Louis Agassiz Fuertes (American, 1874-1927)
watercolor and ink on paper laid on board
inscription in lower margin PLEASE KEEP THIS DRAWING CLEAN
15.25 x 11 in. (image size)
17 x 12.5 in. (board size)
An Ithaca, NY, native, Fuertes both studied and lectured in the ornithology department at Cornell University. In 1911, he embarked on an expedition to Buenaventura, Colombia, with bird curator Frank Chapman and field naturalist Leo E. Miller, both involved with the American Museum of Natural History. It is most likely during this trip that Fuertes drew this depiction of the Cock-of-the-Rock, which was subsequently featured as an illustration in several publications by Miller, including an article titled "In Quest of the Cock-of-the-Rock" (1917) and In the Wilds of South America (1918), a book recounting Miller's travels between 1911 and 1916. The purpose of these expeditions, partly financed by President Theodore Roosevelt after 1913, was "to make zoological studies and gather collections for the Museum [of Natural History], and to take observations and acquire data in the regions explored," as Miller explained in an interview to the New York Times in October 1914. A large amount of Fuertes' paintings and drawings, which are regarded as accurate renditions of South American wildlife and constitute a major contribution to the field of ornithology, are held at Cornell University.
Biographical note from the Cornell University Guide to the Louis Agassiz Fuertes Papers,
New York Times, "Roosevelt Backs Rio Teodoro Quest", October 19th, 1914.
The Leo Miller Collection
Weary from politics and thirsty for danger, Theodore Roosevelt sought adventure to escape his failures of the 1912 election. After a safari in Africa he looked towards South America and a treacherous, unpredictable waterway aptly named the Rio da Duvida or River of Doubt. Death on the scientific crusade was a very real possibility. Many of Roosevelt's friends fretted over his safety. Laughing in the face of peril he replied, "I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and if it necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite prepared to do so." His chortles silenced when the voyage shifted from a confident trek to a harrowing journey. In Candice Miller's book River of Doubt (2005) she explains, "Compared with the creatures of the Amazon, including the Indians whose territory they were invading, they were all – from the lowliest camarada to the former president of the United States – clumsy, conspicuous prey."
Roosevelt traveled with a large entourage of twenty-two men made up of scientists, explorers, camaradas (guides), his son, Kermit, and mammologist, Leo Miller (1887-1952). The American Museum chose Miller for the Roosevelt-Rodon exploration based on his expertise in tropical regions. His delineative notes documented over 450 specimens and 97 different species in several regions including western Matto Grosso, where Roosevelt reportedly wore the spur offered as Lot 221. The collection of mammals he accumulated was the first, and practically only, mammal material the American Museum received from either Brazil or Paraguay at that time. In total, the 900-mile, 40-day excursion gathered 2,000 species of birds and 500 mammals, but the scientific accomplishments came at a cost.
The men barely survived the journey. While traveling, Roosevelt severely gashed his leg. It became infected and almost killed him. In the middle of their route, a fever rendered him unconscious. When he woke, he said, “Boys, I realize some of us are not going to finish this journey. Cherrie, I want you and Kermit to go on. You can get out. I will stop here.” Kermit refused his father’s wishes and pushed on.
Roosevelt returned to the United States sixty pounds lighter, hobbling on a cane, and too weak to speak above a whisper. He did not “leave [his] bones” on the muddy banks of the Rio da Duvida, he did, however, sacrifice some of his life blood. “The Brazilian wilderness stole away 10 years of my life,” confessed Roosevelt. He never fully recovered from his leg injury and suffered almost constant malarial bouts until his death in 1919.
After the expedition, Miller continued to document and explore South America. In a letter included in Lot 220, Roosevelt expressed how very pleased he was that Miller planned to publish his “Tales” from their adventure in his first book, In the Wilds of South America (1918). His experiences inspired several other fictional stories set in the Brazilian wilderness. All of the books including In the Wilds of South America are offered in Lot 220; five are inscribed by Miller.