Tales of Medora: How the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Began

Medora is a town full of fun and beauty — and nothing accentuates that beauty more than the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In this “Tale of Medora,” we explore what went into the creation of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. From the political leg-work to the final celebration; there is a whole story behind the creation of the TRNP and it’s fascinating! The following is an excerpt taken from Rolf Sletten’s book, “Medora: Boom, Bust, and Resurrection.” Enjoy!

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In 1946, a bill proposing the creation of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park was introduced in the US Congress. The bill was opposed by the secretary and reintroduced in 1947. This time the proposal included language that would bring the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch within the embrace of the proposed park. Finally, the bill passed. After twenty-five years of hard work, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was born. The North Unit was added the following year. On June 4, 1949, a crowd of more than twenty thousand people attended a dedication ceremony in the natural amphitheatre at Painted Canyon, seven miles east of Medora.

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The man most responsible for getting the bill through congress was North Dakota Congressman William Lemke. He made it his cause celebre. Just why Lemke devoted more than five years of his political career to a cause he had never previously espoused and to preserving the memory of a man he didn’t particularly admire is a bit of a mystery. Whatever his motivation might have been, Lemke fought a long hard battle to make the park a reality.

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The new park was named Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. Although the name was a political compromise, some people, including Lemke, had hoped inclusion of the word “Memorial” would create additional status not enjoyed by other parks. Unfortunately, the proponents of that idea were misreading the tea leaves. The name turned out to be a bit of a burden. As the only “Memorial” park in the federal system, the park had a sort of nebulous status and was often omitted when the national parks were discussed. In 1978, the name of the park was changed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and any questions about its status were finally removed.

This story was excerpted from Rolf Sletten’s book, “Medora – Boom, Bust, and Resurrection.” You can get the full story by purchasing Rolf’s book on our website!

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