Theodore Roosevelt’s Whisky

By Stuart Dearie

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was a Harvard graduate (when that actually meant something), war hero, a major contributor to the holdings of our National Park system, and an avid sports and outdoorsman. In his autobiography, he recounted a particularly memorable hunting trip in the mountains where his guide, a “crippled old mountain man,” caused more trouble than he was worth.

This grizzled guide wasn’t exactly thrilled to be saddled with a “tenderfoot” (city folk). He complained about the worthlessness of men from the city, especially one who wears glasses. He was lazy and chose to sleep in, which left Roosevelt doing most of the work around camp. For the sake of the hunt, Roosevelt ignored his guide’s bad attitude but Teddy’s patience wore thin.

One day the guide declined to go out on the hunt claiming he was experiencing some sort of pain. Roosevelt went out alone. Upon returning to camp he observed the guide sitting smugly on a tree stump with a rifle across his lap, sneering at Roosevelt’s return. Something was up. Roosevelt began going through his gear and discovered that his flask of whisky was empty. When Roosevelt confronted him about it the guide admitted to drinking it and proceeded to taunt the future president by asking what he planned to do about it.

Roosevelt thought there wasn’t much to do other than part ways and head back to civilization on his own. However, the guide, clearly drunk, cocked the rifle and threatened to shoot him if he took one of the horses.

Roosevelt, remaining quiet and unshaken, lulled the man into thinking he had the upper hand and managed to get close to his own rifle leaning against a nearby tree. Roosevelt quickly grabbed his gun and held the bead steady on the drunk. “Hands up!” he barked. The guide, surprised by his actions said, “Oh, come, I was only joking”, to which Roosevelt answered, “Well I am not.”

In proper Rough Rider fashion he managed to disarm the drunk. 

“Straighten your legs and let the rifle go to the ground,” Teddy ordered.

“But the gun will go off if I do,” whined the guide.

“Let it go off.”

The rifle fell without discharge. Roosevelt picked it up and began packing, taking the flour, bacon, and tea. He then set off by himself, leaving the now considerably more sober guide’s rifle a mile up the trail, warning him that if he followed, he would be shot. Later that night Roosevelt intelligently lit a decoy fire and slept a ways off in the dark, just in case. 

This story is an example of Roosevelt’s resourcefulness, courage, and ability to remain calm under pressure. It’s a reminder that even the most experienced adventurers can face unexpected challenges, but with quick thinking and a bit of “fuck that” in your blood, even the most difficult situations can be overcome. 

The bottom line: contribute to camp and never drink another man’s whisky without invitation.

From the FE Films Archive

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