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Jaguar Rug

Jaguar rug given to William Lindsay WhiteA jaguar skin rug might be an odd gift for a young boy, but when the offering is made by a former U.S. President it seems appropriate.

William Lindsay White, a 14-year-old from Emporia, Kansas, received this exotic gift from Theodore Roosevelt in 1914. The former president had shot the jaguar during a dangerous expedition into the Amazon.

Theodore Roosevelt

Adventure was nothing new to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. By age 42, he had commanded the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, served as Governor of New York, and been elected the 26th President of the United States. While in office, Roosevelt constructed the Panama Canal and became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. A staunch conservationist, he established the United States Forest Service and set aside land for national parks and nature preserves.

Front view of jaguar rug

Roosevelt's wildlife advocacy stemmed from a childhood fascination. He spent hours as a boy collecting plant and animal specimens around his New York home and during family trips abroad. He even learned to perform taxidermy. After attending Harvard and publishing multiple scientific works, Roosevelt was a recognized authority on American mammals and a respected ornithologist.

Arguing that vitality could be developed through physical challenges, Roosevelt credited the "strenuous life" for overcoming his own sickly, asthmatic youth. This philosophy was behind Roosevelt's decision to take his son Kermit, age 24, on a dangerous trip into the Amazon in 1913 and 1914.

Down the Amazon

Seeking adventure and challenge after his recent defeat for a third presidential term, Roosevelt agreed to lead a scientific expedition in an unexplored region of Brazil. The journey, down a recently discovered tributary of the Amazon River, was fraught with problems almost from the start. Poorly conceived food provisions forced the team on starvation diets. One expedition member drowned, another was murdered. Disease, particularly malaria, plagued the men. Roosevelt himself nearly died from an infected leg wound. More on the South American expedition.

Roosevelt with jaguar on the Amazon expedition

All this peril was yet to come, though, when Roosevelt and his son embarked on a leisurely jaguar hunt in Corumba, Brazil, at the beginning of the expedition. Kermit and his father were experienced hunters, having stalked large cats on an African safari four years earlier. The Roosevelts considered the jaguar, the dominant species in South America, to be an impressive prize. On that particular day in Brazil, they brought down two and dined on jaguar meat in the evening. The hides were cleaned and probably shipped back to the United States before the expedition's completion.

One hide was later converted into a rug (pictured here) and given to William Lindsay White, son of William Allen White, Roosevelt's close personal friend. The elder White, a newspaper editor from Emporia, Kansas, met Roosevelt through his involvement with the Republican Party. Over the years Roosevelt and the Whites developed close bonds, and Roosevelt visited the family at their Emporia home.

In 2002 this rug and other contents of William Allen White's home were donated to the Kansas Museum of History by the White family. The construction of the rug, which is on display at Red Rocks State Historic Site in Emporia, illustrates qualities of amateur taxidermy, possibly done by Roosevelt himself.

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Entry: Jaguar Rug

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2007

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.