The Marquis de Mores already had one heck of a personal story before he broke a bottle of wine on a tent stake and christened the town of Medora in the Dakota badlands. He was a French aristocrat born into a noble military family with Spanish lineage dating back to the conquest of Sardinia in the thirteenth century. His family also had vague connections to French royalty.
On this date in 1858, Antoine Amédée-Marie-Vincent Manca Amat de Vallombrosa was born in an old house of his mother’s family in a historic district of Paris. He would become the Marquis de Mores et de Montemaggiore, the “emperor of the badlands.”
He was “a highly sensitive and imaginative boy,” who, by age 10, had already learned French, English, Italian and German. He had the best tutors and education, which included catechism. He was a brilliant student, and attended Stanislas College in Cannes where he graduated in 1873. He wanted to enter the navy but became sick and couldn’t complete the tests. He then entered a Jesuit College where he also excelled, and after graduation, he entered a military academy.
The marquis was crafty and prone to pulling pranks, but nevertheless, he graduated in 1879 at age twenty-one and went to France’s premier cavalry school to train to become an officer. He was a natural horseman, and superb with swords and pistol—he was a skilled duelist and killed two opponents by 1882. The marquis had a few brief posts and even saw some action in quelling an uprising in Algiers. He was promoted to first lieutenant, returned to duty in provincial towns, but boredom crept in. He resigned in 1882, but kept a reserve commission.
His social standing brought him across the path of Medora von Hoffman, who was the daughter of a New York banker. They married a year before the wily marquis set foot in what would become Medora, North Dakota. His time in Dakota was largely marked by failure, including his ambitious meat packing operation and his stagecoach line to Deadwood. “That crazy Frenchman” wasn’t popular with the local cowboys, and even after he left Dakota for Paris in 1887, the marquis continued his ambitious streak, with plans for an Indochinese railroad and, ultimately, a political quest across North Africa that ended with his assassination. A fortuneteller had predicted his demise: “You are going on a long voyage. You will not return …”
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Dresden, D. (1970). The Marquis de Mores: Emperor of the bad lands. University of Oklahoma Press: Norman, OK
Goplen, A.O. (1994). The career of the Marquis de Mores in the badlands of North Dakota. State Historical Society of North Dakota: Bismarck, ND
Heidenreich-Barber, V. (editor). (1994). Aristocracy on the western frontier: The legacy of the Marquis de Mores. State Historical Society of North Dakota: Bismarck, ND