So it all started on Goodreads, with a horrified status update about one of the newest additions to the “(insert classic fictional or historic character) versus the (insert monster here)” trend, which pitted Teddy Roosevelt against vampires. I will not link to it.
My joking complaint was that vampires have been done, gosh darn it, why not do something original like, oh, “Roosevelt Versus Sasquatch”.
Know those songs that get stuck in your head and won’t go away without your pounding your skull against the nearest hard object? Yeah, that’s what happened here. So, I give you: Theodore Roosevelt Versus Sasquatch. This was a stupid amount of fun to write – hopefully it’s amusing to read. (And, hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be accurate in Roosevelt’s tone, or in more than the basic facts – those, though, are as correct as I could make them. Apologies to Mr. Berryman; my Roosevelt didn’t like him much.)
Recently, a packet of hand-written pages came to light among Roosevelt family effects in Sagamore Hill. The sheets, singed at the edges, appear to have been torn from a journal before being exposed to flame; why they might have lain hidden so long will become clear to the reader.
December 31, 1918
On this, the eve of what I begin to sense may be my last year on this earth, I feel the age-old need to set down that which has hitherto gone unrevealed. Very likely I shall set light to these words once I am purged of them; the land – the world – is yet unready to know the truth.
Though none have had the temerity to ask me outright, I know there are those who have looked askance at my decision all those years ago to allow that New York fellow … Dear me, now, what was his name … Michton – that shopkeeper Michton to call his toys “Teddy bears”. I have always disliked the nickname “Teddy” – why, then, would I allow it to be thus immortalized?
Frankly, I never did think the name would become immortal. It has been with nonplussed amusement that I have watched “teddy bears” proliferate.
That November day in 1902, I could see Governor Andrew Longino was growing uncomfortable with the fact that this bear-hunting expedition in my honor was yielding no game to my rifle. I was, I believe, the only one who had had no luck, after several hours spent scouring the area.
I will not say that Andy was pleased when his cook’s daughter had been discovered shaking in terror. However, I did spy a glint in his eye when she stammered out the story of what had frightened her: she had in her play down by the river stumbled on a horrific sight.
There on the riverbank, crouched over the torn carcass of one of Andy’s prize hogs, was what the child described as a giant – a man, but huge, and covered with hair. The girl was soothed with a sugar cake and reassurances that she had merely been alarmed by a bear – and Andy turned to me with his trademark grin.
“What say you, Mr. President? Shall we go out tomorrow and rid my land of this creature that has so frighted Susie?”
Naturally, I agreed.
To my great annoyance, as we prepared to set out the next morning a fellow from one of the news agencies showed up proposing to accompany us with his pencil and paper. There seemed to be no way to shake him short of violence, and so with us he came.
We did find bears enough, as I said, for the other members of our party; indeed, the game in general seemed strangely disturbed and there were several deer which all but ran into our sights. In my defense, I was distracted as we roved, recalling tales from my tenure in New York. I misliked to express my doubts to the others, but “a big hairy man”, small Susie had said, and would not shift however often Andy and her mother said “bear”. The Indians who still lingered in the wilds some miles from the City had told me stories, and I had seen their paintings – I had seen one of the footprints that contributed to their legends. I could not but wonder.
And, even as I pondered those tales, to which I had given no thought in the intervening years, the dogs began to bay – a high wailing sound quite unlike their announcement of our previous game. We hastened to follow them, and there, in a small clearing, stood … not a bear. Certainly not a bear.
No, Susie had not exaggerated, nor had fear played with her memories. It was a man, or a creature in the shape of a man, half again as tall as the loftiest member of our hunting party and pelted from crown to toe in thick black hair. It stood half-crouched, at bay, snarling.
As it happened, I was first upon the scene, and so I was the first to raise my rifle. It was disturbing to meet those eyes across the clearing, so man-like and yet so savage. I held my fire, hesitating – for was there not something else discernable in that expression? Desperation, perhaps? And could not a creature so massive – and yet fleet enough to have evaded the dogs ere now – could not it have rent the child Susie limb from limb while she stood quaking before it? Yet it had not. Perhaps it had sensed there was no need to defend its prey? No danger to be feared from the little girl?
