Theodore Roosevelt
Administrative History
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In a park where the history of human activity necessarily depends so much on natural resources, one might ask whether it is possible to consider cultural resources management apart and alone. For instance, a most valuable cultural resource is the historic scene Roosevelt knew, part of which was the badlands landscape of the late 19th century. Should its care be called cultural resources management or natural resources management? Likewise, does one comment on the park's museum collection, replete as it is with artifacts, under cultural resources management or under its main function, interpretation? What to do with the subjects of feral horses and longhorn cattle?

It will be seen that, in the last analysis, cultural resources management at Theodore Roosevelt is inseparable from—and sometimes synonymous with—management of natural resources and provision of visitor services. The park staff is now preparing a Cultural Resources Management Plan which proposes "interim or final treatment and use of all human cultural resources within the park area," but will also be open to minor changes as agreed upon by the superintendent and regional director. [1]

Before European contact

Until recently, our understanding of the badlands before the appearance of Jean Baptiste LePage in 1804 was limited by a scarcity of material evidence. Few thorough archeological surveys were completed before the 1970s. [2] This state of affairs might still prevail were it not for the development of mineral leases on federal lands (primarily USFS-controlled) in western North Dakota. The National Historic Preservation Act and Executive Order 11593 require a cultural resources survey of federal land prior to its disturbance. When Dakota oil boomed in the 1970s, so did the business of finding out what sort of human use has been made of the badlands.

Of course the boom did not extend to the surface lands of Theodore Roosevelt, since no surface exploration for oil can take place in the park. So, much more is now known of the early culture of the badlands lying outside the park than inside. The irony of this outpouring of information is that it comes from sites being disturbed or destroyed, rather than those which can be protected in situ—making the few early culture sites known to exist within the park all the more significant. [3]

In 1968 and 1969 James Sperry of North Dakota's State Historical Society conducted a first-time survey of pre-modern sites inside Theodore Roosevelt. He found forty, and thought twelve might be worth nominating to the National Register of Historic Places. Oddly, though, he did not complete his survey report until 1981; in the interim, at just the time when badlands archeology was being advanced, the staff had no means of comparing these new finds with Sperry's park sites. [4] It is therefore a matter of some urgency, as the park's draft Cultural Resources Management Plan puts it, that "a systematic, 100 percent archeological survey to record and evaluate for the National Register all sites within the park" is done. Such a study would not only bring the Park Service into full compliance with Executive Order 11593, but would also, in effect, establish interpretation of the aboriginal use of the park area where none exists today. [5]

However, the value of even the most complete survey would be compromised if it were undertaken as though the recent regional finds had not happened. The Cultural Resources Management Plan points out that before any ground survey is begun, NPS would do well to have at hand a summary of the hundreds of survey reports filed since 1975 on western North Dakota sites. [6] Context is essential to archeology. This is brought home by the fact that Sperry estimated the oldest site in his preliminary survey at about 5000 years BP (Before the Present), whereas one badlands site outside the park is thought to date from 6000 HP and one in the Knife River quarries area from 10,000 BP. [7] Although one may not expect to find sites inside Theodore Roosevelt quite as old as this last (apparently the badlands were occupied only during parts of each year), clearly the extent and duration of early human use of the park area awaits discovery.

Some general patterns have emerged. People moving overland through the badlands seem to have used ridge lines more than wash bottoms. A site typical of ridge lines was the Hidatsa-Mandan eagle trapping pit. Eagle feathers and claws were highly valued for adornment and the making of calumet ceremonial pipes; characteristically, the Hidatsa-Mandan people also made use of the meat and hides of the bird. Pits were usually dug in groups of four to ten, each deep enough for a man to crouch under a protective cover of brush upon which a bait was placed. They often were made just below the crest of west-facing ridges so eagles could glide in on the prevailing wind and land easily on the trap. When the birds alighted, the trapper would reach through the brush and catch them by the legs. [8]

Wood frame hunting lodges were often associated with trapping pits. Anywhere in the badlands where a good water source exists (or once existed) close by a ridge top with a western exposure, one might come upon the site of a lodge. Stands of juniper or cottonwood alongside tributaries of the Little Missouri were preferred most of all. Just as elsewhere in the northern Plains, badlands lodges were made either of grass or of sticks arranged in a cone shape; hence, the latter are sometimes referred to as "wooden tipis" and the circle of stones which braced then as "tipi rings." [9]

