How Teddy Roosevelt Almost Died In The Amazon

Some of the remarkable things that happened to Theodore Roosevelt came about as a result of his stubborn desire to achieve exactly what he set out to do, regardless of the consequences. He was going to finish that speech, assassination attempt or not. He was also going to take a trip to one of the most precarious areas in the Amazon, whether it killed him or not.

The Roosevelt-Rondon expedition came about after rival Woodrow Wilson defeated Roosevelt in the election of 1912. Around this time, according to NPR, the former president was asked to lecture in Argentina’s Buenos Aires. His son, Kermit Roosevelt (who would also join the expedition) lived in South America, and when Theodore learned of the recent discovery of the Amazon’s Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt), he was spellbound.

He made arrangements with the American Museum of Natural History to collect various specimens along the way. Guided by Colonel Cândido Rondon, a famed explorer from Brazil (who had discovered the source of this mysterious river but hadn’t fully ventured there himself), the small expedition set out into the unknown.

Teddy Roosevelt's success against all odds

Arriving in the remote town of Tapirapoan, it took the travelers two months to reach the river. They arrived in February 1914, with insufficient supplies and a depleted team. On the deadly river itself, they were beset by huge, vicious flies, swarms of mosquitos, the danger of alligators, and rapids they had sorely underestimated. Soon after beginning the journey, History reports, Teddy Roosevelt was bitten by a deadly coral snake, perhaps surviving only because its teeth didn’t penetrate his boot.

Kermit narrowly survived after his canoe capsized (one companion drowned in the incident), while a dispute over food saw one member of the party shoot another to death (the killer fled into the jungle). Roosevelt himself developed fever and delirium from a badly infected leg (which had been slashed by a jagged rock), having to undergo desperate impromptu medical care by the side of the river. At his lowest ebb, he reportedly begged his companions to leave him to die to help their own chances of survival.

On April 26, along with son Kermit and 18 other survivors, he reached some friendly locals, the area where the River of Doubt met the Aripuanã River, and the end of the voyage. The next month, Roosevelt was back in New York and on the mend. The validity of the group’s scientific findings was backed up by further expeditions, and the River of Doubt came to be known as the Roosevelt River. It still is.

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