African Game Trails

By Brian Smith

African Game Trails is written by Theodore Roosevelt and is an account of a safari he took with his son Kermit in East Africa starting out in March of 1909 sailing from New York and ending in Khartoum in March of 1910.  The purpose of this expedition was to collect birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, and especially specimens of big game for The National Museum at Washington, the Smithsonian, and the American Museum of Natural History, New York.  The game mounts from this expedition are on display to this day at these museums.  The other members of the main party included Surgeon-Lieut. Col. Edgar A Mearns, U.S.A, retired; Mr. Edmund Heller, of California, and Mr. J. Alden Loring, of Owego, N.Y.; these men were the naturalists on the trip responsible for the preparation and shipment of skins, skeletons, and items of interest shipped back for the museum.  In East Africa, they were met by professional hunters R.J. Cuninghame and Leslie Tarlton both of who would accompany the Roosevelts through the entire safari and who organized the logistics and managed personal as well as being the professional hunting guides.  During the course of the safari, they hired hundreds of native men as porters, trackers, gunbearers, and tent boys.  Because of the amount of game harvested for the museum and the need to preserve the specimens this was a labor-intensive endeavor.  In all, the Roosevelts collected 512 specimens of big game and birds for the museum, keeping a dozen trophies for their personal collection.  The 512 are the number of game harvested by the Roosevelts with a rifle, this does not include the many other specimens of smaller game, mice, monkeys, birds, reptiles, etc. that were trapped or shot by the naturalists’ Heller and Mearns. 

There are many interesting stories of brushes with danger in hunting dangerous game throughout the book.  One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was the use of horses to pursue game on this safari.  Especially interesting are the heroics of Kermit during this adventure.  Kermit was nineteen when they started and turned 20 during the Safari.  He was an extremely competent hunter and became more so throughout the safari, lasting a year.  Because of his youth and health, he had great endurance and would often outpace his African gunbearers and guides.  There were many accounts of him chasing down game on horseback at full speed over uneven ground and both shooting from horseback or leaping to the ground from the horse and shooting.  On several occasions, his horse tripped and did a summersault, and Kermit would remount and continue the chase.  In one episode he was thrown from his horse, landing with rifle in hand, and got off the shot for the game.  It was also remarkable that both TR and Kermit were able to stay healthy throughout the adventure.   Teddy Roosevelt reported only being down for 5 days due to fever that was a recurring fever picked up during the Santiago Campaign and Kermit was only down for three days, two due to tick fever and one day due to heat exhaustion.  They had no major physical injures although there were several in the hunting party that did suffer from dysentery, malaria, fevers, and injures sustained with brushes with dangerous game. 

The other subject I find interesting is Roosevelt’s observations of the continent’s indigenous people and English and Boar settlers.  I have found similar observations in reading other works by Roosevelt. He describes the indigenous people of our own continent and the rugged men who carved out settlements in those areas and the South American continent.  I think one could say that Roosevelt was an imperialist and believed in the duty of men of Western Civilization to bring civilization to the rest of the world. He fully supported the mission work in these areas.  In this book, he had great praise for the Boars and the Englishmen that were trying to make settlements in East Africa and make proper use of the land.  He treated the indigenous people with respect and showed empathy and compassion for them, although he often described them as savages and heathens, being peoples left behind by the advancement of time.  I find it refreshing to read his observations; in my opinion, he “calls it as he sees it.”   However, in today’s politically correct environment, many of his views are not acceptable. Though this is more so the case today, he was somewhat controversial in his own time.  Roosevelt arguably did more for conservation and preservation of flora and fauna species than anyone in US history; however, he was often at odds with naturalists of the time that took issue with his high regard and participation in blood sports. Recently a statue of Roosevelt was removed from the front of the American Museum of Natural History, another museum that displays animals taken on the Safari described in the book because it is considered racist and a symbol of colonialist ideology.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book; I find it interesting and historical. It is written by someone I consider to be one of the most interesting men in modern history.  Theodore Roosevelt was a true renaissance man, a man’s man, a tough and intellectual person that has certainly made a large imprint on the history of the United States and the world.  


Brian R. Smith is an avid outdoorsman passionate about fly fishing, wing shooting, Safari hunting, and equestrian activities. He lives with his wife Gretchen in Alabama, and together they enjoy spending time with their horses and sporting dogs on trails, rivers, and in the sporting field. To read more of Brians adventures, you can follow him on Instagram @bohemianadventure