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Bitterly Cold

Dec 05, 2013

A cold snap has engulfed the northern plains, and everything seems to be frozen here in North Dakota. Vehicles would like to be plugged in before they are started, and my chickens seem to be laughing at me when I look for eggs. Schools are not sending children outside for recess, and wet hair freezes within minutes if one is so unwary as to walk outside that way. The current temperature is 8 degrees below zero and tomorrow's high should be 5 degrees below zero. My 10-year-old tells me, in all his youthful wisdom, “Well, Mom, it is winter,” suggesting that sub-zero temperatures should not be unexpected in North Dakota in December. As my son and I are both native to North Dakota, I must admit to the truth in his statement. This observation, however, does not go over as well with people who are not native to this part of the nation.

Theodore Roosevelt’s letters from his first trip to Dakota Territory include several references to the weather. He came out here to hunt buffalo in September 1883 and stayed some time, riding through the badlands and prairies in search of his prey. His letters point out the ruggedness of the terrain and the alkaline nature of the water, which made him sick for his first week. He also describes how cold and miserable he was when it rained and that it was below freezing at night. Although other letters toward the end of the trip do not focus on the weather, it is clear that TR noticed the cold. When reading these letters, the native North Dakotan thinks, “Goodness, if he was cold in September, how would he handle the deepest parts of winter?”

Surprisingly well, as it turns out. In Roosevelt’s diary of 1884, he mentions the weather almost in passing. One entry in December reads simply, “Tramped all over Bullion Butte. Saw nothing. Thermometer ranges from +25 to -10⁰ F.” 

Personal Diary of Theodore Roosevelt, 1884

Personal Diary of Theodore Roosevelt, 1884. From the Library of Congress Manuscript collection.

Now, that seems like fortitude to me. I have been bundling up in my insulated coveralls, coat, snow boots, and gloves while wrapping a thick scarf around my head to do chores in this cold weather. I know for a fact that I would have no desire to “tramp all over Bullion Butte” right now.

It appears that Theodore Roosevelt did begin to understand cold weather in Dakota Territory. Not long after that entry are two days that rather tersely read, “Bitterly cold.” Both days contain nothing but those two words. The brevity of these entries suggests that he may have stayed inside as much as possible during those miserable days. 

Personal Diary of Theodore Roosevelt, 1884

Personal Diary of Theodore Roosevelt, 1884. From the Library of Congress Manuscript collection.

Those of us that live here now agree wholeheartedly. The rest of this week promises to be “bitterly cold.”

Posted by Keri Youngstrand on Dec 05, 2013 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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