When you hear the word “Medora,” you cannot help but think about the “Old West” of cattle-ranchers, cow-punchers and wild bronco-busters. Picturesque ‘Medora’ overflows with such frontier connections to Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch and the Little Missouri Badlands.
The Badlands were known as “bad lands to travel over,” because it was difficult to navigate through its fabulous maze of multicolored hills and canyons. The Northern Pacific built its tracks at great expense through the Badlands, which included construction of a bridge over the Little Missouri River. And when the age of automobiles arrived circa 1900-1910, there was no way to get an auto across the river except by loading it onto a railway car or ferryboat.
The Badlands were one of the final barriers facing the coast-to-coast automobile roadway known as the National Parks Transcontinental Highway, advertised as the best pathway to Glacier National Park. This renowned “Red Trail” later became known as U.S. Highway 10 and eventually Interstate-94.
In order to fix this “last unbridged” river crossing, the people of Medora and greater North Dakota raised money by subscription. To build this “great steel and concrete bridge spanning the Little Missouri” would take about $20,000 for a structure “405 feet long, not counting the approaches.”
So, North Dakota’s citizens got to work at fund-raising. Medora, with less than 200 residents, pledged $1,200; Fargo chipped in $2,000; as did towns along the road – Valley City, Bismarck, New Salem, and beyond. Billings County completed the bridge financing in 1915 by using $4,000 of taxpayer money.
Construction workers completed the Little Missouri automobile bridge in the following year. And it was on this date, in 1916, that the Bismarck Tribune reported on the festive dedication of the Medora Bridge. Governor L.B. Hanna came to town in a Chalmers motorcar and delivered a speechifying address emphasizing the need for more “good roads.” The governor’s daughter, Dorothy, christened the bridge by breaking a bottle of “sparkling artesian water” on the railing, because champagne was absolutely prohibited in the dry state. James W. Foley, Medora’s noted poet, recited a lyrical poem entitled “The Building of the Bridge.”
Dedication day “finished with a parade and a [rodeo] round-up in Medora’s natural amphitheater” with “broncho busting, steer roping, and other western stunts, followed by a dance...”
All in all, it was a glorious, red-bandana day, to celebrate Medora’s magnificent Red Trail bridge.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department.
Sources: “Medora Bridge is Formally Dedicated,” Bismarck Tribune, July 25, 1916, p. 1-2.
“Thrilling Address Delivered by J.W. Foley,” Bismarck Tribune, July 26, 1916, p. 4.
“Medora Fights to Retain Billings County Capital,” Bismarck Tribune, October 29, 1916, p. 11.
“Red Trail Bridge Over Little Missouri Spans River at Medora,” Bismarck Tribune, November 19, 1915, p. 6.
“Cities and Individuals Who Swelled Medora Bridge Fund,” Valley City Weekly Time-Record, September 30, 1915, p. 9.
“One Bridge Needed for Long Highway,” Bismarck Tribune, January 26, 1916, p. 8.