Preserve America Community:
Medora, North Dakota
Medora, North Dakota (year-round population around 100) and the surrounding Badlands are rich in lore and legends. Home to hardy ranchers, aristocratic entrepreneurs, Native Americans, and even a future president, Medora’s historic resources help illustrate the story of the rugged frontier.
Medora bears the name of the wife of the Marquis de Mores, a young French nobleman, who founded the town in 1883. He intended to establish a new kind of cattle operation, slaughtering and cold packing his cattle and shipping it east in newly available refrigerated rail cars. He built meat packing and brick plants, a hotel, stores, and a large home overlooking his new town. For three years the town bustled, but in 1886 the operation collapsed due to drought, competition, and the Marquis’ lack of business experience. The family returned to Europe, leaving behind a town in decline. Coal mining, ranching, and cattle shipping provided some economic relief.
The Chateau de Mores sat vacant and later operated as a boardinghouse. The home and grounds were given to the state in 1936 and were restored from 1937-1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The 128-acre Chateau de Mores State Historic Site opened to the public in 1941.
Also drawn to this area was a young New York politician named Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt came to the Badlands in 1883, chasing through the wild ravines for two weeks until he found and shot a buffalo. Roosevelt enjoyed the western way of life so much that, before heading back east, he bought a ranch eight miles south of Medora and renamed it the Maltese Cross Ranch. Following the devastating deaths of his mother and beloved wife within hours of each other in 1884, Roosevelt returned to his ranch. He decided it was too close to civilization for the solitude he wanted, so he bought the Elkhorn Ranch, located 35 miles north of Medora.
Like many small prairie towns, Medora gradually faded and was quite dilapidated by the middle of the 20th century. In 1962 a wealthy North Dakotan, Harold Schafer, fell in love with the place and began a gradual restoration of the town, eventually turning it into North Dakota’s leading visitor attraction, drawing up to a quarter of a million visitors annually. The fewer than 100 permanent residents of Medora have worked hard to preserve what remains of the original town and have designated the entire city a “Historic Integrity District” with strict zoning guidelines.
Today Medora is a “gateway community” to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Visitors enjoy the “Footsteps into Medora’s Past” guided walking tour, featuring living history presentations. Other popular attractions are the “Medora Musical,” presented in an outdoor amphitheater, and a one-act play about Roosevelt presented in the Old Town Hall Theater. Local cowboy Lyle Glass presents daily programs on the street in downtown Medora on cowboy lore and culture. The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame features the history of Native Americans, ranching, rodeo, and the western lifestyle of the plains and Badlands. The Billings County Courthouse Museum displays frontier farm and ranch memorabilia, barbed wire, and a pioneer days courtroom and jail. The Medora Cowboy Poetry Gathering is the oldest ongoing regional cowboy gathering in the nation, marking 20 consecutive years in 2006.
The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation’s volunteer program accepts more than 400 volunteers annually from more than 800 applicants. Volunteers, who are provided with free lodging and meals, come for eight-day stays and help prepare and promote Medora’s historic attractions.
For more information
Discover our Shared HeritageTravel Itinerary: American Presidents: www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/presidents
Medora home page: www.medorand.com
North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame: www.northdakotacowboy.com
Posted March 16, 2009