In beast hunting lore nothing is more alluring than the Amazon River and environs. Spectacular expeditions were launched in the 19th century long before cable news and the Internet. The Yeti, Sasquatch, the Chubacabra have not been proven to exist, but giant snakes are real.
All the early explorers had tales of giant snake encounters. The British explorer Percy Fawcett claimed to have shot a 62 foot anaconda in 1907.
Teddy Roosevelt in his famous journey down the river of doubt, claimed to have measured a 38 foot snake “in the flesh.” Those were the pioneers as pulp magazines chronicled their adventures.
We do know that anacondas are real and they often reach massive size. The python in Florida, with a large water supply and food, is growing to unseen sizes as well.
The year is 1918 and Knoxville Tennessee is in danger. A lurking creature stalks the farmlands killing pets and livestock at an alarming rate. Citizens are afraid to leave their homes at night. Could it be an escaped lion? Rumors persist of a mysterious black panther. A cry for help is sent to the New York Times, who somewhat surprisingly, considers it “fit to print.” An experienced monster hunter is required to lead the hunting party.
Given a lifetime of exploration and adventure, Roosevelt was the obvious choice. Teddy had discovered new species, and tracked big game in Africa and South America. Unfortunately, for the city of Knoxville, that lifetime of adventure had finally caught up to the ‘Bull Moose.
Ailing from rheumatism, and still recovering from a bought of malaria contracted while on expedition in Brazil, the 60-year-old former President was no longer fit to go toe-to-toe with Knoxville’s mysterious, rogue animal.
It’s hard to imagine any current politician, (let alone a former President), being seriously considered to lead a monster hunt. Roosevelt was a different breed, however. A renowned and respected naturalist and explorer, Teddy was only 4 years removed from an expedition into the heart of the Amazon. There he hoped to find, (among other things) a monster anaconda for exhibit within the Bronx Zoo.
Though Roosevelt managed to collect many animal specimens completely unknown to science, Teddy never found the “Megaconda” of legend. He was, however, still intrigued and encouraged by local reports of truly monstrous snakes. Roosevelt offered a $1,000 reward for any snake measuring 30 feet or more.
The 26th President’s interest in the unknown was not limited to the impossibly large snakes of South American stories. The legendary President was aware of another American legend… Bigfoot.
In Roosevelt’s 1890 book, The Wilderness Hunter, he describes a tale related to him by a frontiersman named Bauman.
Here is an excerpt from the story:
Frontiersmen are not, as a rule, apt to be very superstitious. They lead lives too hard and practical, and have too little imagination in things spiritual and supernatural. I have heard but few ghost stories while living on the frontier, and those few were of a perfectly commonplace and conventional type. But I once listened to a goblin-story, which rather impressed me.
A grizzled, weather beaten old mountain hunter, named Bauman who, born and had passed all of his life on the Frontier, told it the story to me. He must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and goblin lore. So that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the specters, [spirits, ghosts & apparitions] the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the regions where they lurk. It may be that when overcome by the horror of the fate that befell his friend, and when oppressed by the awful dread of the unknown, he grew to attribute, both at the time and still more in remembrance, weird and elfin traits to what was merely some abnormally wicked and cunning wild beast; but whether this was so or not, no man can say.
Roosevelt, Theodore. The Wilderness Hunter: an Account of the Big Game of the United States and Its Chase with Horse, Hound, and Rifle. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893.