Theodore Roosevelt and his traveling companion Russell J. Coles. Southwest Florida Historical Society photo
Theodore Roosevelt and his traveling companion Russell J. Coles. Southwest Florida Historical Society photo

It is no surprise, nor does it produce shock and awe to island folks when a prominent or celebrated person visits the beaches of Captiva. For others, however, it becomes a media circus with television crews, tourists trying to snap that elusive shot and newspaper reporters wanting to get the personal interview. In 1913, when the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, embarked on a vacation to Captiva, one resident, Margaret Mickle, was determined to meet him.

Famous Photo

In numerous books regarding Captiva history, there is always a page or two on the subject of Roosevelt’s visits to the small island. One of the heartwarming stories that never fades from island lore is that of 10-year-old Margaret Mickle, below left, a young girl on a mission to meet the president all because her friend Eunice Hussey asked her to.

In 1913, four years after finishing his second presidential term, Roosevelt led a major expedition to the Amazon, and included in his itinerary, a fishing trip to Captiva. Roosevelt and Russell J. Coles, a scientist who traveled with the former head of state, anchored offshore to fish for devilfish and sharks. What they got was “an unusual visit from a small young lady with curiosity, dripping wet,” according to Florence Fritz in her book “The Unknown Story of World Famous Sanibel & Captiva.”

Fritz recalls the account of the visit:

Margaret Mickle, SW FL Historical Soc.Sallying forth in a leaky rowboat she [Margaret Mickle and her friend Paul Gore] headed for the Roosevelt barge. Row as she would, disaster dogged her journey. At length, holding her camera high and dry, she swam the rest of the distance, leaving her boat to sink. [Paul swam back to shore].

No strangers were allowed aboard the floating Roosevelt-Cole domicile, but as she approached it, the crew, observing her plight, fished her out of the Sound like a drowning kitten.

Clutching her camera, with puddle[s] around her on the deck, she inquired loudly: “Where’s Teddy?”

The crew advised her no one could bother him.

She wailed. “All my life I wanted to shake a president’s hand, and I’m not about to leave without doing it now!”

The commotion brought Roosevelt to the deck, roaring with laughter. “Anyone who calls me ‘Teddy’ can see me,” he said.

Waving aside the crew, he invited Maggie in for a bite to eat.

Mickle met the president and snapped a picture for her friend. Roosevelt also accepted an invitation to Mickle’s house for dinner. Over the years the two became friends, writing about “half a dozen letters,” according Margaret Mickle. In an article she wrote in 1991, she recalled that he gave her “a pair of slippers made from fish skin, an autographed copy of the photo she took of him and Cole, and a .22 rifle.” For the rest of her life she never understood why Roosevelt gave her a rifle.

1917 Trip to Captiva

The former president returned to Captiva four years later in March 1917. Again he traveled with Russell Cole and was fishing for devilfish and sharks. He arrived in Punta Gorda and made a quick speech in which he joked that he cared “not for the excitement of battling with one of the deep sea denizens, but [would] rest and derive pleasure from seeing Mr. Cole do the strenuous work.”

The party then boarded the steamer Wallace and made its way to the island for a 10-day day period. Shortly after catching two devilfish, a telegram arrived via Hal Frierson and a “group of ladies.” They were stopped and informed that Roosevelt was sick, “but on finding there were ladies in the party,” reported the local paper, “Mr. Roosevelt came out and greeted them.”

The telegram was an invitation for him to visit Fort Myers. Roosevelt declined, stating that he had business in New York at the beginning of the week.

Roosevelt Drowned?

A few days into his fishing outing, rumors around Fort Myers and Punta Gorda were that Roosevelt had drowned. The headline for the March 28 edition of the paper was “Rumor Current That Roosevelt Been Drowned.”

This caused considerable excitement throughout Fort Myers, as officials tried to verify the rumor and the source. In Punta Gorda, where Roosevelt had a headquarters set up, no staff member had no knowledge of “any such misfortune.” Officials at Punta Rassa and Boca Grande “believed that the rumor was the result of vivid imagination on the part of someone somewhere.”

Later in the afternoon, William Stanley Hanson (representing Senator Charles A. Stadler), Walter P. Franklin, County Judge H. L. Williamson, E. W. Ashmead, and Tom Colcord headed to Captiva in a speedboat to investigate the alleged drowning.

His demise greatly exaggerated

Upon arriving at Roosevelt’s camp, the search party found him dictating to his secretary. They explained the reason for their unsolicited visit and handed the former president a bundle of newspapers that referenced his rumored drowning. “You may say,” he told them, “in the words of Mark Twain, the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated.” After sharing a laugh about the news, Roosevelt proceeded to show the gentlemen a devilfish he caught measuring 18 feet and two inches.

A day after the rumors of his drowning were put to rest, an urgent telegram reached Roosevelt informing him that America was going to enter WWI. He immediately cut short his fishing adventure by a couple of days. At Punta Gorda he said to a crowd that had gathered, “There are only two classes in America now, Americans and Anti-Americans. I care not what a man’s religion or politics may be if he is only a red-blooded American.” He then shook hands with the musicians of the Dixie Orchestra and many citizens that assembled on the platform. They waved him farewell as the Pullman car departed the station heading north.





Unaware of Roosevelt’s quick departure from the island was Dr. Walter S. Turner. The two had become friends during the former president’s first visit. Upon returning home, Dr. Turner found a message pinned to his front door. In the note, Roosevelt expressed what a fine time he had, how much he thought of Captiva, and promised to return.

Teddy left memories

Less than two years after he cut short his trip to the island, Theodore Roosevelt died unexpectedly at his home, Sagamore Hill, on Jan. 6, 1919. The cause of death was a blood clot that detached from a vein and entered his lungs.

Saddened by the news of his passing, Captiva residents will always have their Margaret Mickle story, along with her photo and memories of his fishing trips to share with future generations of islanders. 

 




About the author

T.M. Jacobs, authorT.M. Jacobs is a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Florida Historical Society, member of the Corporate Board of the Gulf CoastWriters Assoc. and president owner of Jacobs Writing Consultants in Fort Myers. A student of the American Revolution, he is the author of several historical works, including the recently published Almost Home: The 1864 Diary of Sergeant Samuel E. Grosvenor. The book is available at amazon.com and has been featured in both the Santiva Chronicle and on CSPAN2's Book TV.