Return to The Elkhorn Ranch
On this date in 1890, Theodore Roosevelt returned to Medora for his last substantial visit to his Elkhorn Ranch. Arriving with his wife Edith, two sisters and three other companions, the party was met with heavy rain at the train station. Roosevelt's ranch managers Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield were there to meet them.
After a visit to Joe Ferris's store, the group made its way at dawn to the ranch, 33 miles north across rugged badlands. This was Edith Roosevelt's first and only visit to her husband's ranch, built in 1884 along the Little Missouri River. With no road, the party had to cross the river 23 times.
By noon the ranch was in sight, and Edith's initial attitude about the landscape improved with the better light. The ranch house was 60 feet long and 30 feet wide with two stories and a sloped roof. The house featured eight rooms, including Roosevelt's master bedroom, containing a rubber bathtub and library.
Bill Merrifield's wife provided lunch, and then Theodore gave a tour. They climbed the countryside and encountered rattlesnakes and prairie dogs. Theodore's sister Corinne tried to wrangle a calf while Edith rode a horse named Wire Fence. They watched cowboys lasso heifers for branding, and explored the meadows and the scenic landscape.
Like her husband, Edith Roosevelt came to appreciate the badlands, though the area impacted the future president much more. Through living, ranching and hunting in North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt gained a respect for the outdoors and conservation. The West's landscape and people helped him recover following the twin deaths of his mother and first wife, and he later credited North Dakota with enabling him to be president.
The Roosevelt party left the ranch one week later, heading west to Yellowstone Park. While Edith would never return, her husband came back for brief hunting trips.
In December 1897, as he was about to enter the Spanish-American War, he sold his ranch and remaining cattle to Sylvane Ferris. In 1901, the ranch house was dismantled by scavengers.
All told, Roosevelt lost over $20,000 ranching in the badlands, but his experiences were a defining chapter of his life.
Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura
Morris, S. J. (2001). Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a first lady. New York City, NY: Modern Library.
Di Silvestro, R. L. (2011). Theodore Roosevelt in the badlands: A young politician’s quest for recovery. New York City, NY: Walker Publishing Company.