The Marquis de Mores
The Marquis de Mores founded the town of Medora on April Fools Day, 1883, and named it for his wife, Medora von Hoffman, who was the daughter of a wealthy New York banker. The Marquis was only 25 when he arrived in the Badlands; just one year earlier, he had moved from France to work for Medora’s father on Wall Street.
The energetic and adventurous Marquis quickly grew weary of the banking industry. Both he and Medora loved adventure and excitement, and they looked to the untamed west, which was highly romanticized in the east during the late nineteenth century.
The Marquis formulated a plan to secure greater profits in the meatpacking industry by producing lower-cost, high-quality beef in northwestern Dakota Territory. At the time, live cattle were typically shipped east and then butchered in stockyards in Chicago and other eastern cities. The Marquis planned to eliminate weight loss and injury to live cattle during shipment and thus drastically cut costs. His idea was to butcher and dress cattle before shipping the meat east; he planned to use the new innovation of refrigerated train cars.
When Medora joined the Marquis the following year, the town had already grown to 84 buildings, including 3 hotels, 2 groceries, 2 general stores, and the Bad Lands Cow Boy newspaper. On a bluff overlooking town was their extravagant, new home – the 26-room Chateau de Mores.
Unfortunately, the Marquis’s meatpacking venture was seriously flawed, and two years later it was a bust. Left in economic ruin, de Mores took his wife to his father’s home in France. But, he hadn’t given up on big visions; he soon proposed the French government build a railroad between China and Vietnam, which was at that time under French Colonial rule. When the government turned down his idea as too risky, the Marquis ran for political office as a Nationalist candidate.
He was defeated. His next major venture came from the south – the African continent. Africa was then under British rule, so de Mores decided to create a Franco-Islamic alliance to drive the British from the continent. Mounting an expedition to the continent in 1896, the Marquis attempted to seal alliances with several native leaders and join the Dervish army, which was struggling against the British.
While on his way from Tunisia to the Sudan, the Marquis encountered a hostile group of Touareg natives in the Sahara Desert; a prolonged battle took place, and on this date in 1896, the Marquis was killed; he was just five days short of his 38th birthday.
Eleven days later, the news reached North Dakota and was published in the Bismarck Daily Tribune. The following day, it was reported a friend of the Marquis very much doubted the story was true, saying, “…the Marquis de Mores may have spread the report with a view of frustrating expected plots to prevent him from carrying out his purpose of arousing Arab chieftains, with whom he is acquainted, into combined opposition against the British in the Soudan.”
On page three of the same issue, however, it was confirmed that indeed the “dashing Marquis (has) met his death by massacre in Africa.”
And what of Medora? She continued living in France, and during World War I became a nurse, converting her home into a field hospital. She died in 1921 and was buried next to her husband in Cannes, France.
Sources: The Bismarck Tribune. June 20, 1896, p. 3.
Echoing Trails: Billings County History. Billings County Historical Society, 1979.
Echoing Trails II: Billings County History. Billings County Historical Society, 2003.
The Bismarck Tribune. June 21, 1896, p. 1 & 3.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm