“The Most Wonderful Little Woman in the Badlands”
Margaret Barr Roberts was an Irish immigrant who moved to the United States when she was around 11 years old. Her life was one of travel and tragedy.
However, through the struggle and hardship, she remained optimistic; always looking forward, as TR would say, “Doing what she could, with what she had, where she was.”
And of course, she wasn’t alone. In fact, TR himself was there to help her along.
In 1871, Margaret married Lloyd Roberts and they settled in Waterloo, Iowa, where they gave birth to two daughters. However, Lloyd had a serious case of wanderlust and the small family’s stay in Waterloo did not last. Lloyd was constantly seeking greener pastures–pastures that always seemed to lie one hill over. From Waterloo they moved to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis they moved to Bismarck, from Bismarck to the Black Hills, and then back. Lloyd and Margaret settled in Mandan with the intention of farming, but Lloyd was not cut out to be a farmer and soon the family once again moved. By this time they had grown to a family of 7.
Their next move brought them to the Badlands, where Lloyd took a job as foreman if the Eaton Brothers’ Custer Trail Ranch. During this time, the family spent 6 weeks living in a tent as they built a log house. But after a year, Lloyd was ready to move again. 6 miles up the Little Missouri River, the family finally settled on Sloping Bottom Ranch, coincidentally, three miles south of the Maltese Cross Ranch owned by Theodore Roosevelt himself.
Life in the Badlands was a rough sort of life, particularly at Sloping Bottom. And in 1886, it became even more difficult for Margaret. Lloyd had gone on a cattle-buying trip further west. He sent a letter to Margaret from Cheyenne, WY with instructions on where she ought to send her next letter, but he was never heard from again.
Some claim he ran off, leaving Margaret to raise 5 girls on her own. It seems more likely that he was murdered for the money he was carrying on his trip. However, Margaret could never be sure. What Margaret did know was that she was now a widow attempting to raise 5 daughters in the Badlands on a ranch that was hardly a ranch at all.
It soon became clear, though, that Margaret would not be left alone to fend for herself. She wrote: “After my husband went and I was left a widow with five children to raise and no money to raise them with, the cowboys and especially the Maltese Cross outfit, sort of adopted me, keeping an eye on me and my children and seeing that we never lacked.”
As time passed, Sloping Bottom became a favorite destination for many of the men at the Maltese Cross, including TR. Margaret became a sort of mother figure to all. She would often be sought out by young men who had found girlfriends in Medora to act as a chaperon on their outings.
Margaret stayed at Sloping Bottom for 20 years where she raised all 5 of her daughters, 2 of her grandchildren, and a few “strays” that needed a home.
Many years later, when TR had become President, he made a stop in Medora. A huge crowd had gathered to greet him, but out of the crowd he spotted Margaret and called her forward.
There he introduced her to all as “the most wonderful little woman in the badlands,” and it would seem that no one could disagree.
She had been face-to-face with the harsh reality of the American northwest, yet with the help of neighbors like TR and the men at Maltese Cross, she had prevailed and lived as good a life as any had ever seen in the Badlands.
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