The Manliest American Who Ever Lived and the Gun That Didn’t Stop Him

Theodore Roosevelt was one of America’s greatest Presidents

Rugged and fearless, Roosevelt sought out challenges.

Teddy Roosevelt, America’s 26th President, ascended to the job when his boss, William McKinley, succumbed to an assassin’s bullet in September of 1901 (Read the story of his assassination here – The Assassination of William McKinley: Of Hopeless Causes and One Seriously Pathetic Pistol).

Roosevelt’s childhood maladies would have kept a lesser man indoors and soft.

Born a sickly asthmatic child, Roosevelt felt the solution to his weakened condition was adventure, and lots of it. Homeschooled by his parents, Teddy Roosevelt ultimately attended Harvard University and attained fame as a naturalist, hunter, writer, historian, soldier, and politician.

Teddy Roosevelt’s solution to his disabilities was to embrace the wilderness. Mind that trigger finger, Mr. President.

Along the way, Teddy Roosevelt grew to become the paragon of American manliness. Roosevelt is consistently rated among America’s top five most successful Presidents. His first book, The Naval War of 1812, established Roosevelt as a popular writer and respected historian.

Theodore Roosevelt left Washington DC to lead men in combat.

Roosevelt served as a New York state legislator and Assistant Secretary of the Navy before resigning his position to lead the Rough Riders in combat during the Spanish-American War. Consisting predominantly of volunteers from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, this US cavalry unit actually did most of its fighting on foot.

The Rough Riders were a US Cavalry outfit sent to Cuba to fight the Spanish.

Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were sent into battle essentially as a diversion during their famed assault on San Juan Hill. When the assault bogged down, Roosevelt himself mounted on horseback to enhance command and control, seized the initiative and led his men to take the Spanish positions under covering fire from a trio of Gatling guns. Teddy Roosevelt returned to the United States a national hero.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of our most successful chief executives.

Upon his return, Roosevelt signed on as William McKinley’s running mate, and they won in a landslide in 1901. McKinley was assassinated in short order, and Roosevelt became the youngest President in American history at age 42. His initiatives to build the Panama Canal, guarantee safe food and medicines, and establish American National Parks left him fabulously popular. In 1906 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an end of the Russo-Japanese War.

After two terms in office, Roosevelt groomed his friend William Howard Taft for the Presidency. Eventually frustrated with Taft’s brand of politics, Roosevelt unsuccessfully ran against him for his party’s nomination in 1912. He subsequently formed a competing political organization called the Progressive or “Bull Moose” party but failed to reclaim the Presidency.

Roosevelt’s two-year trek through the Amazon basin nearly killed him.

To assuage his disappointment Roosevelt struck out on a two-year Amazon expedition where he nearly died of jungle fever.

Assassination Attempt

Roosevelt was a fiery orator who could work a crowd.

In mid-October of 1912, Roosevelt was campaigning for President in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the Gilpatrick Hotel. After enjoying a meal with the hotel owner Roosevelt left the building for a waiting automobile, waving to the assembled crowd.

John Flammang Schrank was a Bavarian immigrant with some serious psychiatric issues.

Among the throng was a delusional Bavarian-born saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank. Schrank had been stalking the former President for weeks.

This is an early Colt Model 1892 revolver. Teddy Roosevelt wielded an M1892 that had been recovered from the USS Maine sunk in Havana harbor during his time with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.

Schrank rushed the President and produced a .38-caliber Colt revolver. He fired a single round that struck Roosevelt squarely in the chest. Roosevelt stumbled momentarily but then raised his hat and smiled at the crowd. A.O. Girard, a former Rough Rider, and his personal bodyguard, tackled Schrank with the assistance of one of Roosevelt’s male secretaries. When quietly queried as to his condition by his aide Harry Cochems Teddy Roosevelt responded, “Harry, he pinked me a bit.”

The crowd resolved to lynch Schrank on the spot. Roosevelt responded, “Don’t hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him.”

The two men looked each other in the eye and the former President said flatly, “What did you do it for?”

Getting no response Roosevelt said, “Poor creature. Officers, take charge of him, and see that there is no violence done to him.”

With that Teddy Roosevelt’s would-be assassin was remanded to justice.

