Theodore Roosevelt's Valentine's Day Tragedy

Written by Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager

T.R.'s February 14, 1884 Diary EntryOn February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt's diary entry included a large 'X' and the words, "The light has gone out of my life."

Tragically, Theodore Roosevelt lost his mother and first wife on that day 129 years ago. His mother, Mittie, died of typhoid fever in the early morning hours and his wife, Alice, succumbed to kidney failure several hours later in the same house. She had given birth to their first child, Alice, only two days earlier.  Roosevelt's devastation led him to never again talk about his first wife.

That June Roosevelt headed west to his beloved North Dakota Badlands to seek solitude and soothe his grief. A year earlier he had purchased the Maltese Cross Cabin in Medora and delved into the world of cattle ranching. His cattle had wintered well and he made the decision to expand his ranching business, purchasing the rights to a second site 35 miles north of Medora. He named it the Elkhorn Ranch. By the spring of 1885 the cottonwood log ranch home and outbuildings were complete. Roosevelt would own the ranch for another 14 years before selling it to Sylvane Ferris, one of his managers and partners at the Maltese Cross Cabin.

The Elkhorn Ranch not only provided Roosevelt with a healing outlet for his tragic loss, it also further exposed him to the growing loss of wildlife and wilderness in the North Dakota Badlands due to overhunting and overgrazing. During his presidency, Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service and enabled the Antiquities Act. The latter allowed him to designate 18 National Monuments across the country. He would go on to protect wildlife and public lands by designating numerous national parks, forests, and preserves on more than 230 million acres of public land.  

Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch helped lay the foundation for the president's deep conservation legacy. The national importance of this is the reason that the National Trust continues to advocate for protection of the Elkhorn Ranch from incompatible development. Later this month we will be meeting with a broad array of partners in North Dakota to further strategize how to best tackle this issue. The support for the Elkhorn Ranch is vast, and we are optimistic that solutions can be found to preserve the legacy of the nation's 26th President.

Please check back often for additional updates on the Elkhorn Ranch. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.