big bucks in the wild.

      1. No he did not. Kratom came after and is said to contain traces of Theodore! :O
        HE IS KRATOM
        It’s a cookbook!

      2. The best Kratom is grown in soil that Teddy once jizzed in. He did not buy Kratom. . . he WAS Kratom.

    1. It’s so obvious his wife wears the pants in the family. She totally dominates him in every way – just a few months ago, she literally called him a BUM! (when they met)

  2. Great write up, Quintus.
    I read African Game Trails last year and I don’t recall any hardships like what he faced in the Amazon. Sounds like a total 180. He was a tough SOB though.

  3. It’s nice how the articles by Quintus ensure a feminist-free zone, as they are too uncultured and unsophisticated to care.

    1. Anita Sarkeesian should put together an expedition of SJWs with Dunham
      et all along the Rio Roosevelt and check whether the Amazon thinks that women
      are the equal of men.

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  4. An amazing and well written article Quintus. It is clear that there is still much wisdom and virtue that we can learn from the perseverance of the 20th century explorers.

  5. Always admired the first Roosevelt. One of the last rugged Americans, despite being born to wealth. I didn’t know about this part of his exploits. Good write-up.

  6. Back in the day presidents were supposed to be badasses. After all they were leaders of countries, something we seem to have forgoten.
    Andrew Jackson dueled an insane ammount of people.
    Lincoln was a ridicolously good wrestler.
    Teddy went through adventures that endangered his life.
    Meanwhile, Obama …

    1. Wow. Terrible. Obama would get dropped as fast as papa johns drops manning once they start feeling the heat.

      1. Watched a video of young O. rabble rousing at Harvard. Pussy City. That was the time someone shoulda have kicked his ass -after Every speech – before he got a posse’. Might of stopped him from reaching.

      1. The epic music playing was classic. He should have the gym cleared out first by his body guards so no one to film him. Reality is 3/4 of the world’s presidents & prime ministers are probably going to be no better. Probably also similar for the majority of the captains of industry. The days of warrior leader is gone, except maybe in some African countries were generals & warlords can reign for a while (and Putin).

    2. He needs just enough Strength so he can Properly Bow, when Greeting the Leaders of Middle eastern Countries.

    3. The story has it, Lincoln could lift a sledgehammer at arm’s length…..when he was president. Not that young men could do that. I tried it the other day and couldn’t do it. Don’t know of that story is actually true, but it’s plausible.

      1. “The story has it, Lincoln could lift a sledgehammer at arm’s
        length…..when he was president. Not that young men could do that. I
        tried it the other day and couldn’t do it. Don’t know of that story is
        actually true, but it’s plausible.”
        99.99% chance of that being propaganda.

        1. He was a rail splitter, and men at the time were by and large far more masculine, so it might actually be plausible. My grandfather in his 60’s could man handle major parts of semi-truck diesel engines, so it’s not outside the realm of possibilities regarding Lincolnl

        2. I thought the story was he could take 2 axes and hold both of them out at shoulder height just by holding on to the ends. I think this was reported on by others. Lincoln was famous for doing shit like that or telling corny stories and jokes. His advisors would cringe and roll their eyes when he would launch into one of his cornpone , stories of his life in Illinois.

      2. Actually, before our era, manual labor was something of a norm. Any man who couldn’t raise a sledge, or do hard work, was considered a pussy.

        1. I recall this line from the movie Joyeux Noel, set in WWI, when German Private Sprink, who is an opera tenor asks the lieutenant why he doesn’t like him. The lieutenant’s answer says it all. (Spoiler alert)
          When your unit was disbanded I had to take you. But the truth is, we need bakers, carpenters, masons. Artists like you are worthless. You’re dead weight.

        2. They still are (considered pussies). But now It’s kept under the table in most quarters (excepting the fully brainwashed).
          Things as simple as replacing a toilet or changing a breaker invoke awe, grumblings about spouses (by females), envy (“Highway robbery! I coulda had my cat do that for free!”), wistfulness, or lies (“I would have done/have done that a million times myself, buuut…”).

        3. Dead weight types led to the failure of the earliest English joint stock settlements in N. Am.
          The Lt. was biased or shit testing via shaming. War and hardship can bring out the hidden man in the softest professionals and reveal the coward in tough guys.