The Weapon

The Colt Police Positive Special was an evolutionary advancement over earlier Colt single action/double action revolvers.

The revolver that John Schrank wielded that night was a .38-caliber Colt Police Positive Special, a small frame double action six-shot wheelgun that was in common use at the time.

Colt marketed the Police Positive Special widely as a Law Enforcement sidearm.

Primarily intended for Law Enforcement applications, the Police Positive Special was the most popular Colt revolver ever made with more than 750,000 in service. Introduced in 1908, the Police Positive Special came in 4, 5, and 6-inch versions.

The Police Positive Special was both compact and portable.

The lightweight Police Positive Special was renowned for its fast handling characteristics. The gun incorporated Colt’s “Positive Lock” safety mechanism that prevented the firing pin from contacting the primer unless the trigger was pulled. The sights consisted of an ample blade up front and a fixed groove in the rear.

Colt produced this tidy little wheelgun in a variety of configurations.

The gun was available in four different .32 and .38-caliber chamberings.

The Wound

The Colt Police Positive Special was designed to be a man stopper. Its failure, in this case, was intriguing to all involved.

You’re likely wondering at this point, as did those around him at the time, how Teddy Roosevelt could just shrug off a center of mass shot delivered at close range by the most popular Law Enforcement handgun in the world at the time. Fortuitously, Roosevelt was about to deliver a lengthy speech at a nearby venue. The speech, titled “Progressive Cause Greater Than Any Individual,” was fifty typewritten pages and folded double in his breast pocket over his reading glasses.

These blurred images were the best I could find of the items in Teddy Roosevelt’s pocket that slowed the assassin’s bullet.

The bullet transited the folded speech as well as his eyeglasses and their metal case before digging into Roosevelt’s pectoral muscle. The bullet stopped just short of his lungs. As an avid hunter and globetrotting naturalist Roosevelt would have realized this at the time. Despite the admonition of those around him, Roosevelt insisted on presenting his speech before he accepted medical attention.

Roosevelt subsequently spoke for ninety minutes with blood steadily seeping from his fresh wound. He launched his speech extemporaneously with, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” The crowd purportedly went wild.

The bullet was too deep to retrieve safely so Roosevelt carried it in his chest until he died. When queried later about the projectile he nonchalantly claimed, “I do not mind it any more than if it were in my waistcoat pocket.” What a stud.

The Assassin

Schrank claimed to have been inspired by the ghost of William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt’s predecessor.

John Schrank claimed that he attempted the assassination after having been directed in a dream to do so by the ghost of Roosevelt’s predecessor, William McKinley. Schrank asserted that he harbored no ill will toward Roosevelt as a citizen, but rather wanted to prevent his securing a third term as President, something that, to many, smacked of kingship. Schrank subsequently lived out his remaining days in an insane asylum.

Trigger Time

My Colt revolver is a well-worn Model 1892 that is mechanically similar to the Police Positive Special wielded by John Schrank.

The Colt Police Positive Special is indeed a svelte and agile handgun. The double action/single action trigger is dreamy smooth and the gun points naturally. As the gun fires rimmed cartridges the star-shaped ejector removes all six empties quickly.

The Colt single action/double action revolver was fast for its day.

The cylinder release on double action Colt revolvers must be drawn to the rear. This makes the act of breaking the gun open for reloading incrementally more tedious than the same chore with a Smith and Wesson wheelgun. However, the pistol remained in production until 1995. Literally, generations of American civilians and lawmen did just fine with it.

The .38 Special cartridge carries a lot of power. It is shown here on the left alongside a brace of 9mm Parabellum rounds.

The Rest of the Story

Woodrow Wilson took advantage of the conflict between Roosevelt and Taft to win the Presidency.

Things were different back then. Both Taft and Wilson suspended their campaigning until Roosevelt had recuperated sufficiently to return to the campaign trail. Not unlike Ross Perot and George H.W. Bush in 1992, Roosevelt and Taft split their bloc’s vote in 1912 and ushered in Woodrow Wilson as President. After his defeat and perilous trek through the Amazon basin, Roosevelt continued in politics but never quite regained his previous fire.

President Theodore Roosevelt, shown here with a bull elephant he has just killed in Africa, lived life to the full.

