Elkhorn Characters, Who’s Good, Who’s Bad

Some Are Good. Some Are Up to No Good…

When young Theodore Roosevelt arrives in the Badlands of Dakota Territory, where he plans to build his cattle ranch, he discovers the lawless and unforgiving frontier isn’t the only wild thing he’ll have to contend with. From a scheming land baron to rough and ready, trigger-happy cowboys to his trusted companions, meet Elkhorn’s characters—the good and the bad—and the actors who play them.

The Good Guys

Theodore Roosevelt (Mason Beals)

Theodore Roosevelt arrives in the Badlands, a skinny, little, nearsighted, asthmatic guy, wearing glasses and toting an ornate, silver Bowie knife from Tiffany’s. Might as well wear a sign that reads: Kick me! Rob me! On the frontier, this image would invite ridicule, at best, and violence, at worst. But looks are deceiving, and those who think young T.R. is an easy mark, best not to underestimate him.

Actor Mason Beals landed the complex lead role in Elkhorn. To prepare for playing Theodore Roosevelt, Beals listened to recordings of T.R.’s speeches and studied his writings. Not being much of an adventurer in real life, Beals faced several challenges playing a cowboy in a Western, but one Theodore Roosevelt quote sustained him on particularly demanding days on location.

“There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first,” Roosevelt wrote, “ranging from grizzly bears to mean horses and gunfighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid, I gradually ceased to be afraid.”

Beals says his Elkhorn experience has pushed him to be braver. “From riding on horseback to sinking in quicksand to sprinting through desert heat,” he says, “it has definitely made me more adventurous.”

William “Bill” Sewall (Elijha Mahar)

Though Bill Sewall is a mere 13 years older than Theodore Roosevelt, he’s a strong father figure and mentor to the fledgling cowboy. They met on the East Coast. When T.R. was a teen, he hired Sewall to teach him to hunt, fish, hike, and find his way in the wilderness of Maine. The teacher and student became fast—and lifelong—friends. Where T.R. is small in stature and battles asthma, Sewall is big, bold, strong, and a skilled tradesman (he builds the Elkhorn cabin). He could easily be intimidating, yet even when confronted by menacing outlaws, he remains even-tempered. On the frontier, Sewall serves as the Elkhorn Ranch foreman. On paper, he’s an official employee, but to Roosevelt he’s family.

Very little is known about Bill Sewall’s life. So, to prepare for the role, actor Elijha Mahar put together pieces of a puzzle to create a well-rounded character. He reviewed historical documents, photos, writing, and quotes, to give him a sense of Sewall’s style and attitude. “Sewall was not a famous person,” Mahar says. “He was just integral in a very famous person’s life and development.”

Wilmot Dow (Garrett Schulte)

When Bill Sewall heads west to be Roosevelt’s righthand man on the frontier, he brings an assistant—his nephew, Wilmot Dow. Dow is about the same age as young T.R., but where Roosevelt is studious and polished, and Sewall is practical and patient, Dow lets it all hang out. He’s witty, creative, a dazzling storyteller, not terribly sophisticated, and more apt to act on emotion with little regard for the consequences. As time goes on, Dow and T.R. become like brothers.

Garrett Schulte was heading for a career as an engineer when he caught the acting bug. About his portrayal of Dow as a young man on the frontier, he feels his character “is still learning about who he is in life and what he offers others.”

William Merrifield (Matt Wiggins)

William Merrifield had been Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting guide in the Dakotas in years past. When young T.R. moves west and builds Elkhorn Ranch, Merrifield is there to support him, as a friend and business partner. The two men have much in common. They had both lost their wives shortly after childbirth. They share a love of hunting and the Wild West. Roosevelt would remain friends with Merrifield long after he returned east and became president—even appointing Merrifield U.S. Marshal of Montana.

Actor Matt Wiggins had a connection to the Western genre from the day he was born in Winterset, Iowa, the birthplace of the great John Wayne. A history buff, and admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, Wiggins is honored to play Merrifield. “When I got the audition and started looking into Teddy Roosevelt in the Badlands, I was immediately smitten with the subject and the idea of entering this world on some level.”

Arthur Packard (Sam Schweikert) – Newspaper Editor

Former Bismark Tribune editor, Arthur Packard sees a huge opportunity to start a newspaper—in the Badlands. And he’s right. People are moving west to seek fortune and adventure, including Theodore Roosevelt, who makes a fast friend in Packard. While most ranch hands spend their free time carousing in the saloon, T.R. often engages in spirited conversations about current events with Packard in the newspaper offices of The Bad Lands Cow Boy.

To prepare for the role of the young newspaper editor, actor Sam Schweikert researched old articles about Packard’s journey from newspaperman to lawman. “I didn’t find too much about him personally or any specific character traits,” Schweikert says, “so that gave me some freedom to craft the role as I see fit.”

