There has never been as outdoorsy a President as Theodore Roosevelt Jr. The 26th US President, nicknamed the “Bull Moose” for his constitution, temperament and indefatigable endurance, took care to promote this image, styling himself as tough.
This reputation came from a sickly childhood, which often saw Roosevelt bedridden with asthma. In at attempt to overcome these problems plenty of outdoors exercise was prescribed, something which suited the energetic and inquisitive boy perfectly.
In later years Roosevelt would remember these parts of his childhood fondly, and there can be no doubt that the character of the future President can be found in these early trips into the wild, fueled by an interest in zoology. They also gave Roosevelt a toughness, and this toughness may have saved his life.
A Desperate Act
1912 was an election year in the United States and it was a turbulent time for the Republican Party. The conservative wing of the party had just secured the nomination of William Howard Taft as Republican Presidential candidate, beating out Roosevelt and his progressives.
In response Roosevelt broke away from the Republicans with a group of his followers. It seems that Teddy, who had already been President once, fancied his chances in his own political party, named the Progressive Party or the “Bull Moose Party” after its founder.
This was an explosive time in politics both in America and elsewhere. The Republican President William McKinley had been assassinated only a decade before by an anarchist, and another assassination in Sarajevo in two years’ time would plunge Europe into war.
John Shrank enters the scene at this point and it is immediately clear that he was not a well man. Tormented by voices and visions, he claimed that McKinley had appeared to him as a ghost and told him that he had to kill Roosevelt.
Shrank knew where Roosevelt was due to give a speech in Milwaukee in Wisconsin, and he travelled to the hotel where he came upon the ex-President as he was making his way past a crowd of supporters. Shrank closed to point blank range, drew out a pistol and shot Roosevelt in the chest.
Shrank was immediately apprehended and disarmed, and the crowd would have set on him but Rooselvelt himself, suddenly not dead and very much alright, told them not to. He looked his would be assassin in the eye and then turned him over to the police.
So want had happened? It turned out that Roosevelt had indeed been shot, but several things had occurred which had combined to save his life. Firstly, the bullet had been slowed by his metal-lined glasses case and 50 page speech he was carrying in his jacket.
Secondly, Roosevelt was saved by his knowledge and experience of the outdoors. Once the initial shock was over and he realized that he was not coughing blood, Roosevelt concluded that the bullet had not penetrated as far as his lung and therefore that the wound was likely to be superficial.
And the rest is the stuff of legend. Righting himself, Roosevelt announced to the room that “it takes more than that to kill a bull moose” and continued with his speaking engagement, delivering the speech he had promised. The bullet was never removed, and Roosevelt carried it lodged in his chest for the rest of his life.
Top Image: Theodore Roosevelt survived a pistol shot to the chest and even finished his speech as planned. Source: Harris & Ewing / Public Domain.
By Joseph Green