“Here, the romance of my life began.” Teddy Roosevelt Wildlife Medal

In 2003, the US Mint produced a series of medals recognizing the National Wildlife Refuge System and President Theodore Roosevelt, who is known as the father of the system.

Part of his interest in wildlife stemmed from his visits to North Dakota.

At 2 am on September 8, 1883, a 24-year-old New Yorker, looking like a tenderfoot dude, stepped from the train in what was Dakota Territory.

This apparent greenhorn wanted to shoot a buffalo before the species disappeared from the plains.

He obtained an experienced guide and began the hunt for the rapidly dwindling herds.

His guide, used to the fierce weather, urged him to end his quest when the freezing rain became almost unbearable for man or beast.

But, the eastern dude did not quit. He achieved his goal.

During his trek across the Dakota areas, he saw the potential in the grasslands for free-range cattle herds. They could grow from calves to cattle feeding on the grass at almost no cost and bring a premium price at the market.

Before he left the Dakota Territory, he bought a ranch and hired people to care for it in his absence.

Just a few months after Roosevelt’s return home, both his mother and his young wife died within days of each other in February 1884.

During that early spring, he kept his immediate commitments to his constituents and his political party.

Come June, though, he took his sadness back to the Dakota Territory for wilderness healing.

“Nowhere else does one feel so far off from mankind; the plains stretch out in deathless and measureless expanse, and . . . will for many miles be lacking in all signs of life…. Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.”

Over the next few summers, he drove cattle, chased cattle rustlers, hunted and camped on the vast open area.

Later, he claimed, “Here, the romance of my life began.”

He also noted, ” “I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.”

As much as he loved the adventure and the hunt, Teddy Roosevelt also loved nature.

In his youth, he dreamed of becoming a naturalist, studying the plants and animals around him.

As president, he helped preserve 230 million acres of land. He identified 150 national forests, the first 51 bird reservations, five national parks, the first 18 national monuments, the first four national game preserves and the first 24 reclamation projects.

Today, the National Park Service maintains the land Roosevelt owned in the Dakota Territory as three separate units along the Little Missouri River.

Cattle no longer graze the grasslands, but the 110-square-mile ranch contains many of the natural resources Mr. Roosevelt found there when he stepped off that train 131 years ago.

Teddy Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Medal