Book documents Medora's colorful historyCowboys, gunfighters, law officers and business owners in Medora during the 1880s and beyond come to life on the pages of a book recently written by Rolf Sletten.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Cowboys, gunfighters, law officers and business owners in Medora during the 1880s and beyond come to life on the pages of a book recently written by Rolf Sletten.
Tourists learn about President Theodore Roosevelt and the Marquis de Mores through the Medora Musical and books written about them. However, their contemporaries also have intriguing stories to tell in “Medora: Boom, Bust and Resurrection.”
Sletten begins the book with a tribute to the Native Americans and concludes with Medora’s restoration through the efforts of the late Harold Schafer, founder of the Gold Seal Co.
Sletten’s interest in Medora spans three decades.
“Harold and Sheila Schafer were my in-laws, so I spent a lot of time in Medora over the last 30 years,” Sletten said.
He said thousands of visitors to Medora are introduced to its history, but have little in-depth information.
“That bothered me and about 25 years ago, I had the idea to write a book.”
Sletten spends half of the year living in Bismarck and the other half living in a home on the Yucatan Peninsula.
He wrote the first chapters about 25 years ago, but set it aside and picked it up 2 1/2 year years ago.
Much of the research is from articles published in the Bad Lands Cow Boy, a pioneer newspaper at Medora; the State Historical Society; articles, books and letters.
He references the Clovis people, whose artifacts of 13,500 years ago were uncovered northwest of Medora.
The next set of chapters covers the Native Americans and soldiers who came through the area. He writes about the Badlands Cantonment — a small fort — located across the Little Missouri River from Medora.
“It was definitely a challenge to condense the information into relatively short chapters,” Sletten said.
Sletten writes about the Pyramid Park Hotel, which was where Theodore Roosevelt spent his first night in the Badlands.
“One of the people who really excites me the most was Margaret Roberts,” Sletten said. “She and her husband ran Sloping Bottom Ranch and were neighbors to the Maltese Cross ranch.”
Her husband, Lloyd Roberts disappeared, believed to have been murdered in a Cheyenne, Wyo., stockyard.
“Margaret ran the ranch by herself and raised her four little girls,” he said. “She taught herself to knit in the dark to save pennies of kerosene, selling mittens to the cowboys.”
Then there is A.C. Huidekoper who ran the H-T horse ranch. It started as a cattle ranch, south of Medora near present-day Amidon in the 1800s.
“Then the winter of 1886-87 came along and he sustained devastating losses like the other ranchers,” he said.
Huidekoper went into raising horses. One source of his stock was ponies from Sitting Bull’s herd that he purchased to breed with his thoroughbreds.
“They were particularly favored as polo ponies,” Sletten said.
“One of the most interesting characters was Bob Roberts who ran the Big Mouth Bob’s Bug Juice Dispensary in Medora,” he said. “It eventually was used as the first Billings County Courthouse.”
Sletten writes about Hell Roaring Bill Jones, who was a bouncer at the Bug Juice Dispensary and ended up as one of the first sheriffs of Billings County.
“Fred Willard was the first sheriff of Billings County — he was a true gunfighter,” Sletten said.
Another character was E.G. Paddock, a gunfighter who was said to have killed several people and also became a Billings County sheriff.
“Then there’s a chapter on Dr. Victory Stickney,” who lived in Dickinson but served the whole area,” Sletten said. “Another one — Yellowstone Vic Smith— was a buffalo hunter and hired by the Marquis and Marquise. He regretted the part he played in wiping out the buffalo.”
Sletten writes about events of the time: The shooting of Riley Luffsey, Roosevelt’s pursuit of boat thieves and Roosevelt’s first buffalo hunt.
“One of my favorites is a stagecoach event I call Miss Clement’s ride,” Sletten said. “She wrote a long letter describing her trip from Chicago to Medora and then the stage trip to Deadwood. The trip was supposed to take 36 hours and it ended up being 150 hours. They endured snowstorms and were stuck in creeks and streams.”
Sletten said the Rough Riders Hotel was won in a card game. The title to the building was held by the Ivan and Nita Organ family when the director of the State Historical Society suggested that Harold Schafer purchase it because of its historical value.
Schafer agreed to the purchase, and wanted to give the deed to the state of North Dakota. The legislature declined the offer, so Schafer decided to restore the building by himself.
“In retrospect, maybe that was the definitive moment to the preservation of Medora,” Sletten said.
Sletten recognizes the individuals who contributed to Medora, but Schafer is given the credit for initiating the restoration.
Sletten donated the book to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and dedicated it to Sheila Schafer and Sletten’s daughter, Medora.
“How wonderful to have the book dedicated to me,” Schafer said. “I’ve come a long ways from being the wiener (twister) person in a meat factory — I made wieners to get me through college.”
She was married to Harold Schafer for nearly 38 years.
“He was the real Santa Claus — the real Romeo and actually a little like a disciple,” Schafer said. “He said he was the luckiest man who has ever lived, being able to do the things he did with half a year of college. He was so humble, but he was a born salesman.”
Sheila Schafer, who considers Medora as her home, said the community had 100 people living there in the 1880s, and about 100 people live there today.
Sletten stayed at Sheila Schafer’s home for two summers while he did the research and writing.
“He’d finish writing a chapter and asked me what I thought about it,” Schafer said. “ He has a gift for putting things together. I love the book and I love Medora.”
Sletten was assisted in the editing and organization of the book by his friend, Emily Walter, the Queen of the West in this year’s Medora Musical.
“I was here 20 years ago as a Burning Hills Singer — Medora is near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I thought it was wonderful writing about Medora’s history as well as Harold Schafer’s input. It was wonderful for me to be part of the process.”
Walter described the book as a foundation for the history of the area. She has used tidbits of the history in the Musical, such as references to Big Mouth Bob’s Bug Juice Dispensary.
“It’s great on my end as I go on stage, I can share the history with the people, actually knowing something, and not memorizing it,” he said.
Walter appreciates the numerous photographs that Sletten accumulated from numerous sources.
“I couldn’t put it down — I’m so proud of how it turned out,” Walter said.
Sletten credits his son and graphic arts, Cody Sletten, for the design and layout.
The 200-page book is available from Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation gift stores, the Western Edge book store and online at http://store.medora.com.
“I think it’s an incredible book that does a great job of telling , not only the prominent characters of Medora’s history, but also the lesser-known, but very interesting characters,” said Kinley Slauter, retail manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. “It’s for anybody who has an interest in history and especially Medora.”