Packard and Roosevelt have a unique connection. “Arthur and T.R. find comfort in each other because they are both educated and intelligent people,” Schweikert says. “Arthur is there for T.R. as a voice of reason and information as T.R. begins to learn the ways of the west and all of the key players in town.”

Joe Ferris (Travis Lee Eller)

Canadian Joe Ferris arrives in the Little Missouri River Badlands with his brother Sylvane, and good friend William Merrifield in 1881, among the first settlers in the area. When avid hunter and prospective cattle rancher Theodore Roosevelt arrives, he hires Ferris as a bison hunting guide. Ten days in the wilderness, the men endure the worst hunting experience of their lives—from relentless rain to their horses bolting in the middle of the night, as the hunters slept. Out of adversity grows a lifelong friendship. When the opportunity comes for Ferris to lead a less adventurous life as a shopkeeper, he takes it, opening Ferris General Store in Medora.

If you think you’ve seen actor Travis Lee Eller on INSP before, you are correct. He played outlaw Pearl Hart’s partner in crime, Joe Boot, in the episode “The Bandit Queen,” on Wild West Chronicles. He pulls on the cowboy boots again, this time playing a more noble character—general store owner and friend to Theodore Roosevelt on Elkhorn. But, friendship on the frontier is not easily forged, especially if a greenhorn cowboy, like Roosevelt, hasn’t proved himself. Of Ferris’ relationship with Roosevelt, Eller says, “Joe saw in T.R. a willingness, a man who gave 100 percent to whatever he tried. Joe developed a lot of respect for T.R. and T.R. the same for Joe. Instead of judgment between the men, there was discovery of similarities that bonded them as friends.”

The Bad Guys

The Marquis de Morés (Jeff DuJardin)

Theodore Roosevelt is well versed in handling cutthroat East Coast politicians. But the predators on the frontier are on the prowl—and some of the most dangerous are human. Meet Antoine Amédée Marie Vincent Manca de Vallambrosa, better known simply as “the Marquis.” He’s a dashing French entrepreneur aristocrat, but don’t let the fancy clothes and regal demeanor fool you. He’s cunning, and powerful, and holds complete control over the town of Medora, which he founded and named for his socialite wife. Naturally, he sees T.R. as a rival and a threat.

For award-winning actor, Jeff DuJardin, the role of the Marquis, is second nature and fulfills a longtime goal. “When I was a kid, I used to dress up in cowboy outfits all the time and pretend I was in a Western movie,” he says. “The best part is I am now living that dream.”

What’s it like playing Elkhorn’s biggest villain? DuJardin notes that scholars describe the Marquis as “larger than life.” He was confident, a precise marksman, he was obsessed with his wife Medora, and liked to toy with his rivals.

“As an actor, this makes my work easier,” DuJardin says, “because I know that it is almost impossible for me to go over the top.”

Medora de Vallambrosa (Ashton Solecki)

Ah, the classic femme fatale and the object of the Marquis’ passion and obsession! Medora is the daughter of a wealthy New York banker who meets and falls in love with the Marquis in Cannes. After they marry, the Marquis reveals his plan to build a cattle empire in Dakota Territory. So, he has a “cottage” constructed for her springtime visits to the frontier. He knows her tastes well. The cottage is a 26-room mansion. Medora may wear frilly dresses and enjoy trading witty conversations with Roosevelt but underneath her Park Avenue demeanor, is a gritty, gutsy, adventurous woman who can ride and shoot like the toughest cowboy.

Actor Ashton Solecki left her degree program in neuroscience, and later her lucrative position as a product manager to pursue acting, studying at The Sanford Meisner Center. She sees Medora as “an intelligent, affluent, well-educated, and driven woman ahead of her time.”

When researching the part, Solecki found that there was little from Medora’s perspective—no diaries, no letters—and very little from the accounts of others.

“To bring her to life in a way that people believe,” Solecki says, “I used the fragments I could find and tried to figure out who this person is and her context in this world.”

E.G. Paddock (Nate Timmerman)

The Marquis needs a head henchman, and he couldn’t do better than to hire E.G. Paddock. Shortly after the two men meet, the Maquis trusts Paddock enough to take him into his most private confidence. And Paddock proves himself to be a worthy hired gun. He’s imposing, violent, callous, devious, and has a résumé that includes two murder acquittals, accusations of extortion, and cattle rustling—not to mention he’s a dead shot with a gun.

A native of North Carolina, actor Nate Timmerman brings the vicious character of E.G. Paddock to life. “He’s a tough guy who is not afraid to get his hands dirty and will jump at any opportunity to bring down T.R. and his friends,” Nate says. “He’s hot-headed with his finger always on the trigger and desperately wants to do things his way but keeps getting held back by the Marquis’ slow and steady approach.”

About being cast in Elkhorn, Timmerman says, “There’s so much excitement, history, and nostalgia that goes into these stories. I think the best part has been playing a character so opposite from myself. Pushing me out of my comfort zone and into a world I had yet to explore. As an actor that’s the biggest gift you can get!”