Visiting historic sites gives you only a momentary glimpse into the lives of people who lived there and, indeed, into the lives of those live there now. In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, separated into three separate units, we get to know briefly the TR who treasured the strenuous outdoor life, invested in cattle ranching, and loved both to hunt and to try to preserve the wilderness around him. He had two ranches here in North Dakota: the Maltese Cross
and, later, the Elkhorn, and he claimed that his years in North Dakota helped him become President. The park is a clipping of a life, a few words on a postcard about a man who went on to lead the Rough Riders in Cuba and go on to many years in the political arena as well as write forty books.
But the town outside the park is named Medora for the Marquise de Morés, whose husband founded the town in 1886 and named it for her. Their hunting lodge sits on a hill
overlooking Medora, a home these Sardinian/French peers lived in sporadically for only three years. Living like royalty with their own private fiefdom, the Marquis de Morés ran cattle and started an abattoir, sending his prepared meat via refrigerator cars (on ice) back east . The couple lived well in their twenty-six room house on the hill, which the locals called ‘Chateau Morés’; they had servants, and imported china, silver and furnishings. Guests came for hunting parties. But what the plaques in the house and the docents on duty don’t tell you is the rest of the story: how the Marquis was an adventurer, started a railroad in Viet Nam, became an avid anti-semite in France, or how he died, murdered in North Africa.
Medora most likely would not exist without either of these men: the Marquis who founded it and Teddy Roosevelt around whom it seems to exist today. It’s a very quiet place right next to a very under-visited national park, and yet seems to survive on the tourist trade. Long cargo trains come through several times a day but never stop and, it appears to us, only about three families own most of the shops in town.