Among U.S. presidents, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. certainly stands out. The 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909, he grew up as a sickly, weak child, but transformed himself into a tough adventurer type defined by robust masculinity, forging himself into a tough as nails, swaggering man’s man. This sort of cowboy persona overshadowed almost everything he did, and Roosevelt was perhaps more well known for his various exploits and adventures around the world as he was for any of his policies or achievements as actual president. Considering his adventurous colorful lifestyle and various outdoor adventures and excursions, it is perhaps no surprise that the popular Roosevelt has over the years accumulated about himself a rather larger than life image, with numerous rumors and legends associated with him, and there are many bizarre tales associated with Roosevelt concerning adventures in faraway lands, exotic people, and indeed also mysterious uncategorized monsters.
In 1903 John Barrett, late Director of the Pan American Union and Minister to Argentina during President Roosevelt’s administration, began to get word of something strange living out in the wilds of the jungle of the Southern Andes in South America. According to reports, there was some huge amphibian or reptilian creature lurking within a remote lake tucked away within the jungle, and he would say of it:
In November, 1903, when I was Minister to Argentina, a clear-headed typical American prospector and explorer, whose name I have forgotten, came to the legation. In a convincing way, he proceeded to relate to me a story to the effect that he had seen swimming in a lake a huge lizard-like monster with a curved neck. His expert discussion of the mineral and timber resources of the Andean plateaus and timber resources of the Andean plateaus and plains convinced me of his sincerity and responsibility. He urged me to help him raise money in Argentina or the United States, preferably the latter, to outfit and conduct an expedition to locate and capture this extraordinary animal, and begged me to write to President Roosevelt about it and mention his name because he had been associated in some way with Roosevelt in the Cuban campaign.
Although I gave him no promises, he said he would call again. Shortly afterward I wrote President Roosevelt a personal and unofficial letter referring to this incident. In about a month and a half, there came in the legation pouch a personal letter from the President written in his own handwriting, expressing real interest in the story of this American, whom he said he well remembered and asking me to get without fail in touch with him at once and ask him to write all about what he had seen. The man meanwhile sent word that he was off again on a mineral and timber prospecting tour in Southern Argentina and Chile, but giving no address and no names of those he might represent. In April, five months later, just before I went to Panama as first American Minister, I received a letter from the prospector written from some faraway place in Chubut, or so-called Patagonia. He was almost enthusiastic in his story of how he had again found a fresh trail of a strange animal leading to the waters of a lake, although he had not actually seen again the beast as in his first experience.
Barrett forwarded this message to Roosevelt himself, who was allegedly very excited about it all, but there was no further world from the intrepid American explorer and it was unclear if he had found what he was looking for or if had even returned alive or not. The account was sort of filed away, but it would seem that Roosevelt never forgot about it, because when he met Barrett again he almost immediately wanted to know all about the explorer and the mysterious lake monster. Barrett would say:
When I returned to the United States the first salutation President Roosevelt gave me as I entered his office in the White House was: ‘Well, Old Pan-American, where is your Argentine amphibian, and what has happened to—-‘ calling the man’s name. It is my impression that Representative [Joseph] Cannon and several other Congressmen were in the room at the time and they may recall this salutation because everybody seemed amused by it. After the departure of the others the President for half an hour discussed, as an enthusiastic naturalist and scientist, the possibility of there being some huge surviving amphibian descended from the ancient plesiosaurians, and actually took stock, so to speak, in the story of the American prospector, whom he said he well remembered. I mentioned the incident to Secretary [William] Loeb as I left the President’s office and he may possibly recall my conversation.
Years later, when Colonel Roosevelt made his famous trip to South America, he told me confidentially just before sailing that, although he had never heard anything further from this American prospector, I should not be surprised if, after his arrival in Argentina, he decided to make a special trip of exploration to Southern Argentina and Chile in the hope of ascertaining whether there was any truth in these stories of this monster amphibian, which strongly appealed to him. He wanted nothing said about it, lest there should be ridicule if he did not succeed. Shortly before he left Buenos Aires for his notable and possibly fatal trip up the Parana and Paraguay Rivers into the heart of Brazil, he sent me word through a mutual Argentine friend that he had finally decided on the Brazilian instead of the Argentine expedition.
After his return to America and when he was recovering from the poison and fever contracted in the wild, hot, tropical jungle of Brazil, I met him for a long walk, when he said: ‘Well, while I am game and glad that I discovered this unknown river in Brazil, I would probably be far better off physically if I had gone to the cooler region of Southern Argentina and Chile, and I might have found that mysterious amphibian, which would have aroused far more human interest throughout the world than an unmapped river.’ When later on January 6, 1919 he passed away suddenly, undoubtedly as a result of the poison contracted in his Brazilian jungle travels, I could not help thinking that if he had gone after the unknown beast of Argentina, instead of the unknown river of Brazil, history might have been changed.
Indeed, one does wonder what would have happened if the famously avid and seasoned hunter Roosevelt had tried to hunt the creature down. We can only wonder, and whether he actually caught the beast or not, it likely would have made for one damn cool movie. If successful, it would not have been the first time Roosevelt would have bagged an undiscovered animal. In 1912 while on an expedition to the western Amazon, Roosevelt heard from the native indigenous people of a type of tapir far smaller than any known to science, which they distinguished from regular tapirs and called it a “distinct kind.” Intrigued by these stories, Roosevelt decided to hunt down the creature and actually managed to shoot and kill a specimen. Unfortunately, this specimen would be put away in the American Museum of Natural History collection in New York City and sort of forgotten about, but in 2013 scientists discovered what is dubbed the Kabomani tapir (Tapirus kabomani). At the time the new species was biggest new land mammal discovered in more than 20 years and was only the fifth tapir known to the world, and it was later found to be exactly the same type of mysterious unknown tapir as the specimen Roosevelt had shot back in 1912, adding a strange historic twist to it all.
