Theodore Roosevelt
Administrative History
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It was a land of vast silent spaces, of lonely rivers, and of plains where the wild game stared at the passing horeseman.

—Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography


When the National Park Service sent the State of the parks Report to Congress in 1980, it publicly acknowledged some of the most difficult problems currently facing the System. Internal threats to the parks have been known for many years, [1] but the value of the State of the Parks Report is in its account of the sheer extent of external threats to the System. In four of the seven "threat categories," external exceeded internal sources. [2]

Moreover, the National Park System is now undergoing considerable expansion: not of territory, but of its own agenda for action, constituency, and sense of purpose. This expansion is partly responsible for the lack of fundamental data and managerial expertise the Report so deplores.

I have made the expansion of national park responsibilities, roles, and problems the point of departure for this history. My analysis of Theodore Roosevelt National Park follows these premises:

1) The park doesn't stand alone; it is an active member of the local and regional community.

2) As a community member, the park increasingly depends upon outside entities that can help or hinder the fulfillment of its mission.

3) As this situation has become more and more apparent, the park's administration has changed accordingly.

4) The transition from National Memorial Park to National Park is a fitting backdrop to these management changes.

Theodore Roosevelt is not comparable in scale with the great wilderness parks of the West. It is not a pristine wild area. Even so, when the park was created in the 1940s it was a pristine rural area, one of only a few parks where continuing processes in nature and the imprint of human living were of equal interest. It remains a rural park today, somewhat civilized, but even in the pride of summer the beauty of its landforms is underlain with the same vein of menace that fascinated the dude Roosevelt. The park is rural, but never pastoral; still rural, but no longer pristine. Recollection of the perfectly rural setting the park enjoyed thirty-five years ago makes the recent physical and social dislocations associated with energy development in the northern Great Plains all the more bitter to the spiritual descendants of Roosevelt, those who still cherish "ranch life in the Far West."

Threats exist, then, not only to the physical resources of the park, but to the collective memory of a unique way of life. This bears upon one of the park's goals: to provide a setting which allows the motivated visitor to re-create the experience of Roosevelt himself. Such opportunities are more possible than one might think. For example, much of the oil development in the immediate vicinity of the park has taken place between the Elkhorn Unit, site of Roosevelt's home ranch, and the South Unit. As late as the early 1970s, the Elkhorn was only a little less isolated than in the open range days, and visitors travelling up from the South Unit could share Roosevelt's sense of adventure in going to his retreat. Now, oil roads have been cut and wells dug all through the intervening country, and the Elkhorn's isolation is gone. With it passed a chance for the visitor to empathize with Roosevelt. A potential linkage across time has been lost. [3]

A note on other histories

Two histories of the park have already been written. Dale Strand's account, completed in 1962 as a master's thesis for the University of North Dakota, is useful for events in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He also documents the Greater North Dakota Association's role in the park's development, but overstates its importance. Strand takes a narrow, commercial view of the value of the park.

Rather more balanced is Warren Petty's history completed during his tenure in Medora as park historian. There are two versions of this study: a draft of 1965 in the park library, and an abridged version which appeared in the Spring 1968 issue of North Dakota History. The draft manuscript is the more valuable. Petty is strongest on events up until 1947. [4]

Documentation in this paper

Keep in mind that whenever reference is made to "Theodore Roosevelt," the park is meant; "Roosevelt" refers to the man (except, of course, in some of the quoted matter).

Notes are usually in the forms recommended by the 13th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. Numbers in parentheses are used instead of superscripts after single—spaced, indented quotations. Web Edition Note: Links to Notes are enclosed in square brackets [] rather than parentheses.

The following abbreviations are used in the notes:

BLMBureau of Land Management
DSCDenver Service Center, National Park Service
MWROMidwest Regional Office, National Park Service
NDGSNorth Dakota Geological Survey
NDSDHNorth Dakota State Department of Health
NHPNational Historical Park
NHSNational Historic Site
NMNational Monument
NPNational Park
NPSNational Park Service
Reg. Dir.Regional Director
RMRORocky Mountain Regional Office, National Park Service
SHSNDState Historical Society of North Dakota
THROTheodore Roosevelt National (Memorial) Park
USFSUnited States Forest Service
USFWSUnited States Fish and Wildlife Service
USGSUnited States Geological Survey
WASOWashington Office, National Park Service
WLWilliam Lemke

Unless otherwise indicated, all letters, memorandums, theses, and dissertations are unpublished. The following abbreviations are used for locations of unpublished material:

THRO-ATheodore Roosevelt National Park administration building, Medora
THRO-LTheodore Roosevelt National Park library, Medora
THRO-STheodore Roosevelt National Park storage building, Medora
WL PapersWilliam Lemke Papers, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004