Here is the naturalist John Burroughs's memoir of his
trip to Pine Knot with TR in May of 1908. The piece
was written more than a decade later, shortly after
TR's death in 1919.
Burroughs and TR had been friends since the 1880s, and
Burroughs accompanied TR on a presidential trip to
Yellowstone Park in April 1903 (subsequently written
up in Burroughs's short book CAMPING & TRAMPING WITH
ROOSEVELT -- 1907.) TR dedicated OUTDOOR PASTIMES OF
AN AMERICAN HUNTER to Burroughs in 1903.
All best, --- Ed Renehan
IT was in May during the last term of his Presidency
that Roosevelt asked me to go with him down to Pine
Knot, Virginia, to help him name his birds. I stayed
with him at the White house the night before we
started. I remember that at dinner there was an
officer from the British army stationed in India, and
the talk naturally turned on Indian affairs. I did not
take part in it because I knew nothing about India,
but Roosevelt was so conversant with Indian affairs
and Indian history that you would think he had just
been cramming on it, which I knew very well he had
not. But that British officer was put on his mettle to
hold his own. In fact, Roosevelt knew more about India
and England's relation to it than the officer seemed
to know. It was amazing to see the thoroughness of his
knowledge about India.
The next morning we started off for Virginia, taking
an early train.
Pine Knot is about one hundred miles from Washington.
I think we left the train at Charlottesville,
Virginia, and drove about ten miles to Pine Knot; the
house is a big barnlike structure on the edge of the
woods, a mile from the nearest farmhouse.
Before we reached there we got out of the wagon and
walked, as there were a good many warblers in the
trees ____ the spring migration was on. It was pretty
warm; I took off my overcoat and the President
insisted on carrying it. We identified several
warblers there, among them the black-poll, the
black-throated blue, and Wilson's black-cap. He knew
them in the trees overhead as quickly as I did.
We reached Pine Knot late in the afternoon, but as he
was eager for a walk we started off, he leading, as if
walking for a wager. We went through fields and woods
and briers and marshy places for a mile or more, when
we stopped and mopped our brows and turned homeward
without having seen many birds.
Mrs. Roosevelt took him to task, I think, when she saw
the heated condition in which we returned, for not
long afterwards he came to me and said:
"Oom John, that was no way to go after birds; we were
in too much of a hurry." I replied, "No, Mr.
President, that isn't the way I usually go a-birding."
His thirst for the wild and the woods, and his joy at
returning to these after his winter in the White
House, had evidently urged him on. He added, "We will
try a different plan to-morrow."
So on the morrow we took a leisurely drive along the
highways. Very soon we heard a wren which was new to
me. "That's Bewick's wren," he said. We got out and
watched it as it darted in and out of the fence and
I asked him if he knew whether the little gray
gnatcatcher was to be seen there. I had not seen or
heard it for thirty years. "Yes," he replied, "I saw
it the last time I was here, over by a spring run."
We walked over to some plum-trees where there had been
a house at one time. No sooner had we reached the spot
than he cried, "There it is now!" And sure enough,
there it was in full song ____ a little bird the shape
of a tiny catbird, with a very fine musical strain.
As we were walking in a field we saw some birds that
were new to me. Roosevelt also was puzzled to know
what they were till we went among them and stirred
them up, discovering that they were females of the
blue grosbeak, with some sparrows which we did not
In the course of that walk he showed me a place where
he had seen what he had thought at the time to be a
flock of wild pigeons. He described how they flew, the
swoop of their movements, and the tree where they
alighted. I was skeptical, for it had long been
thought that wild pigeons were extinct, but that fact
had not impressed itself upon his mind. He said if he
had known there could be any doubt about it, he would
have observed them more closely. I was sorry that he
had not, as it was one of the points on which I wanted
indisputable evidence. We talked with the colored
coachman about the birds, as he also had seen them.
His description agreed with Roosevelt's, and he had
seen wild pigeons in his youth; still I had my doubts.
