Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children. 1919.

What He Saw in Porto Rico

U. S. S. Louisiana,
At Sea, November 23, 1906.

We had a most interesting two days at Porto Rico. We landed on the south side of the island and were received by the Governor and the rest of the administration, including nice Mr. Laurance Grahame; then were given a reception by the Alcalde and people of Ponce; and then went straight across the island in automobiles to San Juan on the north shore. It was an eighty mile trip and really delightful. The road wound up to the high mountains of the middle island, through them, and then down again to the flat plain on the north shore. The scenery was beautiful. It was as thoroughly tropical as Panama but much more livable. There were palms, tree-ferns, bananas, mangoes, bamboos, and many other trees and multitudes of brilliant flowers. There was one vine called the dream-vine with flowers as big as great white water-lilies, which close up tight in the day-time and bloom at night. There were vines with masses of brilliant purple and pink flowers, and others with masses of little white flowers, which at night-time smell deliciously. There were trees studded over with huge white flowers, and others, the flamboyants such as I saw in the campaign at Santiago, are a mass of large scarlet blossoms in June, but which now had shed them. I thought the tree-ferns especially beautiful. The towns were just such as you saw in Cuba, quaint, brilliantly colored, with the old church or cathedral fronting the plaza, and the plaza always full of flowers. Of course the towns are dirty, but they are not nearly as dirty and offensive as those of Italy; and there is something pathetic and childlike about the people. We are giving them a good government and the island is prospering. I never saw a finer set of young fellows than those engaged in the administration. Mr. Grahame, whom of course you remember, is the intimate friend and ally of the leaders of the administration, that is of Governor Beekman Winthrop and of the Secretary of State, Mr. Regis Post. Grahame is a perfect trump and such a handsome, athletic fellow, and a real Sir Galahad. Any wrong-doing, and especially any cruelty makes him flame with fearless indignation. He perfectly delighted the Porto Ricans and also immensely puzzled them by coming in his Scotch kilt to a Government ball. Accordingly, at my special request, I had him wear his kilt at the state dinner and reception the night we were at the palace. You know he is a descendant of Montrose, and although born in Canada, his parents were Scotch and he was educated in Scotland. Do tell Mr. Bob Fergie about him and his kilts when you next write him.

We spent the night at the palace, which is half palace and half castle, and was the residence of the old Spanish governors. It is nearly four hundred years old, and is a delightful building, with quaint gardens and a quaint sea-wall looking over the bay. There were colored lanterns lighting up the gardens for the reception, and the view across the bay in the moonlight was lovely. Our rooms were as attractive as possible too, except that they were so very airy and open that we found it difficult to sleep—not that that much mattered as, thanks to the earliness of our start and the lateness of our reception, we had barely four hours in which we even tried to sleep.

The next morning we came back in automobiles over different and even more beautiful roads. The mountain passes through and over which we went made us feel as if we were in a tropic Switzerland. We had to cross two or three rivers where big cream-colored oxen with yokes tied to their horns pulled the automobiles through the water. At one funny little village we had an open air lunch, very good, of chicken and eggs and bread, and some wine contributed by a wealthy young Spaniard who rode up from a neighboring coffee ranch.

Yesterday afternoon we embarked again, and that evening the crew gave a theatrical entertainment on the afterdeck, closing with three boxing bouts. I send you the program. It was great fun, the audience being equally enraptured with the sentimental songs about the flag, and the sailor’s true love and his mother, and with the jokes (the most relished of which related to the fact that bed-bugs were supposed to be so large that they had to be shot!) and the skits about the commissary and various persons and deeds on the ship. In a way the freedom of comment reminded me a little of the Roman triumphs, when the excellent legendaries recited in verse and prose, anything they chose concerning the hero in whose deeds they had shared and whose triumphs they were celebrating. The stage, well lighted, was built on the aftermost part of the deck. We sat in front with the officers, and the sailors behind us in masses on the deck, on the aftermost turrets, on the bridge, and even in the fighting top of the aftermost mast. It was interesting to see their faces in the light.


P. S. I forgot to tell you about the banners and inscriptions of welcome to me in Porto Rico. One of them which stretched across the road had on it “Welcome to Theodore and Mrs. Roosevelt.” Last evening I really enjoyed a rather funny experience. There is an Army and Navy Union composed chiefly of enlisted men, but also of many officers, and they suddenly held a “garrison” meeting in the torpedo-room of this ship. There were about fifty enlisted men together with the Captain and myself. I was introduced as “comrade and shipmate Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States.” They were such a nice set of fellows, and I was really so pleased to be with them; so self-respecting, so earnest, and just the right type out of which to make the typical American fighting man who is also a good citizen. The meeting reminded me a good deal of a lodge meeting at Oyster Bay; and of course those men are fundamentally of the same type as the shipwrights, railroad men and fishermen whom I met at the lodge, and who, by the way, are my chief backers politically and are the men who make up the real strength of this nation.