As a native North Dakotan, I can fully appreciate the lure of the western portion of our state. I was twelve when my parents decided to turn from the farm/ranch operation they ran “east river,” which is Dakota jargon for anything that lies on the east side of the Missouri River. They purchased a ranch 10 miles north of Amidon, ND, on the edge of the badlands. This transition land is often considered “the breaks” – land that is not rolling hills, but also not quite as rough as the strip of land that borders the Little Missouri River.
Theodore Roosevelt describes this type of land in a letter to his sister Anna in 1884. He had been on a hunting trip alone through the prairie and details the landscape through which he rode. His description evokes images of my home, particularly since he mentions wild rose thickets. His letter is dated June 23rd, which is my mother’s birthday, and I can remember combing the hills for wild prairie roses to bring to her in celebration. The wild rose that I know however, is a low lying shrub that often grows along the edge of a country road. With this in mind, it must be said that it was not difficult for me to find blooms as I really only had to walk up the driveway.
Prairie roses are not the only plants in the thickets of which TR spoke. In many cases, the thickets are made up of bulberry bushes, but sometimes there are also chokecherry trees, usually located in the center of the thicket. Bulberries (or buffaloberries) have lovely silver-tinged leaves and vicious, dagger-like barbs. These woody shrubs make the thickets nearly impassable, but they did not deter my mother in her quest for chokecherries, which make excellent jelly. We did not go in without long sleeves and jeans, and we rarely came out without scratches. Nestled within these bulberry bushes may even be some gooseberries or currants, which are always a prize. The outer edges of these thickets may be dotted with the wild prairie rose, and perhaps this is the reason that Roosevelt called them “wild rose thickets.”
Because I grew up in the late 20th century, my experiences are not the same as those that TR had living out here in the 1880s. Still, it is comforting to know that the landscape remains much the same.