My family has been in North Dakota since the Dakota Territory became a state so let me explain. North Dakota is the fulcrum of the hero’s journey in T.R.’s almost unbelievable life story.
Roosevelt came to Dakota in September 1883 to hunt buffalo, and left having invested $14,000 in cattle and a ranch. Just a few months later, on February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt’s wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, and mother, Mittie Roosevelt, died on the same day in the same house. T.R. was devastated, writing famously in his diary, “The light has gone out of my life.”
Depressed, T.R. finished up his third term as a New York assemblyman, and fled to the Badlands in western Dakota to mourn and recover. T.R. met people who were not like him. He learned the value of hard work worth doing. He sat under the stars, appreciated nature and loneliness in the vast, open space. He lived the strenuous life, and in doing so found reason to go on living.
T.R. said, of course, that he never would have been president without his experience in North Dakota. Later, perhaps more significantly, he wrote that if all his memories were to be taken from him, and he was forced only one memory from his incredible life he would choose to remember “my life on the ranch with its experiences close to nature and among the men who lived nearest her.”
He did not choose the memory of the Roughriders or the charge up Kettle Hill; he would not recall McKinley’s assassination and his rise from the vice presidency to the Oval Office; he did not pick the 1912 Bull Moose independent campaign, the African safari or the River of Doubt. T.R. chose to remember North Dakota, and so North Dakota chooses to remember T.R.