      3. Dunno, was older and softer then. When he was a (young) boatman he regularly crushed dudes in impromptu wrestling matches. Maybe he could then. Tall wiry guys can be uber strong.

        1. It would still be an impressive feat, considering the average modern American his age can barely move without assistance.

    4. In Obozo’s defense, maybe he’s “going for muscle tone and not for bulk”. Yep, that must be it…

      1. I like how you put Kermit the Frog into play on a Teddy Roosevelt thread. Well played.

      1. The ultimate shit test for men. Except when you do it to Joe Pesci. Then it becomes something else.
        But that ,,Fucking Shine Box” should become an actual item.

        1. This kid was great. They used to call him Spitshine Tommy, I swear to God! Now he’d make your shoes look like fuckin’ mirrors, ‘scuse my language.

          On a side note, this little prick only could beat Billy Batts with sidekick like de Niro.

        2. Give a crazed person ( male or female ) a gun, and you can notice something. I wouldn’t give 2 shits about Pesci’s character with or without de Niro’s character. No self control, no frame, overly conscious about self status…that kind of shit gets you killed in the real world, especially in the middle of gangsters.

    5. I’m actually ashamed to be associated with this man, by being an American. Leaders should be strong, either in the physical sense, or at least have a commanding presence and intellect. This man has nothing, not one redeeming feature. Weak little pussy, weak little mind, sniveling little attitude. How disgusting.

    6. Don’t forget Washington, the father of his country, who rode between the lines when everyone was shooting at each other at Princeton, one in a long line of feats.

    7. omg this guy is such a PUSSY. I don’t know how black men identify with this guy. There’s great vids of him with high riding mom jeans,goofy helmet on a bike…NOT TR or US Grant or Andy Jackson…

    8. That gym was racist! Non-native Poles are microaggressed into working delts only and stair stepping using childrens’ weights. ‘Comprehensive reform’ is sorely needed. The very idea of having Different weights and exercise choices!
      I need to suck my thumb in my safe space for a few days and figure out how I can help ruin workouts for the sane. A conversation is needful.

    9. …sometimes I wish Putin had defected to the US decades ago and become President here (ok, after a constitutional amendment). Can you imagine a Putin instead of GW Bush / Obama confronting our Middle East debacles, “climate change” BS, demographic slide towards a Banana Republic, etc.?
      I’m certainly wary of the real Putin – he will of course place Russian interests first and gladly watch us (and Western Europe) implode – but at his core, he is the leader of the last surviving remnant of the Roman Empire (Russian orthodoxy traces back to Constantinople).

  7. The best president in terms of masculine energy. His son was raised correctly and in the end probably saved his father’s life. They probably would have left him to die if not for his son. This illustrates the importance of raising a son correctly. It paid off.

  8. He was a progressive shill. Him and his ilk is what set America on the crash course of SJW doom.
    Other than that, yes he was pretty incredible.

      1. Ummmm No. Study up ladies. He was a RINO to the extreme.
        He was a big government fool that helped pave the way for his cousin and Wilson etc…
        And Sam, next time I pop your dad in the arse it is on the DL. It is not gay, it just is bro.

        1. I admite some of Teddy’s physical exploits, but he was definitely one of the first neo-cons/progressive ‘world’ improver. Such is the nature of the Yankee species.

        2. One could say “progressivism ” was necessary e.g food safety etc. TR was anti monopolist which was good. Started the National Park system.He was a warmonger and jingoist though. Like all men he was complex . Great doesn’t always mean good…

        3. It takes the force of government to have a monopoly.
          We have plenty of monopolies now and they are because of regulation. Sans government strong arm companies can not hold on to any power structure for too long.
          The free market better serves us.

    1. That was his fifth cousin Franklin, who implemented the New Deal, you’re thinking of. Teddy was more of a political moderate with some conservative policies and some liberal policies.

      1. Yes we would like to think he was a moderate but his posturing and such is what really paved the way for progressive ideals.
        He was no friend to the common man.
        Listen to from the 2 min mark for about 20 seconds.
        He was a big government fraud.

