Stickney, Victor Hugo

Dr. Victor Hugo Stickney (1855-1927) was the only doctor in western Dakota Territory during Roosevelt’s years in the badlands. Born in Plymouth, Vermont, on April 13, 1855, Stickney came to Dakota Territory in 1883, after finishing his medical training at Dartmouth Medical School. 

Stickney had a reputation for being willing to travel long distances on horseback or in a buckboard, and sometimes on a freight train or hand-car, to get to his far-flung patients.

Stickney was three years older than Roosevelt. In 1885 he married Margaret Hayes.

Stickney first met Theodore Roosevelt in early April 1886 after TR marched three boat thieves to justice from the Killdeer Mountains 40 miles overland to Dickinson. TR was both physically and mentally exhausted, and his feet were badly bruised and blistered from the long march and repeated drenchings. They chanced upon each other on the streets of the little village of Dickinson. In the letter he wrote about it, Stickney said, “As I approached him he stopped me with a gesture, asking me whether I could direct him to a doctor’s office. . . I told him I was the only practicing physician, not only in Dickinson, but in the whole surrounding country.” “‘By George,’ he said emphatically, ‘then you’re exactly the man I want to see.’” Stickney did what he could for Roosevelt’s feet and sent him on his way. In his famous account of their first meeting, Stickney provided a superb portrait of TR at the end of the boat thieves adventure. “[H]e was all teeth and eyes. His clothes were in rags from forcing his way through the rosebushes that covered the river bottoms. He was scratched, bruised, and hungry, but gritty and determined as a bulldog.”

Stickney wrote, “When I went home to lunch, an hour later, I told my wife that I had met the most peculiar and at the same time the most wonderful man I ever came to know.”

They became good friends. Later that year, Stickney invited Roosevelt to give the Independence Day address in Dickinson. That speech in July 1886 was one of TR’s first great national speeches. In it he famously said, “Like all Americans, I like big things: big prairies, big forests and mountains, big wheat-fields, railroads, and herds of cattle too, big factories, steamboats, and everything else.”

Stickney continued his frontier practice long after Roosevelt left Dakota Territory. In 1917 he joined the Medical Corps as a 1st Lieutenant. Later he was the medical adviser to North Dakota Governor Lynn J. Frazer. 

Stickney died in Dickinson, North Dakota, on July 26, 1927. He was one of the first ten individuals to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. He is memorialized on the campus of Dickinson State University in the naming of one of its first buildings, constructed in 1921, Stickney Hall.

Stickney’s daughter Dorothy (1896-1998) was a Vaudeville and Broadway singer, dancer, and actress. Stickney Auditorium on the campus of Dickinson State University is named after her.