"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Down a Dark River with TR--September's Pages

Enthralled by Ken Burns' documentary on the Roosevelts, learning so much history I'd never known, we went to the bookstore to find more stories. In the meantime, my friend Joyce Carney, publisher of the Eakly, Oklahoma, Country Connection, recommended a book about TR's 1914 exploratory trip down an unexplored Brazilian river, a tributary of the Amazon.
It's "The River of Doubt--Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey,"(2006) by Candice Millard, a former editor and writer for National Geographic.  I couldn't pass it up, and while Joyce said the book would tire you out, I found it a fascinating narrative and compelling story, my 13th book of the year.
In addition to the story about Roosevelt, Millard packs the book with information about the Amazon jungle, including the origin of the name "Amazon." In addition, there's much about the animal and plant life of the area, including the evolution of trees, insects, fish and more. Did you know that ants make up about 10 percent of the entire Amazon biomass? That's a lot of insects.
The trip almost killed Roosevelt--more than once, and in fact may have weakened him, I think,  so much that it led to his early death. He lost more than 50 pounds on the trip--one fourth of his weight.
Roosevelt writing
I learned more about TR's courage. He was so ill from a wound, infection, malaria and fever that he wanted to be left behind so the rest of the expedition could get out alive. He carried a vial of morphine so strong it would kill him if he took it.  Only the determination of his son Kermit saved him.  And through it all, Roosevelt would sit down most nights, covered with netting and gloves to protect against insects, to write for articles in Scribners.
Everything went wrong on the trip--inadequate and wrong supplies, having to travel in dugouts rather than boats, innumerable rapids, attacks by Indians, drowning,  murder, and near starvation. Of the 19 men on the expedition, only 16 returned. 
The river was later name El Rio Roosevelt.
So ill he couldn't sit up in the dugout, TR suffered under a makeshift tent, weeks from rescue. From caption in the book.

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