BISMARCK, N. D. – When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory in 1883 to hunt bison, the local population saw him as an Eastern tenderfoot with no idea about dealing with the hardships of the frontier life. He turned adversity into adventure, later writing: “It was here that the romance of my life began.”
“I’ve always said that I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota,” wrote Roosevelt.
Now, lovers of the 26th president, his work to establish the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in the North Dakota Badlands. They recognize that it will be a challenge, but they are busy with the increase of millions, the digitization of the Roosevelt papers by the tens of thousands, and the promotion of the majestic surroundings that Roosevelt loved so much.
“The reason that we have this library where we have, in the west of North Dakota, that is the landscape that shaped and formed him in the Roosevelt we know,” said Clay Jenkinson, a leading Roosevelt scholar and re-enactor who works as a consultant for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation.
Roosevelt was a resident of New York, where his birthplace and primary adult residence are national historic sites. But to make an attempt a decade ago to establish a library, there is fizzled, and North Dakotans — who are eager to take advantage of the links on natives, such as baseball great Roger Maris, Western author Louis L’amour and band leader Lawrence Welk — saw an opportunity.
Roosevelt’s four years on a farm in North Dakota Badlands, when he was in his 20’s, deepened his love for nature and made him a champion of wildlife conservation. He came to the area to recover from the death of his wife and mother on the same day. After his return to New York, he went on to serve as the state’s governor and U.S. vice-president before he, as president William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.
Roosevelt’s old turf in North Dakota is now a national park in his name — a rugged area of hills, ridges, buttes, and bluffs, where millions of years of erosion have exposed the colorful sedimentary rock layers. The park is home to a large variety of wildlife, from prairie dogs to wild horses and bison. It is North Dakota’s top tourist attraction, drawing more than 700,000 visitors per year.
The library is scheduled in Dickinson, with the museum about a half-hour drive away in Medora, a tourist town on the park.
The project has 15 million dollars in the hand of the state of North Dakota, and the city of Dickinson, who want to take advantage of one of the most popular governors who do not already have a library. The organizers hope to raise $85 million in private donations — a formidable challenge.
The Theodore Roosevelt Association, founded by Congress in 1920 to perpetuate Roosevelt’s legacy, is monitoring the fundraising.
“This is a very ambitious project, and we want to make sure that they have sufficient financial resources, so we don’t have a back-something that turns out to be a half-done project,” said association CEO Tweed Roosevelt, Theodore’s great-grandson.
Presidential libraries are something of a modern phenomenon. The National Archives manages 14, starting with Herbert Hoover. By law, libraries for presidents prior to that to be built without federal support.
In contrast to the large libraries, a Roosevelt library would not have a wealth of original documents, because most are already in permanent collections. The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University has digitized nearly 60,000 records, photos, videos, and audio recordings.
The project would also be a virtual exhibitions and a full re-creation of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch cabin, at an altitude of 1,800 square metres cottonwood log structure hand-built by Roosevelt and his ranch hands.
“My biggest wish is to see the many sides of TR — the adventurer, the reformer, the naturalist, the soldier, the scholar, the family man, the list goes on and on,” said great grandson, Kermit Roosevelt III University of Pennsylvania law professor.
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