Maltese Cross Cabin
"I do not believe there ever was any life more attractive to a vigorous young fellow than life on a cattle ranch in those days. It was a fine, healthy life, too; it taught a man self-reliance, hardihood, and the value of instant decision...I enjoyed the life to the full."
In 1901, at the dawn of the 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt became the nation's 26th President and ultimately one of its greatest conservationists. He later said, "I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota."
It was here in the North Dakota badlands in 1883 that Theodore Roosevelt first arrived to hunt a buffalo. Before he left, he had acquired primary interests in the Maltese Cross Ranch (also called the Chimney Butte Ranch). Roosevelt thrived on the vigorous outdoor lifestyle, and, at the Maltese Cross, actively participated in the life of a working cowboy.
The Maltese Cross Ranch cabin was originally located about seven miles south of Medora in the wooded bottom-lands of the Little Missouri River. At Roosevelt's request, ranch managers Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield built a one and one-half story cabin complete with a shingled roof and root cellar. Constructed of durable ponderosa pine logs, the cabin was considered somewhat of a "mansion" in its day, with wooden floors and three separate rooms (kitchen, living room and Roosevelt's bedroom). The steeply pitched roof, an oddity on the northern plains, created an upstairs sleeping loft for the ranch hands.
Several items present in the cabin today did belong to Theodore Roosevelt, but the majority of the furnishings are period pieces representing a typical cabin of the time (see Furnishing Plan). The white hutch in the main room is original to the cabin and was used as a bookcase and writing desk. The classically styled desk is from the Elkhorn Ranch cabin. Roosevelt spent many hours laboring at his desks recording his experiences and memoirs of badlands life.
The common rocking chair is believed to have been Roosevelt's, or may have come from an upstairs room in the Ferris Store where TR stayed on occasion. Rocking chairs were his favorite piece of furniture, all of his homes had rocking chairs, and Roosevelt once wrote, "What true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?"
Roosevelt's traveling trunk sits in the bedroom and is inscribed with his initials. The large leather trunk traveled back and forth with him on the train from his home in New York City to the stop in Medora and would have held clothing and personal items.
Roosevelt actively ranched in the badlands only until early 1887, but maintained ranching interests in the area until 1898. Later, as president, he developed a conservation program that deeply reflected his many experiences in the West. It was through these experiences that he became keenly aware of the need to conserve and protect natural resources.
During Roosevelt's presidency, the Maltese Cross cabin was exhibited at the World's Fair in St. Louis, MO and at the Louis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, OR. Later it was moved to the state fair grounds in Fargo, ND and then eventually to the state capitol grounds in Bismarck where it remained for 50 years. In 1959, the cabin was relocated to its present site and renovated. The most recent preservation work occurred in 2000.
TR's second ranch, the Elkhorn, was built in 1884 and was located about 35 miles north of Medora on the Little Missouri River. After its construction, Roosevelt considered the Elkhorn his "home ranch" and spent most of his time there whenever he was in residence in Dakota.
Did You Know?
The Little Missouri River began to carve the badlands about 600,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch. The river formerly ran to Hudson Bay, but the glaciers diverted it into the Missouri River. More...