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Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands


Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States on September 14, 1901, and later said, “I have always said I never would have been president were it not for my experiences in North Dakota.”

Roosevelt first arrived in Dakota Territory on September 7, 1883, traveling to Little Missouri, a train stop on the Little Missouri River near present-day Medora.

He came to hunt buffalo and other wild game and fell in love with the Dakota Badlands. Within three weeks of his arrival, he bought an interest in the Maltese Cross Ranch and 150 head of cattle. He returned to New York, leaving Sylvane Ferris and William Merrifield to operate the ranch.

After the deaths of his wife and mother, Roosevelt returned to the Badlands in the spring of 1884 and established a second ranch, the Elkhorn, north of Medora. He took part in round ups and other ranch activities and hunted.

By August, Roosevelt had 1,600 head of cattle and had helped form the Little Missouri Stockmen’s Association to prevent livestock rustling, serving as chairman in 1884 and 1885 and president in 1886.

Ranch life restored Roosevelt’s fragile health, and he enjoyed life in Dakota, once saying, “I had studied a lot about men and things before I saw you fellows. But it was only when I came here that I began to know anything, or measure men rightly.”

In 2001, Tweed Roosevelt said of his great-grandfather, “He felt his experiences in the Badlands, initially as a sportsman hunter and later as a rancher, ‘took the snob out of him’ and taught him to see people as worthy based on their character and accomplishments, rather than on their economic worth, formal education or social standings.”

The fall of 1886 found Roosevelt in New York, remarried and in politics. The winter of 1886-1887 was disastrous for many western Dakota ranchers, and it cost Roosevelt two-thirds of his cattle and about $50,000.

By 1892, he had abandoned the Elkhorn Ranch and shifted activities to the Maltese Cross. He sold his Maltese share in 1897 and his remaining cattle in 1899.

After the Spanish American War, Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York in 1898 and Vice-president of the United States in 1900. He became President after McKinley’s assassination on September 14, 1901, and elected in his own right in 1904. Roosevelt returned to North Dakota remained prominent in politics until his death on January 6, 1919.

In 1946, 29,920 acres of the North Dakota Badlands became the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge and later the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park.

by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.