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Roosevelt and His Era

Theodore Roosevelt: Birder

Roosevelt was devoted to natural history from childhood. He was particularly devoted to birding and became an expert in identifying birds and their songs. He kept detailed notes and descriptions about birds and their songs in his youth journals. His interest in birds led him directly into his great work as an amateur natural historian.

These two little works are among the rarest of Roosevelt’s publications. The first, Summer Birds of the Adirondacks, was his first publication, written in 1877 with his good friend, Henry D. Minot, when he was a sophomore at Harvard. The list was the first description of Adirondack birds to be published and was based upon observations done over three summers spent chiefly around the St. Regis Lake region. The two companions listed 97 birds spotted, some of which were unknown even to longtime residents of the region.

His second publication, in 1879, a broadside, was a list of birds found around his home in Oyster Bay. In this briefer work, a single page, TR identified 17 birds.

The List of Birds Seen in the White House Grounds and about Washington during His Administration was printed by Mrs. L.W. Maynard, whose Birds of Washington and Vicinity was published in 1908. All but a dozen copies of the list were inserted in Maynard’s book. The one on display here is one of the few that was not.

Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail

Roosevelt was famous throughout his career as a hunter and outdoorsman. Not only was he a fine marksman and hunter who donated hundreds of animal skins to the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History, he was also an author who penned many articles and several books about the outdoor life.

Shown here is one of his well-known books, Ranch Life and Hunting Trail (New York: Century Co., 1896), with 94 illustrations by his friend, the great American artist, Frederic Remington.

The Squair Collection includes all of Roosevelt's books in first editions and in most later editions as well.

Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail book cover Line drawing of Roosevelt on horseback, a study from life typed underneath it

Ranch Life and Hunting Trail cover and illustration 
(New York: Century Co., 1896)

A Book-lover’s Holidays in the Open

Cover of A Book-lover's Holidays in the OpenAnother of Roosevelt's outdoor sporting books, this was also published by Charles Scribner's Sons, his publisher for several years. The book includes chapters describing hunts in Africa, South America, the Grand Canyon and Louisiana. An interesting chapter for readers is his "Books for Holidays in the Open." In this chapter he says that when he is asked what books one should take on outdoor holidays, he answers that, with due regard for bulk and weight in traveling bags, one should read what one reads at home! And what does one read at home? A great variety of literature and history from Shakespeare and Dickens to Tolstoy, of whom TR says "he is an interesting and stimulating writer, but an exceedingly unsafe moral adviser." He also recommends Twain, Owen Wister, Kenneth Grahame, and many others. Interestingly, he says that because there is "enough of horror and … sordid squalor in real life … when I turn to the world of literature … I do not care to study suffering."

Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter

Roosevelt in his dedication to John Burroughs, the great nature writer, notes his respect for writers like Burroughs "who has trained himself to keen observation, who describes accurately what is thus observed, and who, finally, possesses the additional gift of writing with charm and interest." TR might have been describing his own talents as a nature writer in this dedication.

This book includes not only his commentary on wolf, mountain sheep and bear hunting, but also more domestic outdoor activities of him and his children at home, including taking care of a variety of pets (one rabbit was named after the Episcopal Bishop of Albany, "Bishop Doane") and riding horses and ponies.

Outdoor Pastimes book cover with gold embossed mountain lion head Photograph of three Roosevelt children with two pet guinea pigs, text The Guinea Pigs

This photograph of the Roosevelt children with their pet guinea pigs is one of several illustrations from the book.

New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1919

Jaktminnen fran Vildmarken

Book cover with portrait of Roosevelt with a rifle and eagles flying over a mountain rangeThis is a Swedish edition of Roosevelt's The Wilderness Hunter published in Stockholm in 1906. The American edition had been first published in 1893.

It is an indication of the international reputation which TR had as an outdoorsman and writer as well as a statesman. This book, along with his other wilderness books, indicates the profound understanding which Roosevelt had of natural history. This work, for instance, contains what was, to that time, the most detailed description of the life of the grizzly bear. Perhaps even more significant, Roosevelt wrote about his hunting and outdoors adventures in an exciting way that immediately captured the interest of the reader.

Through the Brazilian Wilderness

Map of South America with Roosevelt's journey highlighted around the continentThrough the Brazilian Wilderness is TR’s story of his last great adventure tracking the route of an unknown river from Paraguay to the Amazon. The river was later named Rio Roosevelt.

Undertaken under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History and the Brazilian government, this geographical and zoological expedition as perhaps Roosevelt’s greatest single adventure. In 1913, he embarked on a six-week speaking tour of Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina with his wife Edith and son Kermit. When the tour was completed in January 1914, he began his harrowing journey to locate the mouth of the River of Doubt, which was supposed to run from Paraguay to the sea via the Amazon Valley. Eight weeks after setting out, Roosevelt and his team, including Kermit, reached Manaus, a small city on the Amazon. He had badly injured his leg and lost nearly 60 pounds, one man had died and another was murdered during the expedition. However, Roosevelt had mapped nearly 1,500 miles of what until that time was a nearly unknown river valley.

TR, not knowing what lay ahead when he planned the trip, may have been describing his desire to make the journey when he said excitedly, “I have to go. It’s my last chance to be a boy!”

The frontispiece is a map of Roosevelt’s journey from Paraguay to the Amazon.