On Wednesday May 4 I went with a group of remarkable people to the remote Elkhorn Ranch Site where Theodore Roosevelt built his headquarters during his four-year sojourn in the badlands of western North Dakota.
You probably know about the great new National Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library we are building on the campus of Dickinson State University in western North Dakota, just a couple of dozen miles from where he hunted, ran cattle,
created a democratic grazing association, hunted down desperadoes, and played cowboy between 1883-1887. It was a lark, that late frontier adventure, but it also transformed TR into the larger-than-life national figure who is depicted on Mount Rushmore.
The first structure we will build on the new national library site is an authentic re-creation of the Elkhorn Ranch house. It was a 30×60 foot cottonwood log house, with two verandahs, one looking east toward the Little Missouri River, which bisected TR’s Elkhorn Ranch. He used to sit out on that verandah, in a rocking chair, dreaming, dozing, grieving for his first wife Alice, thinking about the books he was writing, and developing what would be the greatest conservation ethic of any American president.
On Wednesday we sat out on the grass inside the perimeter of what had been the Elkhorn cabin. It’s entirely gone, but the 13 perimeter sandstone flagstones are still there. We spent most of our time trying to figure out how we can re-create the ranch house in a truly
authentic way–so that visitors, scholars, architectural historians, and TR biographers will find the re-created house utterly compelling and rigorous in its authenticity.
We will hand-adze the cottonwood logs. Our goal is to use no power equipment, and–once the logs are on the building site in Dickinson–no internal combustion engines.
We want visitors to feel the authenticity of the house, to enter it in a relaxed manner, and to wonder–inside–if TR has just left the building for a few minutes, and might well return any moment.
Construction will begin in the summer of 2016. We expect to complete the building in the summer of 2017. It will be part of the “wow” factor of our presidential library and museum.
If you want to be a part of this project, let me know. We know what we want to build, but we are not sure just how we will assemble the team of experts and volunteers to get it done right.
And if you haven’t been to the Elkhorn Ranch Site of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you owe yourself that adventure. Let me know if you need help getting there. It’s one of the most serene and beautiful places not only in North Dakota, but in the American West.