Roosevelt suffered a blood clot and pulmonary embolism in 1919 that killed him in his sleep. He was 60 years old. His political rival Woodrow Wilson was quoted as having said, “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake there would have been a fight.”

At Roosevelt’s death, John Schrank expressed remorse and said that he believed Roosevelt to have been a great American. Schrank’s psychiatrist diagnosed him with “insane delusions that are grandiose in character.” Upon his death in 1943 Schrank’s body was donated to the Marquette University Medical School for anatomical dissection.

Quentin Roosevelt was an Allied fighter pilot during WWI. He was credited with shooting down a German plane in combat.

The Roosevelt name loomed large in subsequent American history. His youngest son Quentin was shot down flying a Nieuport 28 in World War I. Quentin was the only son of an American President ever to be killed in military action.

Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. landed on Utah beach with the first assault wave.

His eldest son, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., won the Medal of Honor leading American troops ashore on Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion in World War II.

Kermit Roosevelt Jr. was a covert CIA operative who helped topple the government of Iran.

Roosevelt’s grandson Kermit Roosevelt Jr. served as a Special Activities Division paramilitary operative for the CIA and coordinated Operation Ajax, the clandestine initiative that helped overthrow the government of Iran in 1953. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was Teddy’s fifth cousin. FDR’s wife Eleanor was also his niece.

Theodore Roosevelt fathered a robust family of remarkable individuals.

They really don’t make them like Teddy Roosevelt anymore. This was the President’s personal taxidermy kit.

President Theodore Roosevelt was a true American hero.

Courageous, gifted, driven, and inspirational, Theodore Roosevelt was the very image of the American Rugged Individualist. His efforts in the fields of politics, naturalism, and conservation benefit us even today. If ever there was a paragon of American manhood it was President Teddy Roosevelt.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Ray October 25, 2019, 9:12 pm

    That side of the Roosevelt Family were all fully certified BadassesI met Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth in Washington D.C. when I was a teenager and the first words were “Ray cousin Walker said you do not have a kind word for anyone” sit I cannot abide boring people.” Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth was a beautiful in her wit and wisdom.

  • Mike Jackson July 16, 2019, 5:51 pm

    Do I ever get tired of these America-hating idiots who try to tear down every notable American, rub crap on every major American accomplishment, and ascribe the filthiest of motives to every selfless act any of us have ever given the world. Read down thru the comments to see what I’m referring to.

    America haters, why don’t you move to France. Or Russia. Or China. Someplace where your stupid ideas will fit in.

  • Mark January 15, 2019, 7:32 pm

    Great article. Written very well

  • Scotty Gunn January 14, 2019, 7:14 pm

    “Progressive Cause Greater Than Any Individual”
    Despite Teddy’s bravado, he was a progressive, the same we have today trying to oust Trump.

    • Al January 15, 2019, 1:58 pm

      You don’t understand how the word’s meaning has changed through the years, simply NOT the same at all.

  • Christopher Schubert January 14, 2019, 5:24 pm

    Great article, Will. A most enjoyable and educational read. Thanks for taking the time to research and share this story about a great man and president.

  • Stanley Wilson January 14, 2019, 5:02 pm

    I enjoyed reading this well written article. Although it may not be entirely accurate, the authors style should not inflame anyone. Any student of history knows that there will always be differences of opinions about certain things that happened more than a century ago, for instance: Where was Christopher Columbus buried? There is a good argument he was buried in the Dominican Republic and there is another good argument stating he was buried in Spain.

  • Gilbert Wilson, MD January 14, 2019, 3:55 pm

    “Bully!” T.R. remains an iconic masculine figure of his epoch. Those who have sullied his reputation with the juxtapositions of our Pax Americana smug values with his tumultuous Industrial Age fed aggressive nationalism & colonial expansive times may yet live to see how fragile peace is without force to sustain it.

    That he approached challenges and dilemmas with somber, sober and often harsh solutions affirms his position as a strong leader. Often forgotten was his personal transformation to full respect for 10th Cavalry Buffalo soldiers based on their witnessed heroism in the taking of San Juan Hill under withering direct fire. One of his White House guests for dinner was Booker T. Washington, the FIRST “Negro” to have had that honor. The hellfire reaction from intolerant fellow political party members was equal in intensity only by the reactions to T.R.’s stance as a Trust Busting “class traitor”.

