Like an old west story, well-told?

Imagine shelves of old west stories, each one about western North Dakota, the Badlands, and Medora.  Some are fiction, some academic, some  illuminating.  And that’s the way it should be. This region of the U.S. holds more outstanding stories, tales and nation-building history than most people know.

Medora Boom, Bust and Resurrection zero’s in on the town and its development, struggles and revival under the leadership of Harold Schafter.

Rolf Sletten’s story-telling abilities put muscle on the skeleton. He puts personality on the academics and order to the shuffled deck of fact and fiction. His books Medora, and Roosevelt’s Ranches tell the story as you’ve never heard it.

Sletten is a long time fixture in Medora He is an attorney by training, a romantic by heart.  His gentle, and highly intelligent approach to life and history coupled with his attorney-mindset of research make his books unlike others.

Roosevelt’s Ranches the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn

“By his own declaration, T.R. valued the time he spent on his ranches more than he valued his experiences in the white House and more than he valued his time with the Rough Riders.”

Sletten capitalizes on the consumer trend for images. People who are ravenous for visuals will love his books. Roosevelt’s Ranches more than satisfies that desire for visuals.

One of the full-page photographs. Allmost half the book is full sized images illustrating the story Sletten is telling.

The book is over-sized and provides readers with an unbelievable sequence of photographs and drawings to illustrate the subject.  Almost every even-numbered page is a full-size photograph. 

The book includes photos such as this one of the Pyramid Park Hotel — and the story of Roosevelt’s first night here.

Little Missouri, Maltese Cross and Elkhorn

If you are familiar with the history of the Dakota Territory, and Medora, then you have heard about Little Missouri. It was the founding town on the opposite bank of the river by the same name. Sletten unveils much of the history, the charm and the lawlessness of that town, focusing on Roosevelt’s arrival in a very auspicious way.

As the story is told, Roosevelt was willing to step out of a rich kid’s lifestyle in to the muddy, cold and wild life of an unsettled territory.  He then used his riches to bring the region a step closer to lawful, prosperous America.

Year by year

The chapter from “1883, Westward Ho!” draws a dramatic scene full of color and personality – you can almost smell the sweat, booze and grunge of the “bull pen” where Roosevelt spent his first night in Little Missouri., Dakota Territory.

The story follows this eastern green horn as he is persuaded to start ranching.  First came the Maltese Cross Ranch, undoubtedly Roosevelt’s “cattle ranch.”  He invested thousands of dollars in the herd, its ranch hands and the buildings on flatland south of Medora.

Then, it reaches out to the labors of building the home ranch, the Elkhorn ranch. The tales of life and death at the Elkhorn are astounding.

Year by year, Sletten tells the stories of what it took to shape the region, build a cattle business and prepare a man just out of his teens for what was to come. With photos and stories of the men, women, children and wildlife of the region, Sletten takes readers to 1901 when Roosevelt’s lessons from the Ranches powers his successful candidacy to become President of the United States.  That’s a huge transition year.  It was formally and physically the end of the Elkhorn Ranch and the Maltese Cross Ranch.

Accuracy is important to Sletten, and so this drawing is based on photos and archaeological digs that provide the basis for the accuracy.

Sletten is a story-teller 

This old west story is more than just tales swapped over a campfire. His stories take raw data, records, letters, comments he has uncovered and weaves a story like a novel. Roosevelt’s Ranches is a novel of sorts, full of plots, sub plots, protagonists and antagonists.  He does not amplifies the grittiness of the Dakota Territory, nor the romance of the old west.  He doesn’t need to.  The story of the of the two ranches cannot be told without grit and romance – and Sletten does it well.

That’s why I recommend Roosevelt’s Ranches. Of all the books my wife and I have read, fact or fiction, of trappers and explorers, of settlers and ranchers, this is my #1 recommendation.  It ought to be used in U.S. History classes for the missing links it adds to the development of the West and of a popular president.The book could be used in writing classes as a stellar example of how to present facts, figures, names, dates and places as a fascinating story. Perhaps it could be something a parent would read to a child. 

You can buy it at Medora’s Western Edge Books store. It’s right up front by the cash register. The two books are 29.99 and 39.99.

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