Amazon River Expedition

Take Lewis & Clark, add piranha, malaria, crocodiles, and more rapids, and you have TR’s Brazilian wilderness adventure.

In 1913-1914, Theodore Roosevelt led the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition, along with Candido Rondon, to explore the “River of Doubt”, a tributary of the Amazon in Brazil.  TR published an account of the journey, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, upon his return.  TR was coming off his unsuccessful campaign to recapture the presidency under the banner of the newly-created Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party when he accepted this challenge.  He was 55 years old when the expedition began.

In the photo below, TR points to the river in question.  Next to it, another map showing the river basin.  Even though the River of Doubt was a “tributary” it was itself over 1,000 miles long.


The expedition proved more difficult than TR had anticipated, though it was never anticipated as being an easy endeavor.   Of the 19 men who began the trip, 3 died.  TR himself almost perished.  Near delirium from malaria, he told his son, Kermit, who had accompanied TR on the journey, to leave him.  Kermit refused to leave his father in the jungle.   (TR’s prescient wife, Edith, had expressly sent Kermit with TR in order to ensure TR’s return).

River of Doubt Roosevelt

TR is seated in the upper right.  Kermit sits on the ground cross-legged.

Eventually the party arrived at the mouth of the River of Doubt, where it flowed into the Madeira River, then on into the Amazon.   But to get to that point, assistance from the native population was essential, or TR would have certainly died.  After the expedition ended “successfully”, Brazil renamed the River of Doubt the Rio Roosevelt.

Rio Roosevelt

Roosevelt and Rondon, 1914.

The expedition was sponsored in part by the American Museum of Natural History.  TR and the crew also collected many new animal and insect specimens, similar to the scientific element of TR’s African safari just a few years earlier.  Upon TR’s return to the United States, he was given a grand welcome, and then proceeded to give speeches to the National Geographic Society (US) and the Royal Geographic Society in London.

Further Reading:

In addition to TR’s own account in Through the Brazilian Wilderness, in 2006, author Candace Millard published “River of Doubt” about TR’s expedition.