In September of 1925, Theodore Roosevelt’s famous cabin did not sit amidst the crags and buttes of the badlands, but in Bismarck on the Capitol grounds.
Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Ranch cabin was originally located approximately seven miles south of Medora. Built with ponderosa pine logs, the cabin was a story and a half with a kitchen, living room, bedroom and root cellar. It had wooden floors and a shingled roof. It was built by ranch managers Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield after Theodore Roosevelt acquired primary interest in the ranch in 1883.
After President McKinley’s death, Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th president in 1901. During his presidency, the cabin was taken to the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, and also to the Louis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon. Afterward, it was taken to Bismarck, where it would remain for the next fifty years.
It was reportedly considered an “insignificant” part of the landscape in Bismarck, at first, but then the DAR began to take interest in it. They placed it on a cement foundation, put a fence up to prevent vandalism, and cared for the grounds.
By this date in 1925, the cabin had seen more than 5,000 visitors from around the state, the country and the world. Each day during the summer, the local DAR chapter sent a member to stand on duty from 10-5, to explain to the visitors how the cabin had gotten there and explain its features. If foreign-speaking people couldn’t understand, oftentimes their English-speaking children would translate.
Due to the cold and the danger of putting heaters in the building, the DAR chapter closed the cabin during the winter. However, they remained vigilant to vandalism—noting that many people tried to take slivers of wood as a keepsake.
In 1959, the cabin was relocated and renovated. Today, TR’s cabin sits near its original location, just outside Medora at the visitor center for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
The Carson Press, October 1, 1925