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 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.
Theodore Roosevelt, like the badger, don’t give a f*ck.
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 really 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.
On the rest of his trip, Josiah proved to be good-natured, even when met with young children who were enchanted by the animal. Roosevelt wrote to his own children to inform them that he’d be bringing the badger home, and that he’d nicknamed Josiah “Josh” for short.
As the Roosevelt family did have plenty of dogs, a badger-specific cage had to be built, including two feet of underground space for him to burrow.
The Roosevelt family with Skip, just one of their many pups.
Roosevelt himself loved setting the badger loose, as Josiah was known for biting ankles, and the family soon learned to stand clear when he was out of his cage.
Archie Roosevelt, who was the second youngest of six children, was nine when Josiah arrived at the White House and laid the best 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.
Though Josiah the badger did come 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 pet raccoon named Rebecca—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?
First Lady Grace Coolidge shows off her pet racoon, Rebecca, at the White House Easter Egg Roll April 18, 1927.
(Courtesy of the George W. Bush White House Archives.)