Teddy Roosevelt: Things You Didn't Know About The Bull Moose

By Karen Harris

Theodore Roosevelt Giving Campaign Speech. (Getty Images)

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, was a rugged, no-nonsense statesman, writer, and naturalist. When not making policy and negotiating foreign alliances, Roosevelt enjoyed boxing, camping, horseback riding, and all sorts of other manly, outdoorsy endeavors, but he had a side no one ever knew about.

Ted Geisel, American writer and cartoonist, at work on a drawing of the Grinch for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection/Wikimedia Commons)

Roosevelt Once Humiliated Dr. Suess

When Theodore Geisel, later known as Dr. Seuss, was just a boy, he took part in a war bond sales drive with his Boy Scout troop. The top 10 sellers, which included Geisel, were to be presented with awards by then-former president Theodore Roosevelt. The whole town came out to watch the award ceremony, but someone miscounted, and there were only nine awards for Roosevelt to hand out. When he got to Geisel, he had no award for the boy, and he made the already embarrassing situation even worse by demanding, "What's this boy doing here?" Geisel reportedly fled the stage in humiliation and avoided crowds for the rest of his life.

Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, the first wife of Theodore Roosevelt. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

A Double Tragedy On A Single Day

On Valentine's Day, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt experienced a heartbreaking double tragedy. First, his mother, Mittie, died of typhoid fever at the age of 49. Eleven hours later, in the same house, Roosevelt's young wife, Alice Lee, died from kidney failure just two days after giving birth to their daughter, named after her. On that day's page in his diary, Roosevelt simply drew a large X and wrote the words, "The light has gone out of my life."

Composite photograph of T.R. on a bull-moose. (Houghton Library, Harvard University/Flickr)

Alas, He Never Rode A Moose

A popular image of Teddy Roosevelt shows him riding on a moose through a lake, but alas, no number of posters, mugs, t-shirts, etc. emblazoned with the image will make it true. It's actually part of an ad that appeared during the 1912 presidential campaign that also depicted his opponents, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, all riding the respective animals representing their parties. The advertising agency simply cut Roosevelt's image from a photo of him riding a horse and superimposed it on an image of a moose wading across a lake, and at the time, everyone understood that it wasn't real. It's not like Taft was in the habit of frolicking about on elephants. Out of context, however, it appeared to cement his reputation as a rugged outdoorsman, so it became symbolic of the Roosevelt legacy.

Theodore Roosevelt circa 1901. (Harris and Ewing/Wikimedia Commons)

Presidential Firsts

During his time as president, Theodore Roosevelt broke new ground in a number of ways. Just shy of 43 years old when he became president after the assassination of William McKinley, he remains to this day the youngest person to hold the office. Roosevelt was also the first sitting president to leave the United States to visit another country while in office when he left on a 17-day visit to Panama and Puerto Rico in 1906. Roosevelt was also the first U.S. president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his work in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05. 

Roosevelt and John Muir camped at Yosemite and made history. (Wellcome Images/Wikimedia Commons)

A Camping Enthusiast

Teddy Roosevelt loved being outdoors and relished the opportunity to camp. In 1903, Roosevelt accompanied conservationist John Muir on a three-day camping trip in Yosemite Valley, where Muir illustrated to the President the need to protect the beautiful and unspoiled wilderness. Upon his return, Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service and the National Parks Service, turning thousands of acres of land into national parks, reserves, and more. 

X-ray of the bullet in Roosevelt's chest. (Library of Congress/Flickr)

Roosevelt Got Shot, But Still Delivered His Speech

On October 14, 1912, just before a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Roosevelt was struck in the chest by an assassin's bullet. Unbothered, Roosevelt proceeded to the stage and delivered his hour-long speech. It was actually the speech that probably saved him: At 51 pages, folded in his breast pocket, it presented a formidable obstacle to the bullet. When he finally went to the hospital, his doctors found that the bullet had lodged itself in a rib, where it remained for the rest of Roosevelt's life. He quipped, "You see, it takes more than one bullet to kill a Bull Moose."

Roosevelt greatly admired the cowboy way of life. (Wesley Fryer/Flickr)

He Was A Cowboy

In 1883, long before he developed political aspirations, Teddy Roosevelt traveled to Dakota Territory, where he became enamored with the cowboy lifestyle. He saw cattle ranching as big business and wanted a piece of the action, so he invested in a ranch of his own and divided his time between Dakota and New York for the next several years. Roosevelt enjoyed the hard work of the cowboy life, although they never really accepted him as one of their own, and he lost his investment when the harsh winter of 1886–87 wiped out his cattle. 

Boxer portrait, Teddy Roosevelt bar, Tokyo Disney Sea, Tokyo Disney Resort, Chiba, Tokyo, Japan. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

A White House Boxing Incident Gone Wrong

One of the manly pursuits that Roosevelt enjoyed was boxing, and he often sparred with young military aides in the ring he'd set up in the White House. It was usually good, clean fun, but in 1908, when he was 50 years old, one of the aides punched Roosevelt in the left eye a little too hard, leaving him bloody, injured, and eventually sightless in the affected eye. The entire incident was kept secret for years, and the President was clear that he did not want the name of his sparring partner to be made public. 

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, 1898. (B.J. Falk/Wikimedia Commons)

Roosevelt Was A Military Hero

Before he was president, Teddy Roosevelt served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy. When the U.S. fought in the Spanish-American War, the cavalry units were small and unorganized, but after the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, President McKinley needed horsemen and soldiers on the ground in Cuba. Roosevelt led a cavalry unit that fought back the Spanish at the Battle of San Juan and forced their retreat from Cuba. Roosevelt's unit earned the nickname "the Rough Riders," and although they did not see action for very long, they became part of U.S. military legend. 

The Roosevelt coat of arms as displayed on Theodore Roosevelt's bookplate. (University of Delaware Library/Wikimedia Commons)

The Tattooed President

Although it has been rumored that other U.S. presidents have been inked, only Theodore Roosevelt was open about his tattoos, even showing them off during boxing bouts. No, Roosevelt's body wasn't adorned with an image of a moose or even a teddy bear, as people have claimed. The tattoo he chose was his family crest, which was tattooed on his chest. 

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus. (Neil Palmer/CIAT/Wikimedia Commons)

Seeking Adventure Nearly Killed Him

Teddy Roosevelt loved to travel and adventure—he even went on a year-long African safari after serving as president—but one harrowing adventure nearly cost him his life. In 1913, at the age of 55, Roosevelt embarked on a journey through the Amazon Forest of South America to explore an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River known as the River of Doubt. The conditions were terrible, and Roosevelt endured mosquitoes, snakes, disease, and hostile native tribes. After he sliced his leg open on a rock and developed a fever, he implored his group to leave him behind to die, but his son, Kermit, refused to leave his father. By the end of the trip, Roosevelt had lost one-quarter of his body weight and nearly lost his leg to infection, but he seemed to bounce back after receiving proper medical care. 

Grave of President & Mrs. Roosevelt in Youngs Memorial Cemetery Oyster Bay, New York. (Shadow2700/Wikimedia Commons)

"The Old Lion Is Dead"

Teddy Roosevelt died in his sleep on January 5, 1919 from what is believed to have been a blood clot in his lungs. His son, Archibald, informed his siblings of their father's passing by sending each one a telegraph that said simply, "The old lion is dead." Thomas R. Marshall, the vice president under Woodrow Wilson, quipped, "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."

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Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.