21 of Theodore Roosevelt’s Most Memorable Pets

Imagno/Getty Images
Imagno/Getty Images

When Theodore Roosevelt moved into the White House in 1901, he brought with him his wife, his six children, and one of the widest (and wildest) menageries Washington, D.C. has ever seen. Here are just some of the First Family’s most memorable pets.

Mental Floss launched a new podcast with iHeartRadio called History Vs., and our first season is all about Theodore Roosevelt. Subscribe here!

1. and 2. Algonquin and General Grant the Shetland Ponies

Archie Roosevelt on Shetland pony Algonquin
Archie Roosevelt and his Shetland pony Algonquin

When it comes to White House pets, dogs and cats are the norm—and the Roosevelt family had plenty of those (more on a bunch of them later). Less frequently seen roaming the halls of the White House? Shetland ponies. But TR was nothing if not an innovator. The family had two beloved Shetland ponies: Algonquin and General Grant. Once, when 9-year-old Archie Roosevelt was sick with measles and couldn't get down to the stables, his brothers Kermit and Quentin (or, according to other stories, footman Charles Reeder) decided to cheer him up by having Algonquin pay a visit to Archie in his bedroom—which was on the second floor of the White House residence. So they did what any kids would do, and brought the pony up in the elevator. Algonquin, who weighed 350 pounds, wasn’t thrilled about the adventure ... until he reportedly noticed his reflection in the elevator mirror and became entranced (making it difficult for the boys to get him out of the elevator).

But before Algonquin came along, there was General Grant, a sorrel Shetland pony named after Ulysses S. Grant, who used to chauffer the Roosevelt kids around. “Sedate pony Grant used to draw the cart in which the children went driving when they were very small, the driver being their old nurse Mame,” Roosevelt wrote. “They loved pony Grant. Once I saw the then little boy of three hugging pony Grant's fore legs. As he leaned over, his broad straw hat tilted on end, and pony Grant meditatively munched the brim; whereupon the small boy looked up with a wail of anguish, evidently thinking the pony had decided to treat him like a radish.”

3. and 4. General and Judge the Carriage Horses

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919), the 26th President of the United States (1901-09), jumping hurdles at the Chevy Chase club Washington
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Roosevelts had a stable full of horses, too, as TR once said that “there are no pets like horses; and horsemanship is a test of prowess.” In addition to General and Judge, a pair of carriage horses, the family’s horses included Grey, Dawn, Jocko, Root, Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Wyoming, Yagenka, and Bleistein (Teddy’s favorite).

5. Mame the Pig

Getting back to the kids’ nurse Mame for a second: When the kids were gifted with a pig, they decided to name it after their beloved nurse—but Mame may not have taken it as the compliment it was intended to be. “I doubt whether I ever saw Mame really offended with [the kids] except once when, out of pure but misunderstood affection, they named a pig after her,” Roosevelt wrote.

6. A Herd of Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs were a popular pet in the Roosevelt household, with TR once remarking that the animals’ “highly unemotional nature fits them for companionship with adoring but over-enthusiastic young masters and mistresses.” In a 1900 letter, Roosevelt wrote about the namesakes of their guinea pig brood: “They included Bishop Doane; Dr. Johnson, my Dutch Reformed pastor; Father G. Grady, the local priest with whom the children had scraped a speaking acquaintance; Fighting Bob Evans; and Admiral Dewey.”

7. Jonathan Edwards the Bear

In that same letter in which he mentions the guinea pigs, Roosevelt wrote that, “Some of my Republican supporters in West Virginia have just sent me a small bear which the children of their own accord christened Jonathan Edwards, partly out of compliment to their mother's ancestor, and partly because they thought they detected Calvinistic traits in the bear's character.” (Edwards, the famed revivalist preacher, was Edith Roosevelt’s great-great-great grandfather.)

Unfortunately, Jonathan Edwards’s time with the Roosevelt family was short-lived, which was probably for the best. On January 2, 1901, Roosevelt wrote to the Bronx Zoo, explaining that he had "a small bear named Jonathan Edwards," but “that we do not have the accommodations to keep him” and asked if the zoo would take him. (They did.) Which doesn’t mean that the Roosevelts weren’t open to keeping bears as pets; they reportedly had five.

