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Theodore Roosevelt
and the Dakota Badlands
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Roosevelt's Later Ranching Operations

Following the hard winter of 1886-87, Roosevelt's trips to his Dakota ranches were less frequent. His devotion to his family and his rising political fortunes were no doubt influences that kept him in the East. Nevertheless, he continued trying for more than a decade to recoup his losses in the Badlands. Records regarding his ranching ventures, which were kept at the Elkhorn Ranch during this period, are meager and obscure. Some time between 1890 and 1892 Roosevelt abandoned the Elkhorn Ranch, shifting his activities to the Maltese Cross. The tax records indicate that his herds dwindled over a period of several years.

In 1892 Roosevelt redoubled his efforts to recoup his losses. In March of that year, together with Archibald D. Russell, R. H. M. Ferguson, and Douglas Robinson, he organized the Elkhorn Ranch Company, incorporated under the laws of New York. He transferred his cattle holdings, valued at $16,500, to this company, and later invested in it a further sum of $10,200. Sylvane Ferris served as manager of the new organization. Soon the new company began to purchase more cattle. In May 1892 the Dickinson Press reported, "Theodore Roosevelt . . . has 1,000 head of cattle in the Badlands out of Medora. . . . Through Mr. Roosevelt's manager, S. M. Ferris, 300 head were purchased recently." Additional purchases were made 2 years later.

Roosevelt spent short periods in the Badlands during the late summers or early autumns of 1887, 1888, 1890, 1892, 1893, and 1896. But his political success in the East during the 1890's made it increasingly difficult for him to give attention to his ranching ventures. From 1889 to 1895 he was a member of the United States Civil Service Commission. For the next 2 years he was president of the Police Commission of New York City. In 1897, President McKinley appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

By this time the number of Roosevelt's cattle had dwindled considerably, and he reached the conclusion that he should sell out. In December 1897 he wrote his foreman, Sylvane Ferris, "Evidently we must try to dispose of all the cattle on the ranch next year." In April 1898 the United States was at war with Spain. Roosevelt, who was then planning on going to Cuba as a lieutenant colonel of the cavalry that became known as the "Rough Riders," sold his cattle interest to Sylvane Ferris.

Roosevelt's losses from his ranching ventures were heavy. According to Hermann Hagedorn, his biographer, Roosevelt's initial investment in the two ranches was $82,500. Of this, he lost approximately $23,500. His investment in the Elkhorn Stock Company, however, yielded him a profit of $3,250, which reduced his net loss from his Dakota venture to about $20,000. Considering loss on interest on $82,500 at 5 percent for the period from September 1884 to February 1899, his total loss would amount to about $50,000.

Near the close of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, the Government surveyed much of the Little Missouri Badlands. The region was then opened to homesteaders. About the same time the Northern Pacific Railway sold its lands in the region. These two events marked the end of the open range. As a result, most of the remaining big cattle outfits went out of the business.

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