Eagle trapping probably ended with white settlement of Dakota in the 1880s. [10] Even so, evidence of this activity has survived into our own time. Osmer photographed an intact wood hunting lodge near Achenbach Spring in 1937, and remains of lodges and trapping pits have been positively identified in recent park surveys. [11] As one researcher has said, obviously more sites remain to be found in the badlands, and those already known deserve more study. [12]

Little is known about the role of the badlands in an extensive east-west trade network which is conjectured to have existed before European contact, and still less about how European-American use of the area correlates with that of earlier people. [13] We have the broadest outlines of pre-modern badlands life, and that is all. Here is un doubtedly the part of the park's history in which the greatest advances in knowledge remain to be made, and it may be here that the greatest challenges of NPS cultural resources management will fall.

Historic sites and structures

The people of European descent who filled western Dakota in the 1880s brought with them their own ways of doing things, ways incompatible with the old life. Roosevelt spent part of his "manhood's prime vigor" watching the transformation. To date, cultural resources management in the park created to commemorate him has been largely preoccupied with documenting the few years he spent in Dakota Territory, a time he called "the pleasantest, healthiest, and most exciting phase of American existence." [14]

Yet even this task has not been without complications. Most sources, for example, readily admit the impossibility of drawing anything but the slightest historical connection between Roosevelt and the area that is now the North Unit. [15] He is known to have been there once, and then only briefly during the storied chase of the boat thieves in 1886. [16] Beyond this there is nothing.

Nevertheless, despite the minuscule amount of archeological work that has been completed in the park, we probably know more about the North Unit in pre-contact times than we do about it in the period between 1880 and 1930. In 1925 the State Historical Society reviewed the history of the northwestern counties and made mention of the North Unit area only twice, both times vaguely. Later researchers have found no better luck. In 1974 Merrill Mattes, an NPS historian, surveyed the North Unit just before Squaw Creek campground was refurbished and found "distressingly meager" evidence for the Long X cattle trail, long thought to be a major historic feature of the park. [17] Mattes concluded—in frustration, no doubt—that "the North Unit, while scenically superb, is virtually a historical desert." [18]

Of course this is not so with the other two units. The Elkhorn has been exhaustively studied, so we are now well-supplied with accounts of Roosevelt's favorite retreat. Between 1948 and 1956 background research was completed by Olaf Hagen, Ray H. Mattison, and Chester Brooks, Park Service historians who worked out of Medora and the Region II Office in Omaha. [19] Mattison's identification of the boundaries of the ranch site was based in part upon oral histories of early ranchers.

Building on their work, in September 1957 Regional Archeologist Paul Beaubien made a study of the grounds. He established a baseline and located several foundations. [20] This in turn led to a complete archeological reconnaissance by Dee C. Taylor of Montana State University, who hoped his work would "recreate a picture of the Elkhorn Site as it had been when it was Roosevelt's 'home ranch'." [21]

Working from Beaubien's baseline, Taylor was able to locate the main buildings (which are now marked with cement pilings) by spot-checking old photographs, digging exploratory trenches, and sweeping with metal detectors. He could not explain some anomalies in the fence-post holing, nor did he locate a utility shed or outhouse. [22]

Taylor had an eye for detail and found many artifacts which enrich our knowledge of Roosevelt's life on the Little Missouri: cans of Maine oysters (the home state of his foremen, William Sewall and Wilmot Dow); a lard bucket from the N. K. Fairbank Company of New York; bottles of sarsparilla, wine, and "Dr. Pierce's Favorite Prescription"; suspenders and rubber boots; a coyote skull. [23]

The work of these historians and archeologists is authoritative. When the park's Historic Structure Report was published in 1980, the author, Louis Torres, found nothing which added to or contradicted earlier material history research except a changed vegetative cover at the ranch site from the loss of some large cottonwood trees. [24]

The history of Roosevelt's first home in Dakota, the Maltese Cross (or Chimney Butte) Ranch, is less fully documented because its site is still privately owned. Since July 1959 his cabin which stood there has been part of the park. Between September 1960 and June 1961 it was restored to nearly its original appearance, [25] having been altered by years of rough use and neglect. Again, the restoration was based on studies by Brooks and Mattison. [26] In 1978 the cabin was "rehabilitated" using more up-to-date historic preservation techniques. [27]

