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Field Notes

Back to the Badlands

North Dakota. Famously one of the last places people visit for trips and vacations. As off-the-radar as this state is now, it used to be a hub for ranchers, farmers, and cowboys. In the southwest corner lies Medora, a bustling cattle town from the past.

Photo by Freepik

History of Medora

It all started in April 1883 when a French nobleman—Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Morès—founded the small town and named it after his wife: Medora von Hoffman. The town was built on several businesses from beef packing to railway and hotel.

In September 1883, Theodore Roosevelt, as a young New York politician, ventured out to Medora to hunt buffalo. He fell in love with the rugged badlands and purchased two ranches—the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn. He later claimed his experience in North Dakota is what led him to become president. His time in Medora was “the romance of [his] life.” Still standing near Medora is Teddy’s Maltese Cross cabin—the cabin he built and lived in during his time in Medora. From its first days as a settlement to its years of ranching, Medora has always been a place for those that who love the rugged wild of the west.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Encompassing more than 71,000 acres, Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established on April 25, 1947. Today, the park preserves three areas of the Badlands located in the southwestern corner of North Dakota, right outside Medora. This park hosts a variety of hikes, trails, and drives for visitors to explore. Open year-round, the scenic drive takes you through the park showing off the colorful landscape and a variety of wildlife. You may catch a glimpse of bison, prairie dogs, deer, wild horses, and more.

The isolated location of the park also makes it great for stargazing and catching a glimpse of the northern lights. This rich environment is perfect for all parties—adventurers roughing it, families enjoying a Sunday drive, or friends going glamping—providing difficult hiking trails, paved trails and drives, and guided tours.

The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame

Established in 1995, this museum preserves and displays the history and heritage of the North Dakota plains. The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame celebrates the trailblazing ranchers, rodeo cowboys, homesteaders, and Native Americans that who formed and continue to shape the culture of the state today. This specialty museum includes not only a variety of exhibits but also a Hall of Honorees and an art collection depicting the famous western themes. Perfect for a fun educational experience or any history buff, the Cowboy Hall of Fame is a great stop on your trip to Medora.

The Medora Musical

One of Medora’s most exciting attractions takes place in the Burning Hills Amphitheatre. In the summer, musicians and actors—along with new special guests each year—come together to put on the Medora Musical. Filled with fun and the Western spirit, this musical recounts the history of Medora, Teddy Roosevelt, and the American West. Featuring everything from live horses onstage to a firework finale, the Medora Musical is like an old movie musical brought to life. Reserve tickets for the opportunity to take part in a pitchfork steak fondue dinner before the show starts. This one-of-a-kind experience encompasses the greatest parts of Medora.

While this state might be forgotten and off the beaten path, it is filled with a rich history and culture, celebrating a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. So, if you want a taste of a rugged, simpler life, where time seems to slow down and people simply mosey about, venture out to Medora, North Dakota.