If You Go Down to the Woods Today

History Today, March 2007 | Go to article overview

If You Go Down to the Woods Today


CHILDREN'S DOLLS, WHEN NOT IN HUMAN FORM, have often been based on cartoon characters, from Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Bonzo the Dog and Bugs Bunny in the 1920s and 30s to Snoopy, Garfield and Pingu in more recent times. Bears have also been popular--Rupert, Winnie the Pooh and Paddington being celebrated examples. Most of these were originally designed as merchandizing spin-offs from comic strips, children's books or animated films that were read or watched by children. It is extremely rare for a child's toy to derive from a political cartoon as these are aimed at adults. However, one of the most popular children's toys of all time had its origins in a political cartoon published in the Washington Post in 1902. It concerned the Republican US President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), was drawn by the paper's editorial cartoonist Clifford Berryman, and the soft toy it gave birth to was the Teddy Bear.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Clifford Kennedy Berryman (1869-1949) was the tenth of eleven children of James T. Berryman and was born on April 2nd, 1869, in Clifton, Kentucky in the USA. His father owned a general store and entertained his children by sketching caricatures of local personalities on the shop's wrapping paper. Clifford inherited his father's skill at drawing and in 1886 became a draughtsman in the US Patent Office in Washington DC.

Berryman continued to sketch cartoons in his spare time and in 1891, soon after having a drawing accepted by the Washington Post for $35, he left the Patent Office to join the paper as a staff cartoonist. Berryman later became chief political cartoonist on the Washington Evening Star and remained there for more than thirty years (190749), winning a Pulitzer Prize for a wartime cartoon about Franklin D. Roosevelt ('But Where is the Boat Going?' August 29th, 1943). In 1949 he suffered a stroke while at work in his office and died a month later on December 11th, aged sixty. (He was succeeded at the Evening Star by his son, James, who also later won a Pulitzer Prize for his own political cartoon work.)

Despite his countless drawings during the First and Second World Wars, Berryman is still best known for his 'Teddy Bear' cartoon. It came about as a result of a trip made by President Theodore Roosevelt, a keen hunter and sportsman, to the southern states of the USA in November 1902. He had been invited by the Governor of Mississippi, Andrew Longino, to settle a dispute about the borderline between Mississippi and the neighbouring state of Louisiana. While in the area the President accepted an invitation by his host to go out bear-hunting.

The hunting trip took place near the town of Smedes on the Little Sunflower River in Sharkey County, Mississippi. On the afternoon of Saturday November 15th, 1902, after an unsuccessful morning, the party stopped for lunch while their guide, Holt Collier--an expert African-American hunter who had been a scout for the Confederate Army in the American Civil War--continued tracking with his dogs. Collier eventually caught up with a large 2351b old American black bear and cornered it at a watering-hole. Here the exhausted bear managed to kill one of the hounds before being knocked unconscious by Collier who clubbed it over the head with the butt of his rifle. He then lassoed it around the neck, tied the half-dead animal to a nearby oak tree and blew his bugle to alert the hunting party.

When Roosevelt arrived he was presented with the bear and invited to shoot it so that he could have a trophy to take home. However, confronted by the stunned and bleeding bear the President is alleged to have said: 'Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal.' The press quickly picked up on this apparent act of generosity and the Sunday papers were full of tales of his sportsmanship and magnanimous conduct. What they failed to mention was that Roosevelt did not set the animal free but instead ordered it to be put out of its misery. …

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