The Maltese Cross cabin is fitted out in accordance with a Park Service furnishing plan written in 1959. [28] Most of the items inside are either reproductions or period pieces, but a few, such as the writing desk, were almost certainly Roosevelt's. Should the Elkhorn Ranch house ever be reconstructed, the Service can also consult Lenard E. Brown's Furnishing Plan for a Badlands Ranch House. The book goes well beyond its title. It is a treatise on the culture of western Dakota and eastern Montana in the last decades of the 19th century. Drawing on primary and anecdotal sources, Brown describes not only furnishings but the games people played, what they read and ate, and how they spent their free time. [29]

The Elkhorn Ranch site and the Maltese Cross cabin are the two most significant historic resources in the Park. It should be remembered, however, that for the duration of the national memorial park—that is, for as long as Theodore Roosevelt was managed as a historical area—everything in the park was officially considered to be of historic importance, at least with regard to the National Register of Historic Places. This was because all historical units of the National Park System were automatically listed in their entirety on the Register unless and until portions were excluded through documentation.

Since 1966, when the National Historic Preservation Act was passed, federal agencies have been required to evaluate the effects of any of their undertakings involving National Register properties. Because this requirement, spelled out in Section 106 of the law, prevails in "every planning context from the preparation of a general management plan to the smallest construction project," [30] strictly speaking every act of the park's management was liable to conform with NHPA (and with its adjunct, Executive Order 11593, issued in 1971). Quite obviously certain projects (such as those affecting parts of the park which, while listed on the National Register because of Theodore Roosevelt's overall administrative status, did not possess true historic significance) could have been subject to undue constraint. [31]

The redesignation in 1978 did not immediately resolve the problem: the park had to be officially expunged from the Register before Section 106 compliance could be obviated. This was not done until October 1982, and even then, in a last ironic twist, everything in the park had to be delisted, including such eminently worthy candidates as the Elkhorn site and Maltese Cross cabin. The staff then had to oversee preparation of renomination forms for them so they could again enjoy the full measure of legal protection. [32]

Possibly, buildings other than the Maltese Cross will also be renominated. If so, they will be chosen from the park's List of Classified Structures. The LCS is an inventory of all historic and prehistoric structures under Park Service care which merit preservation for their archeological, historic, architectural, or engineering values. Anything on the LCS can be considered eligible for nomination to the National Register, though acceptance does not necessarily follow. Theodore Roosevelt's LCS (Table 10.1) is based on surveys begun in the mid-1970s, including a comprehensive Historic Structure Report (published in 1980). A Historic Structure Report is simply a compilation of the known history of a building: who used it, what it was used for, when it was built, what it is made of, and how it has been altered. [33]

All this documentation is meant to further preservation efforts whose thrust, according to the Cultural Resources Management Plan, "will be routine and cyclic maintenance of those structures which have reached their intended ultimate level of treatment." [34] There are three final treatments: continued use, wherein the resource keeps on serving the purpose for which it was originally designed; adaptive use, wherein it is given a new purpose consonant with, but different from, that which was originally intended; and removal or benign neglect, in cases where a resource deemed beyond preserving is documented (according to the method specified by the Historic American Buildings Survey) and removed, or allowed to molder. Within these levels of treatment fall the possibilities of preservation or restoration. [35]

Living history: longhorns and feral horses

Currently, the presence of these two domestic species is tolerated within the park because of their historical significance. They are officially regarded as "living history demonstrations," and, as long as the park was considered a historical area, they presented no inconsistencies of managerial philosophy. However, since Theodore Roosevelt's redesignation as a national park it has been questioned whether these species, exotic to the badlands, conflict with NPS policies on ecosystem management in natural areas. [36]

Of the two, longhorns have been the easier to manage. It seems the Service first contemplated introducing some kind of cattle to Theodore Roosevelt about the time of the initial push to reconstruct the Elkhorn. The original suggestion appears in the 1963 Master Plan. Why longhorns were preferred to other breeds is not clear, for, as the master plan admitted, "interpretation of the longhorns [would have to] emphasize that though this type of cattle was brought here in the open range era, Roosevelt, himself, preferred to stock and breed-up with shorthorns." [37]