8. Bill the Lizard

Roosevelt’s collected letters to his children make it clear that the 26th president was as much of an animal lover as his kids were. In a letter to Archie written from California in 1903, Teddy wrote about some of the wonderful new pets he had acquired in his travels: “I have a number of treasures to divide among you children when I get back. One of the treasures is Bill the Lizard. He is a little live lizard, called a horned frog, very cunning, who lives in a small box.”

9. Josiah the Badger

Archie Roosevelt holds his pet badger Josiah at Sagamore Hill. President Roosevelt brought the badger home from a trip out west.
Archie Roosevelt holds his pet badger Josiah at Sagamore Hill.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

On that same 1903 trip, Roosevelt was given a badger named Josiah in Sharon Springs, Kansas, whom he later gifted to Archie. “The little badger, Josh, is very well and eats milk and potatoes,” Roosevelt wrote. “We took him out and gave him a run in the sand today. So far he seems as friendly as possible. When he feels hungry he squeals.”

10. Eli Yale the Blue Macaw

Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and Eli Yale
Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and Eli Yale

What is now the West Wing of the White House used to be White House greenhouse, home to Eli Yale, a bright blue (and reportedly very loud) hyacinth macaw that TR once described as looking “as if he came out of Alice in Wonderland.” In a 1902 letter to author Joel Chandler Harris, Roosevelt wrote about the bird: “Eli [is] the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion."

11. Jonathan the Piebald Rat

In that same 1902 letter to Harris, Roosevelt mentioned several more of the family pets, including a flying squirrel, two kangaroo rats, and “Jonathan, the piebald rat, of most friendly and affectionate nature, who crawls all over everybody.”

12. Emily Spinach the Snake

Of all of TR’s children, his eldest—daughter Alice, his only child with his first wife (who died just days after giving birth)—proved to be the most rambunctious and was known for her often outrageous behavior. She played it a bit differently when it came to her pets, too: Her preferred companion was a garter snake she named Emily Spinach “because it was as green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily.”

Emily Spinach wasn’t the only snake in Roosevelt pet family, however. While Roosevelt was typically amused by his children’s antics, there was one snake-filled incident where Quentin may have pushed his dad a bit too far. The story goes that Quentin purchased four snakes at a pet store, then rushed to the Oval Office to show his father his latest acquisitions. Quentin burst into the room, where his father was holding an important meeting, and ran over to give his dad a hug—leading him to drop the snakes, which sent everybody running. When the snakes were eventually caught, they were sent back to the pet store from which they came.

13. Peter the Rabbit

OK, so maybe it’s not the most original name for a rabbit, but Peter was one-of-a-kind—particularly to Archie. When the bunny passed away in 1904, he was buried with all the pomp and circumstance the White House could muster. In a letter to Kermit, Theodore wrote:

“Yesterday poor Peter Rabbit died and his funeral was held with proper state. Archie, in his overalls, dragged the wagon with the little black coffin in which poor Peter Rabbit lay. Mother walked behind as chief mourner, she and Archie solemnly exchanging tributes to the worth and good qualities of the departed. Then he was buried, with a fuchsia over the little grave.”

14. A One-Legged Rooster

The Roosevelt family's one-legged rooster
Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Not much is known about the Roosevelts’ pet rooster, except that it had just one leg. Which is enough for us.

15. Manchu the Dancing Pekingese

During a trip abroad, the last empress of China gifted Alice Roosevelt with a tiny Pekingese which she named Manchu. She swore that one of the pup’s favorite activities was standing back on its hind legs and dancing, and that she had seen him do it on the White House lawn.

16. A Bitey Bull Terrier Named Pete

Though the White House was full of energetic pets, one of them—a bull terrier named Pete—had a little too much energy. Some sources cite him as a Boston terrier or a bulldog, so his exact breed is not known. What is known is that he had a tendency to be a bit destructive, but was absolutely adored by the family.

In a 1907 letter to Kermit, TR wrote:

“We have had rather a tragedy about Pete. He has killed four squirrels. Dr. Rixey, who is a philosopher, insists that it is all right and proper as it shows that the squirrels were getting so careless that something was sure to kill them anyhow; but it makes both Mother and me rather melancholy. On the other hand, Pete loves us so and is such a ridiculously affectionate, fighting bulldog that we have not the heart to get rid of him.”

