An Interview with Theodore Roosevelt
Ranching in the Badlands
Little Missouri, 1884
Theodore Roosevelt first came to the Badlands in the fall of 1883 to hunt buffalo. The idea of cattle raising enchanted him and before he went back to New York, he invested in the Maltese Cross Ranch. This year, in 1884, after the death of his mother and wife on February 14, he has returned to the Little Missouri country to rebuild his mental health.
Would you tell us something about life on your ranch?
My home-ranch lies on both sides of the Little Missouri, the nearest ranchman above me being about twelve, and the nearest below me about ten, miles distant. We breakfast early—before dawn when the nights have grown long, and rarely later than sunrise, even in midsummer. Perhaps before this meal, certainly the instant it is over, the man whose duty it is rides off to hunt up and drive in the saddle band. Once saddled, the men ride off on their different tasks: for almost everything is done in the saddle.
The long forenoon’s work, with its attendant mishaps to man and beast, being over, the men who have been out among the horses and cattle come riding in, to be joined by their fellows—if any there be—who have been hunting or haying or chopping wood. The mid-day dinner is variable as to time, for it comes when the men have returned from their work; but, whatever be the hour, it is the most substantial meal of the day, and we feel that we have little fault to find with a table on the clean cloth of which are spread platter of smoked elk meat, loaves of good bread, jugs and bowls of milk, saddles of venison or broiled antelope steaks, perhaps roast and fried prairie-chickens with eggs, butter, wild plums, and tea or coffee.
Do you find time for hunting?
For the last week I have been fulfilling a boyish ambition of mine—that is I have been playing at frontier hunter in good earnest, having been off entirely alone, with my horse and rifle on the prairie. I wanted to see if I could not do perfectly well without a guide, and I succeeded beyond my expectations. I shot a couple of antelope and a deer, and missed a great many more. I felt as absolutely free as a man could feel; as you know I do not mind loneliness; and I enjoyed the trip to the utmost.
Would you describe the badlands for us?
The country has widely different aspects in different places; one day I would canter hour after hour over the level green grass, or through miles of wild rose thickets, all in bloom; on the next I would be amidst the savage desolation of the Badlands, with their dreary plateaus, fantastically shaped buttes and deep winding canyons.
Someone has said that the Badlands has captured your spirit and made you its own. Is that so?
I grow very fond of this place, and it certainly has a desolate, grim beauty of its own, that has a curious fascination for me. The grassy, scantily wooded bottoms through which the winding river flows are bounded by bare, jagged buttes; their fantastic shapes and sharp, steep edges throw the most curious shadows, under the cloudless, glaring sky; and at evening I love to sit out in front of the hut and see their hard, gray outlines gradually grow soft and purple as the flaming sunset by degrees softens and dies away; while my days I spend generally alone, riding through the lonely rolling prairie and broken lands.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council