Theodore Roosevelt's experiences in the North Dakota badlands deeply affected him in many ways. The conservation ethic he developed while in Dakota Territory influenced his policies as President.
- Credit / Author:
- National Park Service
[Birds, insects chirping]
The Elkhorn Ranch is one of the most significant historic sites in North Dakota. It has been called "the Walden Pond of the West." It was at this site that the seeds of conservation were planted in the mind of a young Theodore Roosevelt when he was a cattle rancher here in the 1880s.
Today, as in Roosevelt's time, visitors can experience tranquility, peacefulness, and a connection to nature. The landscape has remained generally unchanged since Roosevelt's day, and visitors can sit at the site of the Elkhorn Ranch house and contemplate the western wilderness, listen to birdsong, interpret the rhythmic melody of the Little Missouri River, and be cooled off by the breeze blowing through the cottonwood trees.
Theodore Roosevelt saw the Industrial Revolution transform the American landscape during his lifetime. Like most Americans at that time, he, too, had a yearning to use America's natural resources, but he believed in using them wisely. It was in Dakota Territory that his progressive ideas about conservation began to take shape.
On Valentine's Day 1884, TR's wife and mother both died. Theodore Roosevelt came to the Elkhorn Ranch to heal himself from the pain associated with their deaths. By the time he left for New York in the Fall of 1886, the Elkhorn Ranch had changed him forever. It not only allowed him to live the rough and uncomplicated lifestyle that let him come to terms with his grief, it also provided him with the necessary inspiration and tools to develop a conservation ethic. Throughout his presidency, he used his experiences in the west as the foundation for his conservation policies.
It was here that Theodore Roosevelt witnessed the end of the western frontier.
It was here that he witnessed the near-extinction of the American bison.
It was here that he witnessed the overgrazing of land.
And it was here that he realized the urgent need to protect America's natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
By the end of his presidency, TR had placed over 230 million acres of land under public protection. He created 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, "There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country. Just as we must conserve our men, and women, and children, so we must conserve the resources of the land on which they live."