The year is 1918 and some thing is stalking the woods around Knoxville, Tennessee.
The mysterious beast is killing farm animals – hogs and calves and the occasional hunting dog – and residents are afraid to leave the house at night. Children are kept home from school. Local efforts to stop the beast have failed so desperate residents make a plea to America’s foremost outdoorsman and big game hunter to come to their aid.
President Theodore Roosevelt.
The former president’s glory days were behind him at this point in his life. His health was poor. He was sixty and suffered from severe rheumatism and carried a bullet in his chest from a failed assassination attempt in 1912. He also had flare-ups of malaria, contracted during a 1913 expedition to the Brazilian jungle, and a leg injury from the same trip that sapped much of his legendary energy. But he remained a prominent figure in American affairs. Surely this old warhorse could be called upon for one last hunt.
And Roosevelt was indeed the man to call. A respected naturalist, he had hunted game as far afield as Africa. And he had at least a passing interest in monsters. In Roosevelt’s 1890 book The Wilderness Hunter, he recounts a terrifying tale related to him by an old trapper name Bauman. Bauman and his partner had gone deep into the wilds of Idaho looking for beaver pelts when they decided to hunt a remote pass where a man was rumored to have been killed and half-eaten by a mysterious beast. Despite the area’s evil reputation, the men pressed on. It was a mistake.
Something in the woods did not want them there. Something large. Something that walked on two legs and destroyed their camp at night. Something that smelled like a wild beast yet left human-like footprints. The two men, unnerved, decide to leave the area. Bauman went off to a nearby stream to retrieve some traps. When he returned he found his partner dead, his neck snapped like a twig and deep fang marks in the man’s throat. Bauman fled the camp with only his rifle and didn’t stop until he had put the horrible place far behind him. Another monster Roosevelt was interested in was the giant anaconda of the Amazon. While his exploration of the Brazilian jungle turned up no such specimen, Roosevelt was keen enough to find the creature that he offered a $1,000 reward for the capture of a snake over 30 feet for exhibition at the Bronx Zoo. The reward is still offered by the Wildlife Conservation Society and has grown to $50,000. So we know Roosevelt had an interest in monsters and if anyone had the skill bring the Knoxville beast to ground, it was Teddy. Sadly, he never got the chance - Roosevelt’s enormous heart gave out on him in January of 1919 and he never mounted an expedition into the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to face whatever lurked in the woods. But did he hunt other monsters?