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Geology of the North Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park


This report is written so that the visitor may gain some appreciation of the geology and the history of this beautiful Park. To do this it has been found necessary to tell something of the general geology of the area of which this Park is a part. A few paragraphs are also given describing some of the geologic processes which have been important in the formation of the land forms which you will see about you. The road log is appended to give you some idea of things to look for as you travel along the roads of the Park.

There are a number of points of historic interest included within the boundaries of this North Unit. A short statement should be made relative to these items as they too, add to the interest of the visitor.

On figure 2 you will see some of these points of historic interest noted. Also included are some other interesting places such as the Long X trail along which those spending more time in the Park will want to hike to get better acquainted with this region.

FIGURE 2. Base map showing historic points of interest in the North Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The Long X nature and hiking trail was named for the Long X Ranch which lies about three miles north of the start of this trail. The Long X Ranch was the end of the trail for the cattle drives in 1883 and 1884 which started in Texas and ended in this area.

Those of the readers who are familiar with the history of Theodore Roosevelt and his ranching activities in the Badlands area will remember the episode of the stolen boat. In the early spring of 1886 some thieves stole Roosevelt's boat from its moorings near the Elkhorn Ranch some distance upstream (south) from the North Unit. After the discovery of the theft, Roosevelt and two of his ranchhands, Sewell and Dow, constructed another boat and set off down the river in pursuit of the thieves. On this trip they camped in what is now the North Unit although the exact place of camping is not known. Some of the early settlers in this area tell of a rock near the river bank which bore Roosevelt's initials. The thieves were finally overtaken and captured near the mouth of Cherry Creek about 12 miles east of the North Unit. The mouth of Cherry Creek can be located on Plate I of this report.

PLATE I. Diagrammatic maps showing the various shapes in the evolution of the drainage of the lower course of the Little Missouri River. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The Indians were naturally the first inhabitants of this area and remains of an encampment are known across the river from the Squaw Creek campgrounds. This was supposed to have been the site of a Gros Ventre camp site. The Badlands were a favorite camping place for the Indians as there was plenty of shelter and firewood to say nothing of the availability of cottonwood bark to feed the horses when all other available feed was covered by the snow. Game also was more abundant in the Badlands. However about this particular campground relatively little is known as yet due to lack of detailed exploration.

On the south bank of the river on the high plateau area overlooking the Park are what are called tepee rings for want of a better term. These are rings of stones about the same size placed roughly in a circle. It is supposed that they were placed there to hold down the skins making an Indian tepee but because of their scattered distribution and rather unlikely situation as a place to camp there is some doubt if this is the entirely correct interpretation.

Also on the south bank of the river near the edge of the plateau are pits which were apparently dug by the Indians for the purpose of catching eagles. These are therefore known as eagle pits. They were used by the Indians probably in somewhat the following fashion. The pit was dug and covered with sticks and branches making a sort of camouflage. Bait in the form of a live rabbit was placed on top to attract the eagles. When the eagle lighted on the bait he was caught by the Indians crouching inside the pit.

The Indians would catch the eagle by the legs and pull some of the tail feathers out for use in his war bonnet. Eagles feathers were much prized for this purpose and the scratches and other assorted wounds obtained in catching the eagle were regarded as a small payment to make if the catch was successful. Eagle feathers were much in demand for the war bonnets and in addition to the decoration he obtained from the feathers, the Indian was also more respected for the bravery he had shown in obtaining the feathers in the first place.

To the north of the Squaw Creek campground in the rough terrain bordering the cliffs making the side of the valley is the unmarked grave of "Scrap Iron Bill" Bryant, a cousin of the famous poet William Cullen Bryant. He operated a sawmill in the area where the campgrounds now are located from about 1912 to February 1915 when he died. The spot where he is buried is one chosen by himself before he died as he loved the country so much he wanted to be buried there. The spot which he chose is one which is unlikely to be disturbed by wild beast, man or the advance of civilization as was his wish.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006