Another Roosevelt tale from the Amazon was mentioned in his book Through the Brazilian Wilderness, and supposedly happened during one of his expeditions through the jungle with Amerindian guides. During their arduous trek, they caught a large catfish in the river which, when cut open, revealed the grisly sight of a half digested monkey in its stomach. Roosevelt and the other Americans in the group were shocked and amazed that a fish would prey on something as large as a monkey, to which the natives laughed. According to them, that was nothing, and there were even larger catfish in the river that preyed on humans. Roosevelt would write of this in his book:
We Americans were astounded at the idea of a catfish making prey of a monkey; but our Brazilian friends told us that in the lower Madeira and the part of the Amazon near its mouth there is a still more gigantic catfish which in similar fashion occasionally makes prey of man. This is a grayish-white fish over nine feet long, with the usual disproportionately large head and gaping mouth, with a circle of small teeth; for the engulfing mouth itself is the danger, not the teeth. It is called the piraiba—pronounced in four syllables. While stationed at the small city of Itacoatiara, on the Amazon, at the mouth of the Madeira, the doctor had seen one of these monsters which had been killed by the two men it had attacked. They were fishing in a canoe when it rose from the bottom—for it is a ground fish—and raising itself half out of the water lunged over the edge of the canoe at them, with open mouth. They killed it with their falcóns, as machetes are called in Brazil. It was taken round the city in triumph in an oxcart; the doctor saw it, and said it was three metres long. He said that swimmers feared it even more than the big cayman, because they could see the latter, whereas the former lay hid at the bottom of the water. Colonel Rondon said that in many villages where he had been on the lower Madeira the people had built stockaded enclosures in the water in which they bathed, not venturing to swim in the open water for fear of the piraiba and the big cayman.
Perhaps by far the most well-known tale of a cryptid in relation to Theodore Roosevelt was once related to Roosevelt and appears within his 1893 book The Wilderness Hunter. The book is for the most part just a collection of stories, anecdotes, and various accounts of hunters and outdoorsmen, and is for the most part not connected in any way to anything particularly paranormal or outlandish, yet sitting there amongst the other tales is one that stands out as being quite out of place and odd indeed, involving what appears to be a Bigfoot or Bigfoot-like creature. Roosevelt claimed that the story had been told to him by a mysterious individual named “Bauman,” with nothing else at all to illuminate his identity other than that he was a hunter and of German ancestry. According to the book, the man had an encounter at the Beaverhead Mountains, on the border of Montana and Idaho, with what is referred to as a “goblin,” the best term Roosevelt could come up with in a time when the word “Bigfoot” had not even been invented yet. The account is as curious as it is harrowing, and Roosevelt would write of the frightening tale:
I once listened to a goblin story which rather impressed me. It was told by a grizzled, weather-beaten old mountain hunter, named Bauman, who was born and had passed all his life on the frontier. He must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and goblin lore, so that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the spectres, and the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the regions where they lurk; and it may be that when overcome by the horror of the fate that befell his friend, and when oppressed by the awful dread of the unknown, he grew to attribute, both at the time and still more in remembrance, weird and elfin traits to what was merely some abnormally wicked and cunning wild beast; but whether this was so or not, no man can say.
When the event occurred Bauman was still a young man, and was trapping with a partner among the mountains dividing the forks of Salmon from the head of Wisdom River. Not having had much luck he and his partner determined to go up into a particularly wild and lonely pass through which ran a small stream said to contain many Beaver. The pass had an evil reputation, because the year before a solitary hunter who had wandered into it was there slain, seemingly by a wild beast, the half-eaten remains being afterwards found by some mining prospectors who had passed his camp only the night before.
The report explains how Bauman and his companion kept finding huge footprints of some beast in the forest, and that they could at times hear “a harsh, grating, long-drawn moan, a peculiarly sinister sound.” They soon came under the impression that something was following them through the trees, perhaps even stalking them, and on two occasions their camp was supposedly ransacked by the unseen beast. They at first took it to be a bear, but soon realized that the tracks were from something bipedal and very un-bearlike, and that the hulking form was larger than a mere bear. Then the account reaches a crescendo when Bauman claims that they were actually attacked by the creature, which killed his friend by breaking his neck and leaving “four great fang marks in the throat.”
While it is a spectacular report indeed, and a rare violent Bigfoot encounter, Roosevelt pretty much just leaves it at that. There is no further mention of this account anywhere else, no way to identify who Bauman is, and there is not even really any deep reflection on whether there is any truth to it all or not. Roosevelt simply throws out his “goblin story” and moves on, without giving us any real hint as to what he personally thinks of it all or even whether he was even being serious or not. What the creature was, the identity of Bauman, and whether Roosevelt ever believed any of it or not are probably bound to remain mysteries, but it is a curious case nevertheless. In the end we are left with a second hand account with very little verifiable information and so it is just an anomaly in an otherwise straight and grounded book, as well as another wild cryptid story associated with Roosevelt. It is all certainly a strange peek into another side of this president, and represents some historical oddities associated with a popular figure from history. Is there anything to any of these tales? Whatever the case may be, they all offer up a weird historical twist on a figure who seems to have had a side that many might not know about.