But when Pete graduated from attacking squirrels to biting people—including several naval officers, cabinet ministers, diplomats, and police officers—the Roosevelts had to reconsider their position. Eventually he had to be relocated to the family’s home in Long Island after an embarrassing international incident where, according to The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events author Stanley Coren, the dog chased French Ambassador Jules Jusserand “down a White House corridor, ultimately catching up with him and then tearing the bottom out of his pants.” The incident became a major headline, especially once the French government lodged an official complaint about it.

17. Skip the Rat Terrier

Theodore Roosevelt and dog Skip on hunting trip
Theodore Roosevelt and dog Skip on hunting trip.
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University

Equally beloved, but far less nippy, was Skip, an extremely affectionate black-and-tan rat terrier that rarely left Archie’s side. Once, when Edith and the kids had left Theodore alone at the White House, the president wrote to his son Archie about how much Skip missed them all:

“Poor Skip is a very, very lonely little dog without his family. Each morning he comes up to see me at breakfast time and during most of breakfast (which I take in the hall just outside my room) Skip stands with his little paws on my lap. Then when I get through and sit down in the rocking-chair to read for 15 or 20 minutes, Skip hops into my lap and stays there, just bathing himself in the companionship of the only one of his family he has left. The rest of the day he spends with the ushers, as I am so frightfully busy that I am nowhere long enough for Skip to have any real satisfaction in my companionship.”

18. Sailor Boy the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

If there was a patriarch of the Roosevelt dog clan, it might have Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Writing about their various pets’ temperaments, Theodore said of Sailor Boy:

“Much the most individual of the dogs and the one with the strongest character was Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay dog. He had a masterful temperament and a strong sense of both dignity and duty. He would never let the other dogs fight, and he himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it; but he was a murderous animal when he did fight."

19. Rollo the Saint Bernard

Theodore Roosevelt and his dog Rollo
Theodore Roosevelt and his dog Rollo
Cliff, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1902, Alfred S. Rollo—a family friend of the Roosevelts—tried to gift TR with a gigantic Saint Bernard puppy, but Roosevelt wanted nothing to do with it. In December of that year, he wrote to Rollo, saying:

“I’m going to ask you not to think me churlish if I say we have three collies already, one of them a puppy, and four other dogs in addition, and that I really do not [have] house room or stable room for any more. I dare not venture to tell your proposition to my children.”

Whether something got lost in translation or Rollo sent the pup along regardless, TR eventually grew to love the gentle giant, who was often seen in the president’s company.

20. Blackjack the Manchester Terrier

Jack the dog. 1902. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o282090. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University
Jack the dog. 1902.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

Sometimes described as “the most loved” pet of all, Blackjack—or Jack for short—was Kermit’s Manchester Terrier. In a 1902 letter, TR enclosed a photo of Kermit and his dog, writing, “It is a real pleasure to send you a photograph of my boy Kermit, with Jack, the Manchester terrier, who is absolutely a member of the family.”

Jack passed away while the Roosevelts were still living at the White House, so they buried him in the backyard. But in 1908, they exhumed his remains and had them reburied at Sagamore Hill, their Long Island estate, as Edith couldn’t bear the thought of Jack’s remains sitting “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.”

21. Tom Quartz the Cat

Jack had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Tom Quartz, a kitten who loved playing pranks on Jack (who might have been terrified of cats). Writing to Kermit in 1903, Roosevelt recounted a story:

“Tom Quartz is certainly the cunningest kitten I have ever seen. He is always playing pranks on Jack and I get very nervous lest Jack should grow too irritated. The other evening they were both in the library—Jack sleeping before the fire—Tom Quartz scampering about, an exceedingly playful little wild creature—which is about what he is. He would race across the floor, then jump upon the curtain or play with the tassel. Suddenly he spied Jack and galloped up to him. Jack, looking exceedingly sullen and shame-faced, jumped out of the way and got upon the sofa, where Tom Quartz instantly jumped upon him again. Jack suddenly shifted to the other sofa, where Tom Quartz again went after him. Then Jack started for the door, while Tom made a rapid turn under the sofa and around the table, and just as Jack reached the door leaped on his hind-quarters. Jack bounded forward and away and the two went tandem out of the room—Jack not reappearing at all; and after about five minutes Tom Quartz stalked solemnly back.”

