TRThursday: That Time Teddy Stabbed a Cougar to Death

This #TRThursday article is a bit difficult for me to write, because each time I start a line my imagination goes haywire. As I’m sitting under the spring sun, typing, I see a young Theodore Roosevelt leaping from his horse, bowie in hand, gleaming in the sun, into a pack of mad dogs, snapping teeth, blood, claws, and the bwwaaa-wwwwaaa screech of a mountain lion in a desperate fight for its life. The sheer badassery of the whole event is more than I currently have the words for, and may be the reason Roosevelt recounts the tale in such a matter-of-fact manner.

- #TRThursday articles give us some manly insight and wisdom from Theodore Roosevelt every Thursday. Sometimes a quote, sometimes a snippet of his life...always manly! Read other TRThursday articles here. -

A Cougar and Lynx Hunt

The following account is from Roosevelt’s letters to his children, which he wrote while away for extended periods of time (for which he was often). At the time of this writing he was 43 years old. You can read the full account here.

The Kill

“Soon we saw the lion in a treetop, with two of the dogs so high up among the branches that he was striking at them. He was more afraid of us than of the dogs, and as soon as he saw us he took a great flying leap and was off, the pack close behind. In a few hundred yards they had him up another tree. Here I could have shot him (Tony climbed almost up to him, and then fell twenty feet out of the tree), but waited for Stewart to get a photo; and he jumped again. This time, after a couple of hundred yards, the dogs caught him, and a great fight followed. They could have killed him by themselves, but he bit or clawed four of them, and for fear he might kill one I ran in and stabbed him behind the shoulder, thrusting the knife you loaned me right into his heart. I have always wished to kill a cougar as I did this one, with dogs and the knife.” – Theodore Roosevelt, Letters to His Children, Colorado 1901

The Knife

The actual knife that was used and the style of knife has been widely speculated. It is believed that he used a bowie-knife, though it is not likely the fancy Tiffany-inscribed bowie we have seen him with in his younger years. The excerpt above is from a letter address to his son Ted Jr. and in it Roosevelt mentions that he used the “knife you loaned me.”

As of 1901, the Bowie knife was a well-known and legendary blade. Jim Bowie, for whom the style is named, died in the battle of the Alamo in 1836. However, the tales of his disembowelment and decapitating men with his heavy blade had long survived. Given that Roosevelt sported a Bowie in his earlier years, there’s a good chance it is what he used later on.

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