I heard the other men come hastening up on either side of me, heard exclamations and rifles cocking, and that blasted artist from the newspaper cried out, “Shoot it, Mr. President! Shoot it!” Still I hesitated.
As if it understood the newsman’s words, the creature hunched further, presenting a smaller target. I recalled the child’s terror – and we had found the pig’s carcass, terribly torn apart. I could see blood on the claws from where I stood. I firmed my stance, settled the rifle butt against my shoulder, and my finger began to tighten on the trigger.
And from behind the bulk of the creature’s body suddenly peeped out a small furry face, human-looking eyes wide.
I cried out, and jerked my support arm – the round went into the trees. “Don’t fire!” I shouted. “Hold your fire! Call off the dogs!” And in the next moment the massive creature – the father? – had swept up the small one under its arm, and they vanished into the trees. There was confusion in the clearing, shouting, barking, remonstrances and exclamations of awe and lingering fear. But they had all seen the small figure behind the greater, and every man jack there was a father. They were unnerved – but they understood.
Except for that blasted scribbler. As the hubbub subsided, I caught sight of him, this Clifford Berryman person, hunched over his notebook, his pencil flying. I strode over to him and, sure enough, on the paper was emerging a sketch of a gigantic hairy form faced down by a ridiculous bespectacled figure.
I reached out and snatched the drawing right off the pad, taking several pages and the pencil with it. Berryman protested volubly, and I fixed him with the glare with which I so often cowed my cabinet.
“No?! But sir –”
“You may if you like consider this a direct order from your nation’s commander in chief: you will say nothing about this incident. You will draw nothing about this incident. Hear me, all of you!” Now I used the thunderous tone which – occasionally – had an impact on my children when they were too rambunctious. “‘Sasquatch’, they are called. The Indians know of them, and respect them. They are peaceable creatures enough – unless they are threatened, unless they are protecting their young. If this drawing,” I continued, holding up the crumpled paper in one fist, “were to be disseminated to the public, there would be a sensation. Those afflicted with more curiosity than sense and more time on their hands than is good for them would flood this area. That creature has a small one to ward – and if its rate of maturation is remotely comparable to man’s, it will be in need of protection for some time to come. Should adventure-seekers blunder into the wrong place at the wrong time – should some trophy-seeker decide a Sasquatch head would fill in a spot on his wall and come in armed to the teeth – someone would be killed. This would become a battle ground.” I tucked my rifle under my arm and tore the pages into small scraps, and tossed the fragments to the wind. Berryman looked disgruntled, but said no more.
Afterwards, I recalled that on the long, mostly silent walk back to Andy’s home, one of the other men in the party proceeded in close conference with the artist. Less than a week later the Washington Post printed the absurd cartoon which has become so famous.
Amongst the pages was tucked a scrap torn from a newspaper, reproduced below.
When first I saw the scribble, I laughed aloud: it could not be more obvious to me that the artist never saw a bear that day, for the animal bears – pardon the pun – no more resemblance to Ursus Americanus Pallas than the oddly chapeaued fop does to me. In the end, I had no choice but to continue laughing, however little I liked it, for there was a rebellious air to the artist which made me suspect that my choices were this folderol or … the truth. Better to birth a new genre of plaything than to live with the bloodshed I firmly believed would be the alternative.
There. It is done. I have not yet decided what to do with the tale. Foolish it may have been to set it down, but it has eased a knot which has been taut inside me for lo these sixteen years. Now perhaps I will in these last days be able to face those furry ursine playthings people continue to send, and will be able to meet my Maker, when the time comes, with that much more assurance.
Death is always and under all circumstances a tragedy, for if it is not, then it means that life itself has become one.
- Teddy Roosevelt: Everything Hunter (mancavedaily.newyork.cbslocal.com)