Not-So-Fancy Feast: Your Cat Probably Would Eat Your Rotting Corpse

Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images
Tycson1/iStock via Getty Images

Cat enthusiasts often cite the warmth and companionship offered by their pet as reasons why they’re so enamored with them. Despite these and other positive attributes, cat lovers are often confronted with the spurious claim that, while their beloved furry pal might adore them when they’re alive, it won’t hesitate to devour their corpse if they should drop dead.

Though that’s often dismissed as negative cat propaganda spread by dog people, it turns out that it’s probably true. Fluffy might indeed feast on your flesh if you happened to expire.

A horrifying new case study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences offers the fresh evidence. The paper, first reported by The Washington Post, documents how two cats reacted in the presence of a corpse at Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, or body farm, where the deceased are used to further forensic science for criminal investigations.

The study’s authors did not orchestrate a meeting between cat and corpse. The finding happened by accident: Student and lead author Sara Garcia was scanning surveillance footage of the grounds when she noticed a pair of cats trespassing. The cats, she found, were interested in the flesh of two corpses; they gnawed on human tissue while it was still in the early stages of decomposition, stopping only when the bodies began leaching fluids.

The cats, which were putting away one corpse each, didn’t appear to have a taste for variety, as they both returned to the same corpse virtually every night. The two seemed to prefer the shoulder and arm over other body parts.

This visual evidence joins a litany of reports over the years from medical examiners, who have observed the damage left by both cats and dogs who were trapped in homes with deceased owners and proceeded to eat them. It’s believed pets do this when no other food source is available, though in some cases, eating their human has occurred even with a full food bowl. It’s something to consider the next time your cat gives you an affectionate lick on the arm. Maybe it loves you. Or maybe it has something else in mind.

[h/t The Washington Post]

7 Animals That Appear to Fly (Besides Birds, Bats, and Insects)

renacal1/iStock via Getty Images
renacal1/iStock via Getty Images

The only animals that can truly fly are birds, insects, and bats. Other animals manage to travel through the air by gliding from great heights or leaping from the depths. Here are a few.

1. Devil Rays

The devil rays, in the genus Mobula, are related to manta rays. Their wingspan can grow up to 17 feet wide, making them the second-largest group of rays after the mantas. These muscular fish can leap several feet out of the water, but no one is quite sure why they do it.

2. Colugos

These tree-dwelling gliders are sometimes called flying lemurs, but they're neither true lemurs nor do they fly. These mammals in the genus Cynocephalus are native to Southeast Asia and are about the size of a house cat. Colugos can glide up to 200 feet between trees using their patagium, or flaps of skin between their front and hind legs that extend to their tail and neck (colugos are even webbed between their toes). In the air, they can soar gracefully through the forest, but on the ground, they look like an animated pancake.

3. Flying Fish

Flying fish

There are about 40 different species of flying fish in the family Exocoetidae, although they don't fly so much as they leap from the water with a push of their powerful pectoral fins. Most of the species live in tropical waters. Fish have been observed skipping over the waves for as long as 45 seconds and 650 feet. Scientists suspect that flying fish leap into the air to escape predators.

4. Paradise Tree Snake

The paradise tree snake (Chrysopelea paradisi) lives in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. It glides from the treetops by flattening its body out to maximize surface area, wiggling from side to side to go in the desired direction. Though the idea of a flying snake may be terrifying, C. paradisi is not harmful to humans.

5. Flying Geckos

Flying geckos, a group of gliding lizards in the genus Gekko, live in the wet forests of Southeast Asia. In addition to patagia that let them parachute from tree branches, the geckos have remarkably mutable skin that camouflages them against tree trunks extremely well.

6. Wallace's Flying Frog

Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) is found in Malaysia and Indonesia. This frog has long webbed toes and a skin flap between its limbs which allows it to parachute—float downward at a steep angle—from the treetops. Although Wallace's flying frogs prefer to live in the forest canopy, they must descend to ground level to mate and lay eggs.

7. Flying Squirrels

Flying squirrels in the subfamily Sciurinae include dozens of species. They are native to North America and Eurasia. When it leaps from a tall tree, a flying squirrel will spread its patagium until it resembles a kite or parachute. The squirrel can steer by moving its wrists and adjusting the tautness of its skin.