Medora is a city in Billings County, and serves as the capital of that municipality. Founded in 1883 Medora is a relatively small city, with the 2010 census noting a population of just 112. Much of the surrounding area of Medora is part of either Little Missouri National Grassland or Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Founded by French nobleman Marquis de Mores in 1883 along the Northern Pacific Railway’s transcontinental rail line, the city was named after Medora von Hoffman, de Mores’ wife. The first business constructed in Medora was a meat packing plant, as de Mores’ wanted to take advantage of the proximity to the railroad by shipping meat to Chicago in refrigerated box cars. In addition to the meat packing plant – which attracted workers to the area who established numerous settlements – de Mores also constructed a home that he dubbed the Chateau de Mores; this building still exists to this day, having been converted into a museum chronicling de Mores’ contributions to the history of Medora.
A major event in Medora’s history occurred in 1903, when then-President Theodore Roosevelt stopped there while embarking on a tour of the Western United States; he was known for visiting and investing in ranches in the area. Reportedly the vast majority of Medora residents turned out to greet the President during his three-hour visit, and Roosevelt was said to be very touched by both the turnout and their enthusiastic response.
Roosevelt’s visit was so appreciated by the city that a local hotel changed its name that same year to the Rough Riders Hotel; in 1986, the hotel was purchased and is now operated by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, a public non-profit organization that was formed in 1986 by a multi-million dollar gift from Harold Schafer and his family, staunch supporters of preserving the beauty and history of Medora.
Schafer had been a long-time supporter of the community and an advocate for it’s history. In 1962, he completely renovated and restored the Rough Riders Hotel from a state of intense disrepair, and then acquired and revitalized an old, run down theater on the side of a bluff that was built for a 1958 showing of a Theodore Roosevelt-themed play. Today, both the theater and hotel – in addition to a plethora of historic museums, such as the Harold Schafer Heritage Center, the Von Hoffman House, and the Transportation Museum – are among the many tourist attractions in Medora, with the theater offering regular showings of the “Medora Musical,” a rousing tribute to the city and her people.
Harold Schafer passed away in 2001, but his impact upon the city he loved will be felt for generations.
In addition, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota – one of Medora’s main tourist attractions – was established by President Truman in 1947, and named in Roosevelt’s honor. The park covers 70,446 acres of land and is the only American national park named directly after a single person.
The city of Medora is also home to the popular Medora Musical, a musical revue that produced each summer at the open-air Burning Hills Amphitheater, as well as the Maah Daah Hey Trail, a 144-mile non-motorized single track trail that runs from USFS Burning Coal Vein Campground 30 miles south of Medora.
As of the census of 2010, there were 56 households and 27 families residing in the city.