There is some evidence that placing longhorns in the park was the brainchild of Hal Davies, an influential editor of the Minot Daily News. Davies wanted them as part of the Elkhorn's development, or, failing that, in the South Unit. In this he had the support of Senator Milton Young. Perhaps deferring to their wishes, in 1964 the park staff proposed a longhorn herd for the Elkhorn Unit, but the Midwest Regional Office turned down the idea precisely because Roosevelt never ran longhorns at that ranch. [38] The political overtones of the situation occupied a good part of the September 1966 staff meeting, and a telling remark is recorded in the minutes. "Perhaps the North Unit could handle them," someone present mused. "If we do not accept the longhorn cattle, appropriations might be cut." [39] Six months later the North Unit received a shipment of six steers from the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska. [40] While it cannot be said that the influence of Davies and Young caused the introduction of longhorns to Theodore Roosevelt, [41] certainly political considerations played a part in the decision.

Twenty-one more steers have been placed in the North Unit since 1967. While they have the run of the park, the herd prefers a 750-acre sagebrush flat of the Little Missouri near the buffalo corral. They are readily visible from the scenic drive and have become a favorite of visitors, providing some of the atmosphere of the open-range cattle industry of the last century. [42]

Since it is a non-breeding herd (steers are gelded males) the longhorns require only to be fed (hay), given salt licks, and have river water kept open to them in winter. Mortality has been low, with replacements obtained from Fort Niobrara. The only management concerns are their authenticity and whether to bring in breeding stock. As for the latter, the park staff has decided that problems on the order of those caused by buffalo would result, and prefer to continue present minimal management of the cattle. As for authenticity, despite Roosevelt's preference for shorthorns and the shaky documentation of the Long X Trail, the staff believes "retention of the herd in its present state is desirable as a historical display." [43] Undoubtedly the longhorns have a place at Theodore Roosevelt so long as the reasons for their presence are made explicit to visitors.

No one is sure of the ancestry of the fifty or so horses now living in the South Unit. Although often loosely referred to as "wild," they are certainly feral. A common explanation of their origin holds that they descend from two escaped ranch mares bred by a white stud of unknown provenance. [44] But this is only an informed guess.

The animals can be considered feral on the authority of Roosevelt himself, who wrote that "in a great many—indeed, 1880s in most—localities" of western Dakota in the 1880s

there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded. Ranchmen run in these wild horses whenever possible, and they are but little more difficult to break than the so-called "tame" animals. But the wild stallions are, whenever possible, shot; both because of their propensity for driving off the ranch mares, and because their incurable viciousness makes them always unsafe companions for other horses still more than for men. A wild stallion fears no beast except the grizzly, and will not always flinch from an encounter with it. . . .

"Invariably of domestic descent": it is evident that the "wild" horses he saw a hundred years ago were like those in the park today. Their habits and behavior were wild, yet they retained enough cultivated traits to be recognized as descendants of domestic stock. [45]

This passage from Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail is used to justify the horses' presence in the South Unit. [46] They are regarded as a "historic livestock display" and as such are not subject to provisions of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. [47]

The herd has been actively managed since the 1950s. Early on the Service wanted to rid the South Unit of all feral horses. During those years several round-ups were sponsored by local grazing associations. Most of the captured bore brands from neighboring ranches. Unbranded horses were either auctioned off for charity or claimed under North Dakota's estray laws. [48] Newspapers gave these early round-ups widespread publicity (The New York Times covered one in 1954), in the process creating confusion about and criticism of the methods used by the Park Service. Nevertheless, the 1963 Master Plan called the feral horses "a recent, exotic intrusion and a management problem" and recommended their removal. [49]

One of the problems referred to was that of ownership. For a time the staff seemed to be under the impression that the government held title to all stock left unclaimed at the completion of the fencing of the park. This notion prompted an ultimatum to be issued in 1962: local ranches were given two years to remove any stock they could prove to be theirs. After the deadline, all title was to be vested in the government; then NPS would hold one last round-up to dispose of the horses by allowing any ranch to put in a claim for part of the herd. [50]

The deadline passed with many horses left behind, so in the late spring of 1965 the park held its "final" round-up. It can only be described as a public relations disaster. The methods of capture—running the horses to exhaustion with shifts of riders and then corraling them into the buffalo holding pen—were unpopular in themselves, and even more so because so many local people still thought of the herd as wild. Many area newspapers, especially the Dickinson Press, were critical of the round-up. They urged the park to make plans for keeping and maintaining the horses which had escaped capture. [51]

