On August 7 during Morning Edition, National Public Radio ran a story about Theodore Roosevelt and the Little Missouri River. The story titled Roosevelt’s Badlands Ranch Faces Potential Threat gave the history of TR’s connection to the North Dakota Badlands and the Little Missouri. But the bulk of the article was an expose about how the North Dakota oil boom is threatening the wide open spaces of TR’s historic Elkhorn Ranch.
My grasp on the details is shaky because when I first listened to the piece and during each subsequent reading of it, the same questions pop into my head. Can this really be the same Little Missouri that meandered through Harding County and past Camp Crook, the town where Hiram and I lived and worked for seven years after we graduated from college? How did I miss the historical connection?
The answer, of course, is that we were young and ignorant when we moved there. Plus, we lived in Harding County, South Dakota, about 150 miles south of TR’s ranch. And once Allen was born, our lives got…complicated. Even so, I can’t reconcile our South Dakota Little Missouri and the surrounding countryside with the concerns about TR’s North Dakota Little Missouri and the land around it.
Because Little Missouri country was wide open in TR’s day, it was wide open when we lived there from 1978-1985, and it’s still wide open today. If you’re wondering how wide open it is, consider this.
We drove 90 miles to the hospital the night our son was born.
The first 55 miles of the trip were gravel back then.
They’re still gravel today.
And it’s not too far from the Mcfarthest Spot.
If you need more convincing, here are a few pictures I took during trips to Harding County in 2007 and 2010.
This country is big.
No wonder I can’t wrap my head around the worries articulated in the NPR story. Not that they aren’t legitimate or newsworthy. They are. But there’s also a lot a land in them thar hills, and in my opinion, the story downplayed that fact to emphasize others.
There. I got that off my chest and feel much better. Except for one thing. Now I’m homesick for Harding County and all my friends there. I want to go to visit. But it’s a long way to drive.
About a thousand miles.
And the last fifty-five miles are still gravel.
On second thought, maybe I’ll wait to visit next summer.