This guest post was submitted by William J. Brotherton. He’s a UND graduate (1980), a member of the TR Medora Foundation, a licensed attorney in North Dakota and Texas, and the author of Burlington Northern Adventures: Railroading in the Days of the Caboose (South Platte Press, 2004). He lives in Argyle, Texas.
Bravo to Governor Doug Burgum for his bold proposal to build the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library using $50 million in Legacy Fund earnings and $100 million in donations!
It’s not only time for North Dakota to promote its links to one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had, but it also gives Teddy Roosevelt his due. This is an investment in the state’s future that has to be made!
The Badlands are well known throughout the world and right along with them is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I travel extensively and everywhere I go, I’m proud to extol my North Dakota ties, and I am often amazed at how much people know about North Dakota and Teddy Roosevelt and how they tie the two together.
I work as a marshal at the British Open every year and I struck up a conversation last year in Carnoustie, Scotland with a couple from London who had traveled to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park years before and stayed in Medora. They couldn’t stop talking about how spectacular the park was and how the town of Medora was just a “jewel”. I’ve had similar conversations with patrons at Augusta where I also work at the tournament every year on the 14th hole. People equate North Dakota with Teddy Roosevelt and the Badlands. And it’s time for North Dakota to exploit that connection and bring more people into the state to enjoy the North Dakota experience!
I have a unique connection to the state in that I wasn’t born here but arrived in 1977 to work as the environmental manager for the old International Co-Op potato processing plant in Grand Forks. When the plant shut down, my family and I decided we loved North Dakota and I went to work for the Burlington Northern Railroad as a brakeman/conductor. That gave me a unique opportunity to work freight trains across North Dakota and enjoy a perspective on the state that the majority of people will never see. My first trip to the Badlands and Medora was during a railroad furlough when I landed a job as a roughneck in the Williston Oil Basin, at a rig outside of New England, North Dakota. It was a dry hole, and after breaking down the rig, I had a chance to spend several days in Medora exploring the park. I found the experience breathtaking and I can’t help but think that the majority of folks who visit the park and Medora have the same experience!
While I am a licensed attorney in the state, I live outside of Dallas-Fort Worth and even there, I’m not far from the influence of Teddy Roosevelt, the first environmentalist president. Just up the road in Lawton, Oklahoma is the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, a park that I have visited frequently. There, in 1907, when there were only 550 American Bison remaining in the country, 15 breeding stock from of all places, the New York Central Park Zoo, were shipped to Oklahoma to start rebuilding a national buffalo herd.
On October 7, 1907, the buffalo arrived at the new refuge, where crowds greeted the shaggy beasts with enthusiasm, including the great Comanche chief Quanah Parker. Saving the buffalo could not have been accomplished without President Teddy Roosevelt and the first chief of the US Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot. Under President Roosevelt’s leadership, Pinchot established parks and refuges across the country that we enjoy today as Americans.
The buffalo herd in Oklahoma thrived, and were used to reestablish buffalo populations throughout the US where they had been decimated years before. The buffalo at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park came from that Oklahoma stock.
But Teddy didn’t just help save the American bison. After being elected president in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt went on to establish 150 national forests, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, 18 national monuments and 51 federal bird reserves. He managed to set aside over 230 million acres to become public land. What a heritage he left!
Teddy Roosevelt arrived in North Dakota in 1883 as a sickly youth, became a rancher, and left North Dakota a robust man who would go on to become president. He loved the Badlands and returned there many times to “refresh his soul”, and after being elected president told everyone that “I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”
This is the time to build the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and weld together this great president and this great state. I urge everyone to support Governor Burgum’s proposal and seize this one-of-a-kind opportunity!