    So get over your critical, myopic disrespect for T.R. He was a man above most, if not in his totality all. Courage, honor, duty, productivity, progeny, fidelity, intellectually, vitality, strength, charisma, leadership, patriotism, words few of us can honestly claim as our legacy to account for our time on this Earth. I dare say even less so for those who deny T.R. with their inaccurate ad hominem attacks on his character.

  • alex January 14, 2019, 1:19 pm

    i wonder what old Teddy would say about the bunch of thieving,lying,back stabbing bunch of sexual deviates that make up our so called leaders in washington today.

    • Ray October 25, 2019, 9:20 pm

      Something very negative but very clean he had an excellent vocabulary it would go very the heads of the Swamp Dwellers!!!

  • Mike in a Truck January 14, 2019, 1:13 pm

    Well I guess some people never heard of the Islamic tribesman that knew how to butcher people very well.Pershing seems to have had a bit of a tussle with them.As far as TR taking one round to the chest.He was lucky-imagine today where thugs empty a whole magazine at their target.Sometimes they even manage hit someone.

  • Michael J January 14, 2019, 1:00 pm

    For some unknown reason we expect our President to be perfect in every way.
    Everyone has dirt in their lives, it’s just how deep do you want to dig to find it?
    Great article, something that they don’t teach in public schools anymore.

  • Mark Johnson January 14, 2019, 12:41 pm

    I appreciate the efforts to teach me more of history, even the statements which most say are wrong. I did not respect the subject in public school, and have much to learn.

    The idea that Roosevelt was a mini-Hitler, does seem beyond the pale.

  • Doug January 14, 2019, 11:24 am

    Just to clarify an earlier comment from someone else: United States Army Brigadier General, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient was the eldest son of 26th United States President Theodore Roosevelt, he graduated from Harvard University, and became a businessman and investor. He served in the United States Army during World War I and World War II. In World War II he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, and served as assistant commander of the United States Army’s 4th Infantry Division during the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings at Normandy, France. He was the only general officer to land with the invasion forces that day, and led his men through France through the next month before he died of a heart attack. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on D-Day.

  • Carl Peal January 14, 2019, 10:48 am

    Not one person on this earth is perfect. We all have flaws. However, corrections are in order. President Roosevelt was born Theodore Roosevelt Jr. after his father. His son of the same name would have been the third. Also, Brigadier General Roosevelt died during the Normandie campaign in France, thus the second son of Teddy’s to die due to war. Despite negative opinions, TR was truly an American Lion. He did much good such as the Food and Drug Administration, creating protected marshes for birds, busting up trusts. He was considered a traitor to Republicans for his views. But on the whole, he was a good man, and a great President. Just my humble opinion.

    • Mike Jackson July 16, 2019, 5:58 pm

      The Republicans who considered TR a traitor were mad because he wanted to restrict rich companies from forming business monopolies. Having a monopoly on a certain product or service meant one could jack up the price to the public, far above what you could get if your business had any competitors.

      TR was only regarded as a traitor by those who believed the rich should have unrestricted rights to rip off their fellow Americans

      He was definitely a friend of those who wanted a fair market and equal playing field.

  • Jeffrey January 14, 2019, 10:10 am

    Man is a creature that will commit sin. The sins are often greater with heavier and bigger responsibilities. Teddy Roosevelt was no exception. Every country has and will continue to commit wrongs. There is no perfect countries; and most have committed such acts as they pushed to expand. The old adage, ‘a person who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones fits here. And as Jesus said, to the Pharisees, who were about to stone a harlot, to see if they could trap him, “Let him that is WITHOUT SIN cast the first stone.” Note that EVERYONE walked away! No, I’m not justifying his actions. I’m merely pointing out that everyone has faults, no matter how great. Besides that, he was a great example in many ways and still gave us things we should be proud of. He was a great man.

  • Ron Winship January 14, 2019, 9:17 am

    The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.
    The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902 – Office of the Historian
    https://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/war

  • Pat January 14, 2019, 9:09 am

    I believe there is an inconsistency in the article in that the weapon used to shoot Roosevelt was a Colt Police Positive, not the Police Positive Special. The 38 Colt Police Positive cartridge was a flat nosed version of the .38 S&W cartridge and was chambered in both the Police Positive and the Police Positive Special. The Police Positive Special, however, had a lengthened cylinder to accept the, then new and more powerful, .38 S&W Special cartridge which we now usually refer to as the 38 Special. The cartridge pictured is the 38 Special but I believe Roosevelt was shot with the 38 Colt Police Positive round.

