​Teddy Roosevelt's retreat

The Elkhorn Ranch occupied a remote and empty patch of the North Dakota Badlands. And to this day it occupies an important part of a former U.S. president's legacy. Mo Rocca is our guide:

For 25-year-old New York State Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt, February 1884 began joyously.

"He was the happiest man on the planet -- his wife had just given birth to a baby girl," said his great-grandson, Ted Roosevelt IV.

But then came some distressing news: "He gets a telegram saying, 'Come back immediately. Your wife is dying and your mother is dying.'"

The future president rushed home from Albany to Manhattan to find the two most important women in his life suddenly fallen ill -- his mother, Martha, with typhoid fever; and his young bride, Alice, with Bright's disease, a failure of the kidneys.

"His younger brother, Elliott, ran out of the house and said, 'There is a plague on this house,'" said Ted.

Roosevelt got there just in time for his wife to die in his arms. His mother died shortly later.

"It was just, it was just awful," said Ted Roosevelt.

"The light has gone out of my life," the future president wrote in his diary that grim Valentine's Day: a stark "X" and eight simple words.

Roosevelt needed to get far, far way: "He knew that he had to do something to restore his soul. It just devastated him. And he had enough sense -- he knew that he had to throw himself into work. He had to be in the outdoors."

So Roosevelt headed west, to the wildest, loneliest place he knew -- the Badlands of the Dakota Territory (in what is now North Dakota).

It was land Roosevelt described as "a bizarrely-shaped country with a haunting, melancholy beauty."

For three years he lived there, along the Little Missouri River, in the shade of the cottonwood trees.

mo-rocca-ted-roosevelt-iv-elkhorn-ranch-nd-02-620.jpg
The Elkhorn Ranch. CBS News

"There is no sound that is more soothing than the wind going through the cottonwood leaves," said Ted. "It makes a lovely rustle, it's just beautiful."

At the site of the Elkhorn Ranch today, one sees the same trees TR saw from his front porch -- and hears the same kind of birds he heard.

"Hear that dove in the background?" said Ted. "TR wrote about the dove: 'There can be no more mournful sound of unending grief than the sound of a mourning dove.'"

The ranch house the Old Lion built with his own hands is gone now. Only the foundation stones remain.

Two guides he'd befriended in the woods of Maine came west to help.

"He was good with an axe, but he overheard the two guys talking amongst themselves," recalled Ted, "and they said something to the effect, 'We chopped each down 35 trees, and the boss, he beavered down 17.'"