    2. Modern progressives give a bad name to Teddy’s policies. Topics like environmentalism and trust-busting are just as relevant now as they were then.

      1. No way.
        Who do you trust enough to rein in the certain interests and not others?
        Who do you trust enough that wont allow government to get big, BIG, BIGGER????
        We actually had better “environmental laws” before government stepped in. It was BECAUSE the US government destroyed property rights that allowed big corporations the ability to pollute.
        Then god ole Teddy steps in and makes a show of cleaning up ‘Murica and then people like you cheer for it all.
        Look at the monstrosity the EPA is. The USDA is. The FDA is. etc.. All of them horrible.
        If you care for proof I will provide but if you are just a shill that only cares about your opinion I wont bother.

        1. “We actually had better “environmental laws” before government stepped in. It was BECAUSE the US government destroyed property rights that allowed big corporations the ability to pollute.”
          Do you have any books or blogs that talk about this matter in more detail? I’d be interested to learn more. Were the EPA/USDA/FDA started under Roosevelt?
          I’m more than open to changing my opinion if the facts are backed up, I’m interested to learn more

  9. Great article, Teddy Roosevelt is probably my favorite American President. I can’t think of a president today that would have the testicular fortitude to carry on with a 90min speech after an assassination attempt.

  10. Roosevelt was a one in a million badass. For one thing he was the first American brown belt in judo (3rd degree). As well as being a great grappler, he was a boxer who would throw down with anyone – as mayor of New York, and even in the White house! In fact, his martial arts background was better than most of the top contenders back in the early UFC days, where noone cross-trained grappling and striking at a high level like he did.

  11. One of the greatest presidents and greatest of men, an example for all of us to aspire too.

  12. Teddy was a complete badass!
    He fought corruption throughout his political career. He was shot and continued to his campaign speech.
    His life was wrought of ups and downs.
    I think any man living today who needs a role model should read about his life and exploits.
    He was a great man!

  13. Hey Quintus, The Revenant was a Good movie…but you should Read the True Story of Hugh Glass….I had a Conversation with my Father who Read about Hugh Glass …and let me Say that Hugh Glass was one Tough-Ass-Mother-Fucker, the Revenant was Good, but the Real Story about Hugh’s Life describes a Real Bad-Ass, and a Story about Ultimate Endurance, and Adventure, that Hugh Glass Lived.

    1. QC some suggestions about men to profile:
      “Blood and Thunder” by Hampton Sides …about Kit Carson who was a frontiersman and badass..
      “The Lost City of Z” which profiles the Victorian explorer Percy Fawcett …tried to find the Lost City of Z in the Amazon..
      Richard Burton another Victorian era explorer. Fluent in a bunch of languages. Did the Haj to Mecca incognito …translator of Arabian Nites into English…

  14. Speaking softly and carrying that big stick….awesome policy AND pickup line bitches! Worthy of a meme.

  15. After reading this article, I decided to read through one of Roosevelt’s speeches, and this line resonated with me:
    “In one of Daudet’s powerful and melancholy books he speaks of “the fear of maternity, the haunting terror of the young wife of the present day.” When such words can be truthfully written of a nation, that nation is rotten to the heart’s core. When men fear work or fear righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom; and well it is that they should vanish from the earth, where they are fit subjects for the scorn of all men and women who are themselves strong and brave and high-minded.” – Theodore Roosevelt, in his speech “The Strenuous Life”

  16. Great article from Quintus as usual 🙂
    I’m not American but isn’t this the essence of masculine leadership America was so well renowned for?
    Time for us men to get back to seeking that Holy Grail again.

  17. And a couple of years after this he wanted to command a regiment of American troops in World War I!
    Imagine what this kind of masculine leadership could do now.

  18. It’s a shame that the word “progressivism” which originally described politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt has been hijacked by all the Emotional Justice Warriors.

  19. As previous commenters have noted, many of TR’s policies don’t look so great in retrospect. His running under the Bull Moose ticket caused the American disaster of Woodrow Wilson.
    But no doubt, he was a man’s man and had many noble and manly values we should emulate.
    But did you know that in college he wanted to be a scientist specializing in the study of butterflies?

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