  • Earl Haehl January 14, 2019, 8:24 am

    Theodore Roosevelt may have had flaws, may have had detractors, and may have represented imperialism, but we have never seen his like in the White House since. He was “a force of nature.” While I disagree with some of his political views, he is the only intellect comparable to Jefferson among the Presidents. He entered Harvard already published in scientific journals. He surrounded himself with strong advisers and could deal with leaders as an equal. He was nominated as Vice-President to prevent him from a second term as governor of New York. He would have won in 1908 had he run and again in 1912 and ’16. He had the respect of nations and might have negotiated a solution to the European War that did not set the stage for the later world wide conflagration. When he, Pulitzer and Hearst got the US into the War with Spain, he chose to go where the fighting was.

  • Mike January 14, 2019, 6:11 am

    Teddy did all these things to be certain- but let’s also include his genocidal reign over the South Pacific. He directly ordered and lauded the slaughter of over 4 million innocent civilians in a six month period. Let that sink in for a moment.

    In a day where weapons were far less powerful, that meant this killing of civilians was carried out at the tip of a bayonet, around the clock for six months straight at a horrifying clip.

    He bragged that the Philippine people lacked the intelligence and capability for self governance, so therefore they deserved subjugation as a lesser race to the white man. He went so far as to build a massive display at the world’s fair complete with live Philippine slaves on display.

    Despite his thirst for adventure, this is not a man to model oneself after. I’m a patriot to this country and despise people who want to tear down it’s proud history; but this was not a man who represented the values of what an American man stands for. We stood and fought those values in WWII at great cost to our nation.

    • Roger Waynewright January 14, 2019, 7:18 am

      Those Philippines had it coming and you know it.

    • DIRTSAILOR67 January 14, 2019, 7:25 am

      Go change your tampon and quit being a whiny bitch

    • Mike V January 14, 2019, 7:38 am

      He directly ordered the death of four million civilians in a sixth month period?

      I’m not a history expert, but I for sure never heard that claim even from people who don’t like us.

      Not saying your wrong, just have never heard it before.

    • Pat January 14, 2019, 9:04 am

      Authorizing battle against insurgents is not ordering the deaths of thousands. The multiple insurrections at the time were indications that the Philippines were not ready for self government. Between tribal and religious differences, the people of the Philippines had been fighting since before the Spanish arrived there. That fighting continued, to a diminishing extent, until the Japanese invasion of the islands.

    • TomD January 14, 2019, 9:16 am

      “…but let’s also include his genocidal reign over the South Pacific. He directly ordered and lauded the slaughter of over 4 million innocent civilians in a six month period”

      Lies.

      1) The war between the U.S. and the Philippines lasted from February 4, 1899 to July 2, 1902, a period of 3 and a half years. Aside from ordering Dewey’s fleet to Manila in 1898, Roosevelt had no direct say in the events there until he became President on September 14, 1901 (i.e, the last 10 months of a 41 month long war)

      2) The direct Filipino combat casualties are estimated at 16,000. Perhaps 200,000 and as many as 1 million civilians died due to famine and cholera as a result of the war, but that was not in any way intentional or genocidal. The 4 million figure is ridiculous.

      3) The Philippines are NOT in the South Pacific. The only American possession that is is American Samoa.

      All lies.

    • DIRTSAILOR67 January 14, 2019, 11:03 am

      Your number are off by an estimated 95 %.

      You must work for the GAO with number fudging like that, you f&*k#ng idiot.

    • Mike USN Ret January 14, 2019, 3:43 pm

      Geography note–The Philippines are in the north Pacific.

    • Lance February 3, 2020, 2:24 pm

      “That’s not just a lie, it’s a damned lie!”

  • Alex January 14, 2019, 5:33 am

    You don’t win the Medal Of Honor. You are awarded the Medal Of Honor.

    • Lance's February 3, 2020, 2:25 pm

      Excellent point! And poorly understood by our citizens.

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