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Maltese Cross Cabin
A Cowboy's Adventure

He arrived in the Dakota Territory in 1883 as a sickly "four-eyed Eastern tenderfoot" but quickly became a rugged cowboy with a ranch of his own. Theodore Roosevelt, known as "TR," was only 24 years old when he began his adventure in the untamed West. Soon he was wearing fringed buckskins and a buffalo robe while riding the wild "badlands," hunting giant bison and elk and herding cattle.

TR was born in 1858 into a wealthy New York City family. Imagine how he must have felt when stepping off the train in the town of Little Missouri for the first time. The town's tiny group of buildings was crowded together on the west bank of the Missouri River. The place had a sense of humor, however. It included a saloon called "Big-Mouth Bob's Bug Juice Dispensary!"

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.

He thrived on the vigorous outdoor lifestyle, and at the Maltese Cross Ranch, he fully participated in the life of a working cowboy. In 1884, TR returned to the badlands and started a second open-range ranch, the Elkhorn. That year, both his first wife and his mother died on the same day. TR returned to the West over the next few years to live the life of a cowboy, explore, invigorate his body, and to have the Little Missouri Badlands renew his spirit. TR actively participated in ranch operations in the badlands until 1887, but he maintained his ranching interests in the area until 1898.

TR's passion for the great outdoors led him to become a renowned author on the subject. In 1885, he published Hunting Trips of a Ranchman. Two years later, he published The Winning of the West and the next year published Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail. His books depict the often rough, always interesting life of ranchers and cowboys in the late 1800s.

Theodore Roosevelt took a few precious items with him from his big city life in New York. Can you guess what some of these items were? He arrived in North Dakota with a toothbrush, spectacles (eyeglasses), and a "dude's" vocabulary including phrases such as "Hasten forward quickly there." TR later discovered that spectacles were considered as a sign of "defective moral character" in the badlands!

Learn more about the Maltese Cross Cabin:

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