Did You Know The Amazonian Expedition Nearly Killed Theodore Roosevelt?

After not winning the presidency in the 1912 elections, Theodore Roosevelt chose to take a change of scenery and head to South America.


In what was initially supposed to be a rather casual trip down a few of the Amazon’s tributaries, is soon developed into an epic adventure after he teamed up with a Brazilian explorer on a dangerous journey down an uncharted and unforgiving river. Theodore Roosevelt was one for relaxing, leisurely holidays. Past “vacations” saw the former commander in chief take a yearlong safari in Africa, ranching in the Dakotas or hunting cougars in Arizona.

The trips all had elements of risk and hardship on what he famously referred to as the “strenuous life.” Despite the risk and danger of the earlier expeditions, none would come close to the harrowing adventure he experienced in 1913. With little jungle experience, the rugged 55-year-old made the trip to Brazil and decided to take on the uncharted tributary of the Amazon: the mysterious Rio da Dúvida, or River of Doubt.

He spoke of his Amazon escapade as his “last chance to be a boy.” It was also the distraction he needed after failing to secure a third term in office. After a good showing in the 1912 election, he and his less known Progressive Party were beaten by the Democrat Woodrow Wilson. After licking his wounds for a while in New York, he received a letter from Argentina asking him to do a series of lectures in South America.


He decided to accept the invitation and to add to speaking commitments with a cruise down two tributaries of the Amazon river. Prior to leaving, he made contact with the American Museum of Natural History where he recruited two naturalists and plans were made to collect animal specimens in the course of the expedition. His initial plans for a rather genteel exploration expedition soon gave way to a much more ambitious plan to travel the River of Doubt, a harsh and unknown river that was yet to be charted by Europeans.

Undeterred by the warnings of the head of the American Museum of Natural History, Roosevelt insisted on making the trip. “If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America,” he wrote, “I am quite ready to do so.” The journey was beset with hardships and tragedies from the very start with the team getting progressively smaller as time went on. The further they ventured, the more extreme the conditions became.

What started as a scientific expedition was now no more that a struggle for survival. Despite numerous ailments and injuries, Roosevelt not only managed to survive but even completed the intended course. There is much more to this amazing story of grit and determination and in makes for an interesting read. You clearly do not get many men of that calibre these days.