Roosevelt’s River of Doubt

Roosevelts River of Doubt. Black and white image of Theodore Roosevelt and Candido Rondon in 1914.
The River of Doubt. Black and white image of Theodore Roosevelt and Candido Rondon in 1914.

The adventure begins with two world-famous explorers and a passion for the unknown.

Roosevelt’s River of Doubt is a story about an American President, a Brazilian explorer, and an infamous – and unexplored – river in the far reaches of the Amazon rainforest.

Presented by the Consulate-General of Brazil in Chicago and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department.

In celebration of Brazil’s Bicentennial year

This week’s Brazilian Minute: Theodore Roosevelt’s River of Doubt

Catch up with other Brazilian Minute episodes you may have missed!

Script from Audio:

Welcome to Brazilian Minute, brought to you by the Consulate-General of Brazil in Chicago and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department.

Here’s the story about an American President, a Brazilian explorer, and the River of Doubt.

After losing his bid for a third Presidential term, Theodore Roosevelt set sail for Rio de Janeiro to join Brazilian adventurer Candido Rondon’s 1914 expedition of an unexplored river in the Amazon basin. The River of Doubt.

With provisions more suited for a New York tea room – including imported caviar – a series of miscues befell the expedition’s 19 explorers.

Heat, cannibals, murder, and starvation took their toll. Roosevelt’s leg was severely injured and the infection led to his early death.

Today you can visit that river on Google Earth. But don’t look for The River of Doubt. You’ll never find it. Search instead for ‘Rio Roosevelt’!

Read and listen to new weekly episodes of The Brazilian Minute. It’s brought to you by the Consulate General of Brazil, in Chicago, and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s Cultural Department.

Roosevelt's River of Doubt. A collage of images from the miniseries O Hospede Americano with map of the rivers location.
Scenes from the four-part mini-series, O Hospede Americano (The American Guest) starring Dana Delany as Edith Roosevelt. This docudrama debuted on HBO Brasil on Sunday, September 27, 2021. You can watch it in English and Portuguese on Hulu and YouTube TV.

Roosevelt’s River of Doubt

Overview:

Why did Rondon and Roosevelt’s expedition fail?

That’s the ending, but there’s more to this story of Amazonian intrigue. Let’s fill in the blanks, with a ‘day-by-day’ recounting.

Taking a personal pause from the rigors of his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt boarded a steamship south in the fall of 1913, to spend time with his 23-year-old son Kermit, who was living in Brazil.

There, the President met Brazil’s famed explorer, Candido Rondon who invited him to join a fateful expedition in search of an unmapped river of legend, deep in the Amazon basin.

Warned of the dangers that might await, Roosevelt wrote: “If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so.”

Daily Log: Theodore Roosevelt’s River of Doubt

Day 1: After losing his bid for a third Presidential term, Theodore Roosevelt has accepted an invitation to speak in Rio de Janeiro next month. He hopes to meet up with his son Kermit after a cruise up the Amazon river. But I suspect this itinerary will soon become too pedestrian for his adventurous spirit.

Day 2: December 1913. Our Rio visit brought us an offer to join Brazilian Candido Rondon’s expedition to explore his newly-discovered river in the Amazon basin. Kermit will watch over his father’s welfare. We’ve arrived at Tapirapoan and are ready to begin the overland trek to the headwaters of the River of Doubt. Our group of 19 includes naturalist George Cherrie.

Day 3: Poor planning. That’s our first discovery. The provisions are more suited for a New York tea room. The heavy, dugout canoes will not navigate whitewater rapids. Our sense of exploration has become somber. How will these next few weeks unfold?

Day 4: February 27, 1914. Finally, the river! Rio de Duvida – River of Doubt – is an apt name for this powerful artery. Making less than a mile and a half in a day, we’ve jettisoned most of the provisions to lighten the floating weight of our canoes. There is no need for biscuits and marmalade in the jungle heat.

Serious consequences for Roosevelt’s River of Doubt

Day 5. Our expedition split up due to the lack of supplies. Half the party is trailing back to safety. The pace has slowed. Roosevelt has wounded his leg and Kermit worries about infection. And we’re building new canoes to replace those lost in the rapids.

Day 6: A battle against nature! We are besieged with insects, malaria, cannibals, and starvation diets. One of our group was murdered. Another was swept away yesterday in the river’s torrent. Dear Roosevelt is near death and we fear each day for his life.

Day 7: April 26, 1914. Fate has smiled. We met up with a Brazilian and American relief party which guided us down the rest of the river to Manaus. Roosevelt’s severely infected leg has been treated. But will he live even five more years, to reach his 60th birthday? Or will the Amazon claim his life, too? Perhaps Brazil will rename the river Rio Roosevelt in his honor.

Read and listen to new episodes of The Brazilian Minute weekly, courtesy of the Consulate General of Brazil, in Chicago.

Music, Travel, Friends, and Fun! 2022 marks Connect Brazil’s 25th year.

Roosevelt’s River of Doubt

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Dana Delaney stars as Edith Roosevelt in the HBO Brasil mini-series, O Hospede Americano (The American Guest). You can watch it in English and Portuguese on Hulu and YouTube TV.