For more information on the life and Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his contributions to conservation, click here to go to the "Historical Information Page on Theodore Roosevelt."

 


Maltese Cross Cabin
Medora, North Dakota

He came to the West to hunt the elusive bison that was fast disappearing on the Northern Plains. Successful as a hunter and impressed by the country, TR decided to invest in the cattle business. He purchased the Chimney Butte Ranch, located seven miles south of Medora, Dakota Territory, on the Little Missouri River. It later became known by its brand, the Maltese Cross. Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield operated the ranch for TR. This allowed TR to return to his home in New York City, confident that his cattle ranch was in good hands. He would, however, return often to his new home in the West.

At Theodore Roosevelt's request, ranch managers Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield built a 17' x 24-1/2' one- and one-half story cabin complete with a shingle roof and cellar during the winter of 1883-84. The Maltese Cross Cabin was originally located about seven miles south of Medora in the wooded bottomland of the Little Missouri River. TR's log cabin has also been referred to as the Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin, since it was part of his Maltese Cross Ranch property.

Constructed of durable ponderosa pine logs that had been cut and floated down the Little Missouri River, the cabin was luxurious for its time, with wooden floors and three separate rooms (kitchen, living room, and Roosevelt's bedroom). Other features of the cabin included two doors, several glass-paned windows, mortar for chinking, and a high-pitched shingled roof. The high-pitched roof provided an extra half-story that was used for storage and as a sleeping loft for the ranch hands. Access was gained by a ladder and a trapdoor in the kitchen and through a door in the gable.

Personal misfortunes caused TR to return to his ranch in the spring of 1884, and he occupied the new cabin for several months. The following year, the Elkhorn Ranch was established and TR took up residence there. However, the Maltese Cross Ranch continued to be the center of his operations. In 1899, the Maltese Cross Cabin became the property of Jack Snyder, a local cowboy. For a look at where the Maltese Cross Ranch stands today, take a 10 mile drive over winding dirt roads south of the town of Medora. Although it is still in use as a cattle ranch, it is private property.

Why Is This Site Important?
During his time at the Maltese Cross Cabin near Medora, TR built a massive body, repaired his soul, and learned to live on equal terms with men poorer and rougher than him. TR witnessed the decline in wildlife and saw the grasslands destroyed due to overgrazing. He later developed a conservation program as president that deeply reflected his experiences in the West where he had become keenly aware of the need to conserve and protect our natural resources. As President, TR established the U.S. Forest Service, five national parks, 51 wildlife refuges, and set aside 150 million acres as national forest.

TR wrote: "I would not have been President, had it not been for my experience in North Dakota."

The Maltese Cross Cabin is the only remaining building of TR's two Dakota ranches. It reflects the way of life on the cattlemen's frontier during the late 19th century, and stands as a reminder of the events that shaped and influenced one of America's greatest public figures.

To learn more about the Maltese Cross Cabin and TR's adventures, go to these sections:

A Cowboy's Adventure
Preserving History
Visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Sources Used