Packard, A. T.

Arthur T. Packard (1860-1931) was a frontier newspaperman, law enforcement officer, and friend to Theodore Roosevelt.

Packard was a graduate of the University of Michigan. Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed spending time with Packard in Medora because the editor was an educated man of about his own age, highly articulate, a good writer, and often sardonic. Roosevelt called him “a good fellow, a college graduate, and a first-class baseball player.” 

Packard came to Medora on the Northern Pacific Railroad in early 1884. He was just 22 years old, but he had already served a colorful turn as the editor of the Bismarck Tribune. The first issue of the Bad Lands Cow Boy, the newspaper he founded in Medora, appeared on February 7, 1884. It was, said Packard, “not . . . for fun, but for $2 per year.” 

Packard was both a badlands booster and a serious journalist. The New York Times reported that Medora was a town with "a real live newspaper, called the Bad Lands Cowboy, with Mr. G. Packard, formerly of Chicago, editor, and is destined before long to become one of the greatest points along the whole line of the Northern Pacific Railroad for the shipping of dressed beeves to Chicago.”

During the course of his three years in Medora, Packard engaged in a range of financial enterprises. He sold Studebaker wagons, cedar fencing, barbed wire, insurance, and real estate. He was a partner in a coal mine, a notary public, justice of the peace, and Medora’s chief of police. 

Roosevelt sought Packard out for serious conversation and regarded the office of the Bad Lands Cow Boy as his Medora social headquarters. In June of 1884, after the death of his wife and mother earlier in the spring and immediately after a severe political setback at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt traveled to Medora, where he ventured to the office of the Bad Lands Cow Boy to explain to those who gathered there the political machinations of the Chicago convention. Years later Packard wrote, “He [Roosevelt] liked chatting with the men who liked the smell of printers’ ink.”

Packard was one of the few men in Medora who did not wear a gun. When Roosevelt protested that a pistol was an essential piece of frontier dress, Packard arranged a shooting demonstration with the crack shot Two Gun Billy Roberts, who shot two cans out of the sky simultaneously. The demonstration worked. Roosevelt realized that he could never compete successfully with a determined gunman. Thereafter, he checked his guns with Packard when he ventured into Medora.

Packard attempted to maintain journalistic independence of the Marquis de Mores, but eventually the French entrepreneur convinced Packard to manage the hapless Medora & Black Hills Stage & Forwarding Company. The stage line linking Medora to the Black Hills of today’s South Dakota began operations in October of 1884. The business collapsed by May 21, 1885.

The final issue of the Bad Lands Cow Boy appeared in January 1887. Like many others, Packard became discouraged with badlands life after the disastrous winter of 1886-87, when well over half of the cattle herds on the northern Great Plains died of starvation, dehydration, and exposure. Packard moved to western Montana, where he continued to edit and operate frontier newspapers.

Before he left Dakota Territory, Packard became one of the first people to predict that Theodore Roosevelt would become the President of the United States. Packard accompanied TR on a freight train from Medora to Dickinson, Dakota Territory, for the Independence Day ceremonies in 1886. After listening to TR in both formal and private talk throughout that day, Packard, on the return journey in a passenger car, made his political prophecy. Roosevelt was 27 years old; he would not become president for fifteen more years. Packard later wrote that TR “was not in the least surprised by my statement.” Roosevelt responded: “If your prophecy comes true, I will do my part to make a good one.”

Packard died on January 16, 1931. He is buried in Westwood Cemetery in Lorain County, Ohio.