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Elkhorn Ranch & Cowboy Life

Theodore Roosevelt’s residency in Dakota Territory began in June of 1884 when he saddled up for the life of a cowboy and rancher. In the wake of his wife and mother’s same-day deaths, the despondent 24-year old from New York found healing and solace in the Badlands and a lifetime connection with the people of the wild West.

“My ranch house was built mainly by my guides, Bill Sewall and Will Dow, who like most men of the Maine woods were mighty with an axe. I could chop fairly well for an amateur, but I could not do one third the work they could do. We began by cutting down our Cottonwood trees. One time I heard someone ask Dow what the total tree count had been. Dow, not realizing I was within hearing distance, replied, ‘Well, I cut down 53, Bill cut down 47 and the boss – he beavered down 13.’ Those of you who have seen the stump of a tree gnawed down by a beaver will understand the full force of the comparison. I do not see how anyone could have lived a more comfortably. We had bear skins and buffalo robes of our own killing … and plenty to eat. Moreover, we had milk! I knew more than one ranch with ten thousand head of cattle, but not a single cow to be milked. We decided to be more enterprising and domesticate some of our wild cows. Our first effort was not successful. To race a cow two miles at full speed on horseback, then rope her, throw her, and turn her upside down to milk her, while exhilarating as a pastime, was not productive of results. Gradually we accumulated tame cows, and after we had thinned out the bobcats and the coyotes, more chickens. In that land we held a free and hardy life and ours was the spirit of work and the joy of living!”

Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

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