Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 33:4 (Fall 2013).
Biographers of Theodore Roosevelt have long been aware of the significance of the time he spent in the Badlands of Dakota Territory during the 1880s. After an initial visit in 1883, Roosevelt returned the following year, this time overwhelmed with grief. Earlier that year he had experienced unimaginable personal tragedy when his beloved wife, Alice, and his mother died on the very same day. A few months later TR returned to western Dakota by train, bound for a landscape he hoped would bring him solace, healing, and renewal.
Over the next several years, Roosevelt returned to the Badlands for weeks or even months at a time, relishing the oddly shaped yet magnificently beautiful region around the Little Missouri River. Here he found plentiful game-deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, cougar, bear, and grouse. He arrived just in time to hunt the bison, which had been hunted nearly to extinction in prior years. On his hunting forays he was often accompanied by Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, onetime guides from Maine whom he hired to join him in Dakota. His hunting experiences in Dakota awakened in him an awareness of the importance of conserving game animals, and in 1887 he helped found the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest wildlife conservation organization in North America.