Summer intern Tom from Chicago describes the preservation of Theodore Roosevelt's homes in North Dakota.
Shortly after I began work on the Theodore Roosevelt National Park collection, I learned that the natural beauty at the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is in jeopardy due to a proposed bridge and gravel pit not far from what some have dubbed the Walden Pond of the West. The story has been covered in detail by the New York Times and NPR among others. While the cabin that once stood at Elkhorn Ranch has long since vanished (either from nearby ranchers appropriating the abandoned lumber, or from being washed away by flooding on the Little Missouri River) the unparalleled surroundings offer a glimpse into the landscape that inspired Roosevelt to go on to be a champion of conservation.
Photograph of the Little Missouri River, September 26, 1951. From the Theodore Roosevelt National Park collection.
While it is yet to be seen whether the integrity of this mecca of conservation will be conserved itself, another Roosevelt home in North Dakota stands intact in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park after a storied history. Though the site of Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Ranch was not deemed as historically significant as the Elkhorn Ranch site, the cabin in which Roosevelt lived became a national sensation in the early nineteen-hundreds at exhibitions in St. Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; Fargo, North Dakota; and Bismarck, North Dakota, where it remained on the State Capitol grounds until 1959 before it was returned to the outskirts of Medora, North Dakota on a site within Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Moving the Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin was no small feat for National Park officials. Whereas the cabin had previously been dismantled and the logs numbered for reconstruction at a new site, officials decided that for the move from Bismarck to Medora, the cabin should be kept whole in case any of the old logs might not be structurally sound enough to remain intact for the journey. After years of preparation and planning, the 26-by-18-foot cabin was secured to a flat-bed truck to be driven 135 miles across North Dakota. Once on site, the cabin was restored to invoke how the cabin would have been furnished and used during Roosevelt’s time there.
Photograph of Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin Being Transported, July 1959. From the Theodore Roosevelt National Park collection.
The Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin is still open to visitors to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, offering a glimpse into how Roosevelt and other Dude Ranchers would have lived in 1880s Medora. For visitors who wish to experience the more serene Elkhorn Ranch site, the time to do so may be short unless the Federal Government and National Park Service take the same initiative it took half a century ago to move and restore the Maltese Cross Cabin; except this time the goal is to keep the trucks out of the picture.
Tom Beck earned his Masters in Library and Information Science from Dominican University in May 2012 and currently lives in Chicago, IL. Growing up, Tom spent his summers visiting many of our National Parks and after cataloging photographs this summer, he is looking forward to a kayaking trip down the Little Missouri River.