In 1884, a young man experienced two events which turned his life into a complete nightmare. It should have been the best of times. He was young and already highly successful in politics and as a writer. But on Valentine’s Day, his young wife died as she gave birth to their first child and his mother died of typhoid fever. The man left behind to face these sudden losses was Theodore Roosevelt, a future president of the United States.
Trying to recover from his grief, he left his baby daughter, Anna, in the care of his sister in New York and decided to go to the Dakota Territory and live as a rancher and adventurer. He had been to the Badlands of the Dakota Territory a number of times before but this time he came to stay. He thought that maybe he would leave politics and devote himself to writing and make a living at that. He also had had a lifelong struggle with asthma and sickliness, and he thought that the good western air might help him to become physically stronger.
Interestingly, his years in the Badlands, actually did help him in every respect. He grew stronger and healthier, he began to heal from his personal losses, and he learned how to work with people who were ordinary folks, rather than just the privileged people he knew back home. Eventually, Roosevelt moved back to the East Coast, remarried, and returned to politics. He also continued writing throughout his life, often about his adventures in the outdoors, In his lifetime, he wrote about 40 books and many articles and letters. His book, The Naval War of 1812, is still considered an important work on that historical subject. His letters to his children were so well written that they were collected and eventually published as a book!
Looking back on his unusually exciting life, Roosevelt said that he never would have been able to have become president if he hadn’t experienced those years in Dakota Territory. Another lasting legacy of his years in Dakota Territory was an even greater appreciation of the importance of nature and conservation. As president, he took action on this appreciation by greatly expanding the number of national parks in the US.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park the only national park which is also a memorial to a person, is located in western North Dakota. There are numerous ways to explore the park, and Roosevelt’s original Maltese Cross Cabin has been restored and is open for visitors. You can also view the Elkhorn Ranch where he lived.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the final stop on our North Dakota Trail!
Rebecca Blake Beech