Local sentiment in favor of the herd was so strong that in May 1966, a year after the final round-up, Superintendent Arthur Sullivan proposed to the Midwest Regional Office a reversal of policy, asking permission to keep a small herd of horses on the strength of Roosevelt's reference to them. The Regional Office agreed that the remaining horses should be maintained at least until the next review of the master plan, but warned the staff not to solicit opinion one way or the other about the herd. "In fact," wrote Fred Fagergren, the regional director, "the less publicity given to these horses is probably all for the best." [52]

So things stood until 1972, when almost all private claims to the herd were waived after the state asked for and received legal release of its ownership. North Dakota then donated the horses to the federal government on the condition that they be managed by NPS. The Service formally claimed them in June 1974. [53] In anticipation of gaining clear title, the park held another round-up in the autumn of 1973 in which twelve were captured. [54]

The 1973 round-up was not as controversial as the one in 1965, but the staff realized that if they were now to maintain the herd a coherent plan of management was called for. Just such a plan was drawn up in 1976 and revised in 1977. It identified two concerns: the tendency of the herd to a small range, and suspected inbreeding. The horses have always spent most of their time in the extreme southeastern part of the South Unit, watering at Boicourt, Southeast Corner, and Sheep Butte springs (all dish tanks) and Olson Well (undeveloped). The plan voiced worries about fence damage, trail erosion, and overgrazing. [55] Since the herd rarely dispersed, it was also thought that inbreeding might be excessive: "jugheads," colts with crooked legs, horses with "poor overall conformation," and little color variation within the herd had all been observed. [56]

Admitting that the number was arbitrary, the herd management plan nevertheless affirmed the decision made after the 1965 round-up to keep about forty horses in the park. [57] Removal was eliminated as an option because of past adverse public reaction. Moving part of the herd west of the Little Missouri, while not ruled out, was presented as an unlikely choice because of the "potential negative impacts on the Bighorn Sheep population." Direct reduction of the herd by round-up every few years was the recommended course of action. [58]

In between the original appearance of the plan and its revision, NPS commissioned a report on the horses by Milton Frei, a range specialist working for the Bureau of Land Management. He spent three days in the field, and his findings disputed those of the park. Frei discounted overuse of the range. He could find no support for the existence of genetic deficiencies and recommended against introducing new blood lines. Although his was an evaluation, and did not offer any overall management prescriptions, he did suggest five other possible methods of herd reductions besides round-ups. [59]

Perhaps because of the brevity of his fieldwork, Frei's conclusions have not been followed by the park staff in subsequent management. It was instead decided to keep the herd down to forty by means of periodic round-ups and to introduce new animals to increase genetic variability. [60]

Round-ups have since been held in 1978 to 1981. [61] Both made use of helicopters, Ostensibly to guide the riders driving the herd. But some private citizens on the scene accused NPS of using the helicopters to directly chase the herd. One complainant called the 1981 round-up "obscene" and "an inhumane circus." [62] Obviously the truth lies somewhere between this extreme and the Park Service's assertion that "every consideration is given to the humane treatment of the animals." [63] Round-ups are an imperfect way to control an animal population, but the alternatives appear even less attractive. The next one, scheduled for autumn 1986, will reduce the current herd of eighty by half. It too will no doubt take place in an atmosphere filled with the strong emotions many people reserve for "wild horses." [64]

The ranching way of life

One last cultural resource the park may be charged to protect in the future is exactly the one that has historically been taken most for granted in western North Dakota: the ranching way of life. To be sure, ranching in Roosevelt's time is well-represented, and the park supports the Gold Seal Company's restoration of Medora to a semblance of its 1880s appearance. But over the years the remains of many more-recent homesteads inside Theodore Roosevelt were "cleaned up" and cleared entirely. [65] At the time it seemed a good idea to restore the park land to its most natural appearance, whatever that may have been. Now, with energy production threatening to supplant ranching as the economic mainstay of the region, it is not inconceivable that Theodore Roosevelt National Park will one day be called upon to interpret the way people ranched in the middle-to-late 20th century. In this sense, it may be said that it is not always enough for cultural resource managers to look to the past; they must also be watchful of the present while thinking of the needs of the future.

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004