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National Park in North Dakota


Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy looms large in western North Dakota, where the young, future president ranched and hunted in the Medora Badlands in the 1880s. The National Park in his name cements his place in state history. The efforts to establish a Theodore Roosevelt park in North Dakota reaches back to at least 1921, when the state legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to establish the park around the petrified forest in the Badlands north of Medora.

On this date in 1928, discussions were underway in Medora. The day before, Governor Arthur Sorlie and a delegation of U-S senators of the Senate Public Lands Committee had dedicated a new bridge over the Little Missouri near Watford City in Roosevelt’s memory. They toured the local Badlands and Killdeer Mountains, and continued the expedition the next day, inspecting land for the proposed park.

It was certainly an adventure. Some people rode on horseback, while coaches carried the senators, state officials and other guests over the buttes and through the Badlands to the petrified forest. One of the coaches got stuck in the river while returning to Peaceful Valley Ranch. The eleven passengers were brought to shore on horseback by cowboys, including the wives of Governor Sorlie and Senator Gerald Nye. Horses pulled the empty coach to shore. The Associated Press reported that the 20-mile trip “in the bracing air and brilliant sunshine of the Badlands” had some of the men borrowing cold cream from the women to address sunburn on their faces and necks. 

Sen. Nye led a hearing later that night in a log cabin to gather comments on creating a park. A stream of state and business officials testified in favor. It became clear that a federal appropriation of $1 million would be needed to establish the park of about 600,000 to 700,000 acres along the Little Missouri River. Among the arguments for the park were the Badlands’ scenery and its location between the parks and resorts of Minnesota and Yellowstone Park in Wyoming.  

But competing ideas and changing economic conditions delayed the park from becoming a reality. Decades later, in 1947, President Truman signed the legislation that created Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. Memorial was dropped from the name in 1978, and today the park has three units covering much of the western North Dakota’s Badlands.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Grand Forks Herald. 1921, June 24. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, July 13. Page 6
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, July 14. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1928, July 16. Page 1, 4

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