The Vault

Pages From Theodore Roosevelt’s Field Notebooks Record Animals Seen—and Killed

From the time Theodore Roosevelt was 8 years old and saw a dead seal in an open-air market in New York City, he was fascinated by the natural world. Theodore Roosevelt in the Fieldthe recent book by Michael R. Canfield, includes images of pages from many of the notebooks Roosevelt used to record his trips to watch—and hunt—birds and animals. 

“Roosevelt packed the interstices of his life with outdoor experiences,” Canfield writes. The first image below is from “Notes on Natural History,” a project the future president undertook as a teenager, when he spent his free time organizing a Natural History Society with his friends and persuaded his wealthy family to take him on trips to wildernesses both domestic and foreign. The second shows how biological theory remained on his mind, even when he was studying for a summer in Dresden. The third, made several decades later, illustrates how the sitting president wove horseback rides into his routine, noting the animals he saw on his excursions and sharing his impressions with his children. 

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The pages from the former president’s 1909 safari notebooks, which start at Image 4 below, show how intertwined hunting was with Roosevelt’s love of nature. Juxtaposed with notes about the animals and birds he saw in Kenya that year are sketches of the many charismatic megafauna he killed. Capably drawn elephants and lions appear with dots on their bodies, indicating the location of the bullet wounds that killed them. 

Bird sketches in Roosevelt’s mid-1870s manuscript “Notes on Natural History.” 

University of Chicago Press 

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A Roosevelt Darwin joke in an 1868 letter to his mother, in which, Canfield writes, he “playfully documented the potential evolutionary relationships of himself and his playmates to various animals.” 

University of Chicago Press

Roosevelt’s letter to Quentin Roosevelt in June 1904. 

University of Chicago Press 

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Notes from safari in Kenya, 1909, recording shots taken at Thompson’s gazelle, brindled gnu, Grant’s zebra, and hartebeest. 

University of Chicago Press

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Notes from safari in Kenya, 1909, recording shots taken at animals, including a lion, “shot in chest as he charged.” 

University of Chicago Press

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Notes from safari in Kenya, 1909, recording shots taken at a giraffe. 

University of Chicago Press

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Notes from safari in Kenya, 1909, recording shots taken at an elephant. 

University of Chicago Press

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