On June 9, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt arrived back in North Dakota, a very different man from the one who left. In February of 1884, Roosevelt lost his wife and mother on the same day and he had been biding time, finishing up commitments in New York, before he could escape back to the Badlands, an escape he thought would be permanent as he was done with politics.
Elkhorn Ranch, Theodore Roosevelt’s second ranch on the banks of the Little Missouri River in North Dakota. From the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.
On Roosevelt’s first visit to North Dakota, he had purchased the Chimney Butte, or Maltese Cross Ranch, the cabin of which can still be seen today at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Visitors’ Center. It was upon his return that Roosevelt set about establishing and building a second, larger ranch, right along the banks of the Little Missouri River, a ranch he named Elkhorn.
The new ranch site was located 35 miles north of Medora, well away from the railroad line and bustle of Medora’s businesses. Visiting the site at another time, Roosevelt found interlocked horns from two bull elk that had been fighting when their horns became tangled. The symbol struck Roosevelt and he named the ranch for his discovery, even designing his brand for the ranch to resemble an elk horn.
I was privileged enough to be able to visit the Elkhorn Ranch site last fall alongside many of our Symposium guests. It isn’t easy to reach but well worth the effort. The site itself is part of the three units that make up Theodore Roosevelt National Park and under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The site still sits peacefully along the Little Missouri River. However, all that is now left of the once large and prosperous ranch is the cornerstones of the house.
2011 Theodore Roosevelt Symposium attendees stand on the cornerstones of the Elkhorn Ranch house during a visit to the Elkhorn site. Photo by Krystal Thomas
Jenkinson, Clay. Theodore Roosevelt in the Dakota Badlands: An Historical Guide, 2006.