MEDORA, N.D. — Rob and Melani Walton have bought a nearly 2,000-acre ranch near Medora, the site of the future Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library that the Waltons have supported.
The former Hellickson Ranch south of Medora was purchased by the Waltons for $3.8 million, according to a deed filed Wednesday, May 5, with the Billings County recorder.
Melani Walton, a native of eastern Montana and a graduate of Dickinson State University, serves as a trustee of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation.
The Waltons, who donated $50 million, are the largest benefactors for the library, which has a price tag of at least $100 million and is expected to open in 2025. Rob Walton is an heir to the Walmart fortune and formerly served as chairman of the company, founded by his father, Sam.
The Waltons bought the ranch to preserve, and it will continue to be grazed, according to a statement released on behalf of the couple. The Waltons have no plans to develop the ranch, either personally or in connection with the library.
The ranch's relationship will continue with the same neighboring rancher, whose cattle will continue to graze on the former Hellickson ranch, and the ranch will continue working with the Medora Grazing Association, which Roosevelt helped found.
The property borders the town of Medora to the southeast and shares a common boundary with part of the Bully Pulpit Golf Course. The ranch includes grazing rights on 300 acres of U.S. Forest Service land.
Melani Walton was heavily involved in the selection of the architectural firm for the library project, Snohetta.
Through the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation, the Waltons have invested in many projects in the United States and abroad, sometimes in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation.
An advertisement for the 1,936-acre ranch describes the property as “very scenic” with “excellent grass, water and hunting!”
“It is absolutely gorgeous country, and it’s great ranch country,” said Mylo Hellickson, who grew up on the ranch and now lives in Brookings, S.D. The rugged buttes are topped with red scoria clay, he said, and woody draws provide excellent shelter for cattle.
“It was a great place to be raised, have the opportunity to learn the value of hard work and be in such beautiful country,” Hellickson said.
The Hellickson family bought the ranch now owned by the Waltons in 1938. Leon and Gwen Hellickson operated the ranch until Leon retired in 1992 and the couple moved to Dickinson, according to Leon Hellickson’s obituary.
Neighboring ranchers have grazed cattle on the ranch since, Hellickson said. “It’s been an active ranch,” he said. “It’s still an active ranch.”
The ranch sale was negotiated through a real estate agent representing the Gumbo Lily Ranch Trust on behalf of the Waltons, so Hellickson didn’t initially realize the ranch had been sold to the Waltons.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what they do with it,” Hellickson said.
Melani Walton was born in Williston and raised on a ranch near Sidney, Mont. She has a long familiarity with Medora and the Little Missouri Badlands, which drew Roosevelt in 1883 to hunt buffalo. Starting in 1884, he spent parts of three years ranching and hunting in the Badlands, where he cultivated an interest in conservation.
Roosevelt’s first ranch, the Maltese Cross Ranch, was located south of Medora. He later was based on the Elkhorn Ranch north of Medora, now a unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library will be located on what now is U.S. Forest Service land near the Burning Hills Amphitheater in Medora.