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Baumgarten: Stop yelling ‘Bully!’

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that Theodore Roosevelt would be rolling in his grave yelling, “Bully!” if he saw how western North Dakota has transformed.

They mean that the oil boom has either threatened or ruined the landscape, sending flared gas fumes into the air, burdening our roads with traffic and pitting landowners against mineral rights owners. This is an argument that many bring up, and they always say Roosevelt would be disgusted with us.

The debate doesn’t seem to die, and even NBC News’ national writers threw in their word last week. An article on its website mentions Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota to find solitude and solace amid the land’s “desolate, grim beauty.”

“But Roosevelt’s Dakota is barely visible today,” the article reads.

They are absolutely right. It’s hard to find Roosevelt’s North Dakota unless if you go to the national park named after him.

Then another person, closer to home, wrote about it on his blog.

“You know what else is barely visible today? Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia, Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania,” wrote Rob Port, editor of “You know why? Because those gentleman, like Roosevelt, are history. The area they lived in have grown and developed since their lifetimes.”

How can both of these statements be right? They are, even if they appear to contradict themselves, or at least contradict those making the argument. It may boil some people’s blood to hear it, but this needs to be said.

When Roosevelt came to Medora 1883 — to first hunt then build a ranch — North Dakota wasn’t even a state. It was a land of wildlife, barely developed. Settlers were still staking their claims and building cities.

Over the years, people started to develop the land. They built railroads and cities, grazed cattle and farmed the land. The landscape changed dramatically into a place where agriculture became No. 1 — North Dakota has traditionally been one of the top producers of wheat, honey, barley, beans and corn. And that didn’t happen by farmers passing up the state because they wanted to preserve Roosevelt’s wilderness.

Now people think they can use statements like “Bully” and “save Roosevelt’s North Dakota” because they don’t like oil production. The fact is, however, Roosevelt’s paradise has all but disappeared. It’s been gone for more than 100 years.

We all know that the president was a man to conserve the land. He was behind setting up the national parks so people could enjoy the wilderness as it was when he first visited western North Dakota. But let’s not forget that Roosevelt was a businessman. Otherwise, he would not have started a ranch near Medora. He probably wouldn’t have even run for governor of New York or learned the economics of the U.S., which would have prevented him from giving people a “Square Deal.” He was a businessman, there is no doubt about it. And here is a surprise — he hated being called “Teddy.”

We will never know what Roosevelt would have thought of the oil boom. Maybe he would have yelled “Bully!” at the top of his lungs. Maybe he would have been canoeing against the Sandpiper pipeline. Then again, what if he decided to work on the rigs, or *gasp* be one of those evil investors in the oil or the head of a company like Hess Corp.

But we can’t ask him because he is dead, and trying to assume what he would say is not only foolish, it is irresponsible and a horrible argument — one based on emotion instead of fact.

We all know there are problems with the boom. Wildlife has been threatened, but no one has asked to put a well in the national park. Our roads are congested, and the state has invested billions of funds into state highways. And landowners are not used to this new concept of giving up their land to mineral rights owners, but they are compensated through state law.

So, the next time someone tells you that you should feel bad because of a fallacy or emotion, don’t feel bad. It’s fine to make arguments based on fact, but damning something based on something they believe someone would have said is ridiculous and does not deserve attention.

And one more thing. Roosevelt used the word “bully” to describe something awesome, and further used “bully pulpit” in reference to the White House as a terrific platform to push an agenda.

So stop yelling “Bully!” You’ll appear smarter for it.

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at Like her on Facebook at Follow her at

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.