President Theodore Roosevelt and his family were prolific pet owners during their lifetimes. But they didn’t keep just the regular old dogs and cats (even though one of their cats, Slippers, was polydactyl) – they kept a fair number of exotic pets as well. One such pet was Josiah the badger.
Josiah was introduced to President Roosevelt while the President was on a railroad tour of the American West. When the train rolled into Sharon Springs, Kansas, Roosevelt did his “Presidential” duties – making speeches, visiting with residents, and even attending church. On his last day in Sharon Springs, rumor has it that a 12-year-old girl named Pearl Gorsuch approached him and shyly asked if he would like to have a badger.
President Roosevelt must have answered in the affirmative, perhaps thinking to humor her. However, Pearl ran off and soon returned with a 2-week-old badger (and the rest of her family.) Roosevelt offered a tour of his private railroad car and gifted Pearl with a locket and a carnation. He then took the baby badger from Pearl’s father, Josiah.
“As Roosevelt was examining the tiny badger, it began to nibble on his finger. He was delighted.
‘Bother politics,” Roosevelt said. “This last day in Kansas is the best of them all,’” reports Beccy Tanner in the Wichita Eagle.
When the train rolled out, baby Josiah was aboard, resting comfortably in his own cage in the President’s car. In a letter to his son Kermit, Roosevelt talks about the “treasures” he has collected on this trip: “One treasure, by the way, is a very small badger which I named Josiah, and he is now called Josh for short. He is very cunning and I hold him in my arms and pet him.” The President expresses his hope that the baby badger will grow up to be friendly, and tells Kermit that they are feeding Josiah milk and potatoes.
Josiah did indeed prove himself to be good natured. He is described by Roosevelt as being good-natured. This was a good thing, as Josiah was often greeted with excitement by children of all ages.
One thing the Roosevelts knew that they’d have to watch was their other pets’ reactions to Josiah. To them, he was potentially dinner. To protect Josiah, the Roosevelt constructed a sturdy cage perfect for the little badger. “To save him from the numerous dogs of the family we have him a large cage with a wire top and a board bottom and sides two feet underground,” Roosevelt wrote to John Burroughs in a letter dated July 6th, 1903. “He was perfectly delighted with the chance to dig burrows and has made them just as elaborate as the space at his disposal would permit.”
Roosevelt loved the antics of the little badger, and would often let him loose from the cage. The family and staff soon learned, however, that Josiah would make a beeline for the closest leg to take a good nip so it was wise to stand clear. In his book Theodore Roosevelt, The Citizen, author Jacob August Riis describes one incident involving Josiah and his penchant for nipping:
“I wish I could have shown you him one morning last summer when, having vainly chased the President and all the children, he laid siege to Archie in the hammock. Archie was barelegged and prudently stayed where he was, but the hammock hung within a few inches of the grass. Josiah promptly made out a strategic advantage there, and went for the lowest point of it with snapping jaws. Archie’s efforts to shift continually his center of gravity while watching his chance to grab the badger by its defenseless back, was one of the funniest performances I ever saw.”
Archie was known to say that Josiah bit legs sometimes, “but never bites faces.”
Unfortunately, as time passed, Josiah’s temper seemed to sour. It could be that the bustle of the White House was just too much for him. His nips grew less friendly and the Roosevelt family found him a new home at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. So that Josiah would know he was not abandoned, the Roosevelts made it a point to visit him often.