Subsequently Roosevelt wrote me that he had come to
the conclusion that they had been mistaken about their
One day while there, as we were walking through an old
weedy field, I chanced to spy, out of the corner of my
eye, a nighthawk sitting on the ground only three or
four yards away. I called Roosevelt's attention to it
and said, "Now, Mr. President, I think with care you
can drop your hat over that bird." So he took off his
sombrero and crept up on the bird, and was almost in a
position to let his hat drop over it when the bird
flew to a near tree, alighting lengthwise on the
branch as this bird always does. Roosevelt approached
it again cautiously and almost succeeded in putting
his hand upon it; the bird flew just in time to save
itself from his hand.
One Sunday after church he took me to a field where he
had recently seen and heard Lincoln's sparrow. We
loitered there, reclining upon the dry grass for an
hour or more, waiting for the sparrow, but it did not
During my visit there we named over seventyfive
species of birds and fowl, he knowing all of them but
two, and I knowing all but two. He taught me Bewick's
wren and the prairie warbler, and I taught him the
swamp sparrow and one of the rarer warblers; I think
it was the pine warbler. If he had found the Lincoln
sparrow again, he would have been one ahead of me.
I remember talking politics a little with him while we
were waiting for the birds, and, knowing that he was
expecting Taft to be his successor, I expressed my
doubts as to Taft's being able to fill his shoes.
"Oh, yes, he can," he said confidently; "you don't
know him as well as I do."
"Of course not," I admitted; "but my feeling is that,
though Taft is an able and amiable man, he is not a
(I am glad to say that Mr. Taft's recent course in
support of the proposed League of Nations has quite
brought me around to Roosevelt's estimate of him.)
Pine Knot is a secluded place in the woods. One
evening as we sat in the lamplight, he reading Lord
Cromer on Egypt, and I a book on the maneating lions
of Tsavo, and Mrs. Roosevelt sit-ting near with her
needlework, suddenly Roosevelt's hand came down on the
table with such a bang that it made us both jump, and
Mrs. Roosevelt exclaimed in a slightly nettled tone,
"Why, my dear, what is the matter?"
He had killed a mosquito with a blow that would almost
have demolished an African lion.
It occurred to me later that evening how risky it was
for the President of the United States to be so
unprotected ____ without a guard of any kind ____ in
that out-of-the-way place, and I expressed something
of this to him, suggesting that some one might
"Oh," he answered, clapping his hand on his hip
pocket, "I go armed, and they would have to be mighty
quick to get the drop on me."
Shortly after that, to stretch my legs a little and
listen to the night sounds in the Virginia woods, I
went out around the cabin and almost immediately heard
some animal run heavily through the woods not far from
the house. I thought perhaps it was a neighboring dog,
but, on speaking of it to Mrs. Roosevelt, was told
that two secret service men came every night at nine
o'clock and stood on guard till morning, spending the
day at a farmhouse in that vicinity. She did not let
the President know of this because it would irritate
The only flower we saw there which was new to me was
the Indian pink. Roosevelt seemed to know the flowers
as well as he did the birds. Pink moccasin-flowers and
the bird's-foot violet were common in that locality.
On our return trip, Roosevelt's secretary being on the
train, Roosevelt threw himself into the dictation of
many letters, the wrens and the warblers already
sidetracked for the business of the Administration.
I passed another night at the White House, and in the
morning early we went out on the White House grounds
to look for birds, our quest seeming to attract the
puzzled attention of the passers-by.
"They often stare at me as though they thought me
crazy," he said, "when they see me gazing up into the
"Well, now they will think I am your keeper," I said.
"Yes, and I your nurse," laughed Mrs. Roosevelt. When
I left, Roosevelt gave me a list of the birds that we
had seen while at Pine Knot and hoped that I would
sometime write up the trip; in fact, for years after,
whenever we would meet, almost the first thing he
would say was, "Have you written up our Pine Knot trip
yet, Oom John?" And his disappointment at my failure
to do so was always unmistakable.
EDWARD J. RENEHAN JR.
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