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Authors: Mike Resnick

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Westerns, #Historical, #Steampunk, #Alternative History

The Doctor and the Rough Rider (27 page)

BOOK: The Doctor and the Rough Rider
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Just long enough to pack. Accompanied by his son, Kermit, and the always-present journalists,
on March 23 he boarded a ship that would take him to East Africa for the first organized
safari on record. It was sponsored by the American and Smithsonian museums, which
to this day display some of the trophies he shot and brought back. His two guides
were the immortal F. C. Selous, widely considered to be the greatest hunter in African
history, and Philip Percival, who was already a legend among Kenya's hunting fraternity.

What did Roosevelt manage to bag for the museums?

Nine lions.

Nine elephants.

Five hyenas.

Eight black rhinos.

Five white rhinos.

Seven hippos.

Eight warthogs.

Six Cape buffalo.

Three pythons.

And literally hundreds of antelope, gazelle, and other herbivores.

Is it any wonder that he needed 500 uniformed porters? And since he paid as much attention
to the mind as to the body, one of those porters carried sixty pounds of Roosevelt's
favorite books on his back, and Roosevelt made sure he got in his reading every day,
no matter what.

While hunting in Uganda, he ran into the noted rapscallion John Boyes and others who
were poaching elephants in the Lado Enclave. According to Boyes's memoir,
The Company of Adventurers
, the poachers offered to put a force of fifty hunters and poachers at Roosevelt's
disposal if he would like to take a shot at bringing American democracy, capitalism,
and know-how to the Belgian Congo (not that they had any right to it, but from their
point of view, neither did King Leopold of Belgium). Roosevelt admitted to being tempted,
but he had decided that his chosen successor, William Howard Taft, was doing a lousy
job as president and he'd made up his mind to run again.

But first, he wrote what remains one of the true classics of hunting literature,
African Game Trails
, which has remained in print for just short of a century as these words are written.
(And half a dozen of the journalists wrote
versions of the safari to the book publishers, whose readers simply couldn't get
enough of Roosevelt.)

William Howard Taft, the sitting president (and Roosevelt's handpicked successor),
of course wanted to run for re-election. Roosevelt was the clear choice among the
Republican rank and file, but the president controls the party's machinery, and due
to a number of procedural moves Taft got the nomination.

Roosevelt, outraged at the backstage manipulations, decided to form a third party.
Officially it was the Progressive Party, but after he mentioned that he felt “as fit
as bull moose,” the public dubbed it the Bull Moose Party.

Not everyone was thrilled to see him run for a third term. (Actually, it would have
been only his second election to the presidency; he became president in 1901 just
months after McKinley's election and assassination, so though he'd only been elected
once, he had served in the White House for seven years.) One such unhappy citizen
was John F. Schrank.

On October 14, 1912, Roosevelt came out of Milwaukee's Hotel Gillespie to give a speech
at a nearby auditorium. He climbed into an open car and waved to the crowd—and found
himself face-to-face with Schrank, who raised his pistol and shot Roosevelt in the

The crowd would have torn Schrank to pieces, but Roosevelt shouted: “Stand back! Don't
touch that man!”

He had Schrank brought before him, stared at the man until the potential killer could
no longer meet his gaze, then refused all immediate medical help. He wasn't coughing
up blood, which convinced him that the wound wasn't fatal, and he insisted on giving
his speech before going to the hospital.

He was a brave man…but he was also a politician and a showman, and he knew what the
effect on the crowd would be when they saw the indestructible Roosevelt standing before
them in a blood-soaked shirt, ignoring his wound to give them his vision of what he
could do for America. “I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible,” he began. “I don't
know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” He gave them the famous
Roosevelt grin. “But it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!”

It brought the house down.

He lost the election to Woodrow Wilson—even Roosevelt couldn't win as a third-party
candidate—but William Howard Taft, the president of the United States, came in a distant
third, capturing only eight electoral votes.

That was enough for one vigorous lifetime, right?

Not hardly.

Did you ever hear of the River of Doubt?

You can be excused if your answer is negative. It no longer exists on any map.

On February 27, 1914, at the request of the Brazilian government, Roosevelt and his
party set off to map the River of Doubt. It turned out to be not quite the triumph
that the African safari had been.

Early on they began running short of supplies. Then Roosevelt developed a severe infection
in his leg. It got so bad that at one point he urged the party to leave him behind.
Of course they didn't, and gradually his leg and his health improved to the point
where he was finally able to continue the expedition.

Eventually they mapped all 900 miles of the river, and Roosevelt, upon returning home,
wrote another bestseller,
Through the Brazilian Wilderness
. And shortly thereafter, the
Rio da Duvida
(River of Doubt) officially became the river you can now find on the maps, the
Rio Teodoro
(River Theodore).

He was a man in his mid-fifties, back when the average man's life expectancy was only
fifty-five. He was just recovering from being shot in the chest (and was still walking
around with the bullet inside his body). Unlike East Africa, where he would be hunting
the same territory that Selous had hunted before and Percival knew like the back of
his hand, no one had ever mapped the River of Doubt. It was uncharted jungle, with
no support network for hundreds of miles.

So why did he agree to map it?

His answer is so typically Rooseveltian that it will serve as the end to this chapter:

“It was my last chance to be a boy again.”

describes his confrontation with Wild Bill Hickok:

I have seen many fast towns, but I think Abilene beat them all. The town was filled
with sporting men and women, gamblers, cowboys, desperadoes, and the like. It was
well supplied with bar rooms, hotels, barber shops, and gambling houses, and everything
was open.

I spent most of my time in Abilene in the saloons and gambling houses, playing poker,
faro, and seven-up. One day I was rolling ten pins and my best horse was hitched outside
in front of the saloon. I had two six-shooters on, and, of course, I knew the saloon
people would raise a row if I did not pull them off. Several Texans were there rolling
ten pins and drinking. I suppose we were pretty noisy. Wild Bill Hickok came in and
said we were making too much noise and told me to pull off my pistols until I got
ready to go out of town. I told him I was ready to go now, but did not propose to
put up my pistols, go or
no go. He went out and I followed him. I started up the street when someone behind
me shouted out, “Set up. All down but nine.”

Wild Bill whirled around and met me. He said, “What are you howling about, and what
are you doing with those pistols on?”

I said, “I am just taking in the town.”

He pulled his pistol and said, “Take those pistols off. I arrest you.”

I said all right and pulled them out of the scabbard, but while he was reaching for
them, I reversed them and whirled them over on him with the muzzles in his face, springing
back at the same time. I told him to put his pistols up, which he did. I cursed him
for a long-haired scoundrel that would shoot a boy with his back to him (as I had
been told he intended to do me). He said, “Little Arkansas, you have been wrongly

I shouted, “This is my fight and I'll kill the first man that fires a gun.”

Bill said, “You are the gamest and quickest boy I ever saw. Let us compromise this
matter and I will be your friend.”

has won an impressive five Hugos and has been nominated for thirty-one more. He has
published seventy-one novels and more than two hundred fifty short stories. He has
edited forty-one anthologies. His work ranges from satirical fare, such as his Lucifer
Jones adventures, to weighty examinations of morality and culture, as evidenced by
his brilliant tales of Kirinyaga. The series, with sixty-six major and minor awards
and nominations to date, is the most honored series of stories in the history of science

BOOK: The Doctor and the Rough Rider
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