The town of Medora has lived a vibrant life. Our new series of blogs entitled, “Tales of Medora”, will take you back to a time when Medora was populated with cowboys and outlaws. We’ll highlight excerpts from Rolf Sletten’s book, “Medora: Boom, Bust, and Resurrection”, to give you a clearer picture of what Medora was like before Harold Schafer resurrected it.
The characters are real, the stories true, and the history, incredible! Let’s begin. Enter, Joe Ferris…
Joe Ferris came to the Little Missouri area in 1881. He, along with his brother and their good friend Bill Merrifield, had intentions to make a living in the Wild West. The train ride to the end of the railroad was free, but a return journey was 5 cents a mile; essentially making a return trip impossible.
Joe worked many jobs before starting the Ferris Store. He cut wood for the railroad, worked as a stable boss, tried his hand at being a hunting guide and moonlighted as a banker and postmaster. Through these jobs, Joe developed a reputation as a hard worker and demanding boss. He also created an air of dependability and fairness. These traits would server him will in the not so distant future.
When Theodore Roosevelt was coming to the Badlands to hunt buffalo, he needed a guide.
As Rolf Sletten writes, “Frank Moore, the genial but generally useless manager of the Gorringe Enterprises in Little Missouri, suggested that Joe Ferris would be a good choice for a guide. Joe was less enthusiastic. He contemplated the skinny little easterner with the high-pitched voice and the big round glasses with serious misgivings. It appeared to Joe that if he said “yes,” he would essentially be signing up for a babysitting job. In a few days Joe would have a very different impression of Theodore Roosevelt, but on that first day he could not know what was to come. Despite his initial misgivings, Joe Ferris became Roosevelt’s closest friend in the Badlands.
It was a relationship that endured through Roosevelt’s presidency and continued for the remainder of their lives.”
Joe came to own the Ferris Store after a Swede named Jonny Nelson abruptly left Medora due to debt trouble. On August 4, 1885, Joe celebrated the grand opening of the Ferris Store.
According to “Boom, Bust, and Resurrection”, “When the Marquis’ enterprises failed in 1886, virtually every business in town closed its doors.” The Ferris store was not one of them. Joe kept it open, eventually handing over the business to his son Arnold in 1908. In 1925 the Ferris Store was closed after Arnold sold it to a Dickinson business man.
38 years later Harold Schafer restored the Ferris Store as we know it today.
If you’d like to find out more about Joe Ferris, and other historical figures that populated Medora, you can purchase Rolf Sletten’s book, “Medora: Boom, Bust, and Ressurection” by heading over to Medora.com