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That Time A Badger Lived In The White House

Any surprise it was under the beloved Rough Rider?

President Theodore Roosevelt is known for being a Rough Rider, a trust-buster, and coining the infamous phrase, "Walk softly, but carry a big stick." He also turned the White House into a veritable menagerie during his stay there. He, of course, had plenty of cats and dogs, but he was also known for keeping guinea pigs for his children, and several of his sons had rabbits as well as a bright blue macaw named Eli Yale.

Arguably his most exotic pet, and probably the most unpredictable animal to inhabit the White House, was a real-life badger.

Related: The Long and Curious History of Ship Cats 

While on a railroad tour through the West, President Roosevelt stayed for several days in Sharon Springs, Kansas. After he'd fulfilled his presidential duties of talking with residents and giving speeches, he was getting ready to head further west when a girl named Pearl Gorsuch, who was twelve years old at the time, came up to him to ask if he'd like a badger.

Not exactly your average fan gift.

Whether the president didn't actually think she was serious, or if he was immediately ready to take a badger on a train ride, no one's quite sure. But when Pearl returned, she had with her a two-week-old badger–as well as the rest of her family.

Roosevelt graciously showed the family (and accompanying badger) around his private rail car and gave Pearl a locket and a carnation as a thank you. When he took the badger, he was delighted when it started nibbling on his fingers. He named the badger Josiah after Pearl's father and took it with him in his private car.

Related: How War Pigeons Changed the Course of Battle–and History 

theodore roosevelt badger
  • The Roosevelt Family.

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Roosevelt himself loved setting the badger loose, and Josiah was soon known for biting ankles. The family quickly learned to stand clear when he was out of his cage.

Archie Roosevelt, who was the second youngest of the six Roosevelt children, was nine when Josiah arrived at the White House and laid claim to the animal. He would walk around the grounds holding Josiah around the waist. When Teddy expressed concern that Josiah might take advantage of the positioning to bite Archie's face, Archie insisted that little Josh only bit legs, not faces.

Related: 12 Books That Offer Perspectives on the Presidents 

Though Josiah the badger came home with a penchant for nipping but an overall friendly demeanor, he eventually lost his pleasant attitude. He may have grown overwhelmed by the bustle of the Roosevelt's White House, or just succumbed to his primal nature, but whichever reason, the result was the same.

The Roosevelt family had him placed in the Bronx Zoo in New York, which was probably for the best both for the animal and the family. However, they continued to visit him, just to make sure he didn't develop any abandonment issues.

Though each president has had different pet preferences—the Coolidge family actually had a pair of raccoons named Rebecca and Reuben—it's safe to say that Teddy Roosevelt came the closest to running a zoo out of the White House. But really, who'd refuse a little girl in a small town in Kansas handing you a baby badger?

Published on 02 Jul 2019

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