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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
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Medora is one of the very best of the national park gateway towns. Although of course it has a few gift shops, motels and restaurants, it has avoided the over commercialization that several such towns have succumbed to. There is no McDonalds, no Holiday Inn, no Go Kart Racetrack, Shopping Mall or Video Arcade. They've managed to keep the architecture true to their cattle town history. There's probably a good day to be spent in Medora if you stopped in every shop and attraction. According to the state tourism department, Medora is the number one attraction in North Dakota. You should come here primarily for the park, but if you're here for a week and have one rainy day, Medora is the place to spend it.
Here's the passenger station where Theodore Roosevelt got off the train when he came out to North Dakota, and got back on for the trip back East. In his day that was the Northern Pacific RR. Today it's the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
This is the famous Chateau of the Marquis de Mores, founder of Medora. The Marquis was a French nobleman who came out to visit in 1883 and realized the North Dakota Bluestem grass contained three times more protein and twice as much sugar as other grasses and steak made from cattle who grazed on it tasted immeasurably better. Chicago packing houses bought Dakota cattle, shipped them back East and finished them off fattening on corn and mash, which diluted the taste from the Bluestem. So the fabulously wealthy Marquis brought his New York debutante wife, Medora, along, settled here, and built his own packing plant, founding the town and named it after his wife. He bought local cattle, slaughtered them, and shipped the meat directly to New York and Paris buyers. He was right. They liked Dakota steak better and were willing to pay more for it.
The Marquis, Roosevelt and other Dakota ranchers made a huge profit in a short amount of time. But Phillip Danforth Armour of Armour Meat Packing Corporation saw this as a massive threat to his monopoly. He consulted with James Hill of the Great Northern Pacific RR. By some coincidence, soon Mores beef shipments began to be lost on sidings coming across the country. The ice in the cars would melt in about four days and the meat would spoil. The Marquis realized what was going on but could do nothing about it. He was forced to abandon the enterprise. All that remains of the packing plant today is the foundation and the smokestack seen in the photo at top right. Cattle ranching is still a major enterprise in North Dakota, but the profit margin is thin. Had the Marquis' meatpacking operation survived, cattle ranching would be much more lucrative. However, this was a powerful lesson for Roosevelt, who realized the corruption and power of big business. As President, he led the effort to break up monopolies, cartels and other strangling corporate alliances. He especially introduced legislation to control the northwestern railroads and their alliances with meatpackers and food packagers.
The Cowboy Hall of Fame is adjacent to the park entrance. It's disappointing in some ways, but still worth a visit. They do nothing with such categories as Cowboy music, literature, art, movies, barbed wire or cattle. There's no mention of Russell, Remington, Grey, Wister or Hamilton. You don't find out about the evolution of the cowboy hat, bandanna, saddle, boots, or spurs. They get distracted by Native Americans and Buffalo, which were not really part of cowboy culture. However, the museum is still interesting. It features extensive coverage of Rodeo and seemingly every individual and family in Southwestern North Dakota. This is a new building, with plenty of unused room, especially upstairs. Hopefully they'll grow into their subject.

Away from the main drag, Medora has quiet side streets which still look like they did in the 1950s or 1890s. This is the post office and church. The Medora Foundation tries to maintain the Western falsefront architecture where possible. You can park your car and walk the entire town.

The Medora Foundation was created to manage the entire town. It defines what stores, restaurants and other businesses are needed, and recruits people to run them, which often means bringing them in from out of state. Since the season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, many retired couples come in for the Summer with their travel campers, live at one of the campgrounds, and then Winter in Arizona or New Mexico.

This is a cluster of clothing stores and gift shops along the main drag. For some reason, Medora does not have an outlet selling outdoor clothing for hikers, canoeists, bikers or equestrians. Nor do they sell outdoor equipment.

There is a serious Summer employment crisis in Medora. The Foundation recruits labor from across the nation and Europe. For the last several seasons it has imported busloads of workers from Romania and the Ukraine. They even built special housing for them. If you'd like to spend a Summer at a national park, they'd be happy to hire you.

The star attraction in Medora is the Medora Musical. Performed from mid June to Labor Day in one of the nation's most beautiful outdoor theatres, this production attracts rising singers and dancers from various college campuses. Under the careful management of the Medora Foundation, it has become one of the top three outdoor productions in the nation, along with Ohio's Tecumseh and North Carolina's Lost Colony. They do sell out, however, so if you're in town for the week, you may wish to go by Monday and buy tickets for several days later. The Burning Hills Theatre is built into the side of a hill just to your right as you come in from the interstate, above the Chateau de Mores. Do not dismiss this as a hokey small town affair. It is a big time, professional production well worth your evening. It's been going on for half a century and a lot of singers and dancers have catapulted from this stage to major careers.
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