While a wheat bonanza was taking place in eastern North Dakota in
the 1880s, a cattle bonanza was occurring in western North Dakota.
Ranchers brought their cattle from the southern plains into the Badlands,
where there was plenty of grass for their herds of cattle and soon
over a half million head of cattle were grazing in the region.
Little Missouri River Valley, which had been opened by the Northern Pacific
Railroad, was an ideal area for raising cattle. There were streams, nutritious grasses
which were good for winter grazing, and ravines and coulees which provided
shelter. The heart of cattle country was the
Badlands, stretching along the Little Missouri River. The future President
Theodore Roosevelt was the most famous person who ranched in that
area, near Medora. In 1883 he bought his first ranch, the Maltese
Cross. During the next five years Roosevelt spent a few months of
each year in the area, and kept a small herd of cattle until 1898.
Years later, he said, "I never would have been President if it had
not been for my experiences in North Dakota."
The bonanza came to a crashing halt in 1886-1887 when winter came
six weeks early, with blizzards in mid-November and freezing cold.
Cattle died by the tens of thousands, with estimates of seventy-five
percent dying. Ranching still continued, but on a much scaled-down
version, and ranchers avoided overstocking.