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Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service, Published February 16 2013

Dickinson State’s Theodore Roosevelt Center expands digital library

DICKINSON, N.D. – In the years preceding their presidencies, imagining Barack Obama or George W. Bush capturing and escorting a small band of thieves to justice in an adventure spanning miles of river navigation, prairie travel on foot and lasting nearly two weeks would be unthinkable.

With modern advances and inventions galore since Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Dakota Badlands in the 1880s, the “Boat Thieves” story about Roosevelt – a famous account of the time in 1886 when the future Rough Rider president caught up with three men who stole his boat from the Elkhorn Ranch and escorted them some 50 miles to justice in Dickinson – is a tale of a time long since passed.

Escaping Roosevelt’s legacy in North Dakota, however, is no easy task, even though it’s been nearly 100 years since his passing in 1919. After all, when you have your face on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, it’s hard to be forgotten.

A big reason why Roosevelt’s life and adventures in the former Dakota Territory and beyond live on today is the Theodore Roosevelt Center in the Stoxen Library on the Dickinson State University campus. Although the center features certain physical artifacts and items from Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands, the center’s vast and growing digital archive can be accessed from anywhere.

All that’s needed is an Internet connection and a curiosity about the times and life of someone who is widely regarded as one the most interesting U.S. presidents.

“The TR Center really does have something for everyone, you don’t have to be a history buff,” Sharon Kilzer, the center’s project manager, said. “Our goal is for people to sit down because they’re interested in something and get lost and come up for air two hours later. You can stumble upon things that are just amazing.”

As of today, the TRC online archive – which was launched in 2011 – features about 18,000 items, including writings, photographs, political cartoons from Roosevelt’s presidency and even Teddy’s own diaries from his childhood.

“This is really a treasure for everyone in southwest North Dakota,” said Kilzer, a Mott native. “Even though he wasn’t born here, Roosevelt said several times, in several different ways, that he wouldn’t have accomplished what he did in his life without the time he spent in the Badlands. He really gained an appreciation for the good sense of the common man and respect for the personal independence of the people here.”

Praised by well-known Roosevelt scholars like Edmund Morris and Douglas Brinkley, the TRC has fielded requests for information from the likes of NFL Films, The History Channel, National Public Radio and filmmaker Ken Burns, who is working on a film called “The Roosevelts” which is due out next year.

The TRC is also involved a handful of initiatives and partnerships to make the archives of some of America’s most beloved presidents available digitally. Kilzer said the TRC is also expected to add close to 300 new films, which are being re-mastered by the Library of Congress, in the near future.

Many stories have been told about Theodore Roosevelt’s life and his time in the Dakota Badlands before his presidency, but Kilzer said one of her favorites is the “Boat Thieves” tale.

“I just love that story,” said Kilzer. “To think that (Roosevelt) set off down the Little Missouri River to catch the men who stole his boat, captured them, and then trekked, mostly on foot, from beyond Killdeer to Dickinson for several days with no sleep – it really shows the character and perseverance of this man.”