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The Maltese Cross Cabin

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The 1904 Lewis and Clark Centennial and Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair, known simply as the World’s Fair, was held in St. Louis. With everything from new foods like ice cream cones to the first Ferris wheel, the fair was a combination of trade show, museum, amusement park, and food court.

On this date in 1904, The Devils Lake Inter-Ocean published a description of the American exhibits on display. The articled called the United States Government Building “a vast storehouse of treasures dear to the heart of every American.” It included displays of historical artifacts like a stagecoach, mixed with displays of modern inventions like typewriters and sewing machines.

A humble log cabin with a connection to the current United States President was tucked away in the Agricultural Building. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” In 1883 he arrived in the Badlands to hunt bison, and left as the owner of the Chimney Butte Ranch. The locals knew the ranch as the Maltese Cross for the brand it used.

Roosevelt had a cabin built of ponderosa pine. With one and a half stories, it was larger than the typical frontier home. It had a kitchen, living room, and bedroom on the first floor, with a sleeping loft for the ranch hands.

Roosevelt was not a Dakota resident for long. He began to sell off his ranching interests in 1887. By 1900, he no longer owned the ranch, but he always identified with his Dakota experience just as North Dakota has always embraced him.

Organizers of North Dakota’s exhibit in the Agriculture Building purchased the cabin, dismantled it, and shipped it to St. Louis. The exhibit was a wild success. The following year the cabin was shipped to Oregon for the Louis and Clark Centennial Exposition. It then traveled back to North Dakota for the State Fair in Fargo.

The cabin then fell on hard times. It spent years on the grounds of the State Capitol in Bismarck where it fell into disrepair. The Daughters of the American Revolution restored it in 1919. Then in 1959 the cabin traveled for the last time. The National Park Service moved it to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where it remains a popular attraction for visitors.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Uncle Sam’s Wonders.” Devils Lake ND. 5/6/1904. Page 10.

Mental Floss. “The Unusual Journey of Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin.” https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/609475/unusual-journey-theodore-roosevelts-maltese-cross-cabin#:~:text=The%20organizers%20of%20the%20North%20Dakota%20exhibit%20at,for%20the%20World%27s%20Fair%20on%20April%2030%2C%201904. Accessed 3/25/2022.

National Park Service. “Maltese Cross Cabin. https://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/historyculture/maltese-cross-cabin.htm Accessed 5/25/2022.

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