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Medora von Hoffman


When the Marquis de Morès arrived in the Badlands of Dakota Territory in April of 1883, he pitched his tent on the east bank of the Little Missouri River near the crossing of the Northern Pacific. Christening the site with a bottle of fine French wine, the Marquis named it in honor of his wife, Medora.

Medora von Hoffman was born on this day, August 21, 1856 to a wealthy and well-connected New York banking family. Her maternal grandmother was a famous beauty, once the belle of New Orleans and her father, Baron Louis A. von Hoffman was founder of the exclusive Knickerbocker Club.

The von Hoffman family divided their time between New York and France. While living with her parents at their winter home in Cannes, Medora met the dashing Marquis de Morès. The Marquis was instantly smitten with the petite titian-haired women who spoke seven languages, was a gifted artist, expert horsewoman and sharpshooter. They married shortly after, on February 15, 1882 in the Church of the Stained Glass in Cannes, France.

The newlyweds honeymooned in Europe, including a visit to Paris, but by August of 1882, they set sail for New York. Residing with the von Hoffman’s at their Staten Island estate, the Marquis and Marquise immediately caught the attention of New York social circles. They were immersed in a whirlwind of opera, sailing, racing and parties. With the arrival of autumn, hunting trips up the Hudson were added to the list of activities.

Although well financed by an income from both families, the von Hoffman’s and the Marquis’ father, the Duc de Vallombrosa, the young couple did more than play. While the Marquis went to work for the von Hoffman’s Wall Street bank, Medora managed the household. Responsible for the domestic accounting books, Medora kept meticulous records, even noticing a 1_-cent mistake on a grocery bill.

But as the year wore on, the Marquis grew increasingly impatient with the banking business. After studying the market, he decided to make his own fortune by slaughtering cattle on the range and shipping the beef to eastern markets in refrigerated railcars. With the promise of financial support from the von Hoffman’s, the Marquis and his private secretary boarded a New York train in the spring of 1883 headed for the Dakota Badlands. Medora followed later that year after the birth of their first child, Athenais.

The cattle business was short-lived and the de Morès family spent only three summers in the Badlands. But out of the experience, Medora gained a lifelong interest in North Dakota, while North Dakotans likewise developed a fascination with the wealthy New Yorker and her namesake, the town of Medora.


"A Beauty of Former Days." New York Times, August 11, 1881, 2.

Dresden, Donald. The Marquis De Morès: Emperor of the Bad Lands. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.

Tweton, D. Jerome. The Marquis De Morès: Dakota Capitalist French Nationalist. Fargo: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1972.