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The Marquis de Mores and Medora, North Dakota
Medora is a small city in North Dakota. It is located in the Badlands, and one of its landmarks is the Château De Mores, built by the Marquis de Mores (1858-1896).
Antoine Amédée Marie Vincent Manca de Vallombrosa was the son of the Duke of Vallombrosa, who owned a castle in La Bocca, near Cannes. Later he received the title of Marquis de Morès et de Montemaggiore, but usually he was called Marquis de Morès.
In many ways he was a real maverick. He graduated from St Cyr, the leading French military academy, and then entered the Cavalry school.
In 1881 he met his future wife Medora von Hoffman in Paris, and one year later they were married. In 1883 the young nobleman emigrated like many other young French to the Dakota Territory, in search of adventure, fame and wealth. One year later he was followed by his wife Medora, who was the daughter of the wealthy New York banker Baron von Hoffman, and their two children.
The City of Medora
He sought to make a fortune by raising cattle and processing the meat, which was an industry that spawned immense fortunes. His ambitious plan was to revolutionize the industry, by slaughtering the cattle in the small railroad town of Little Missouri, and then sending it eastward in refrigerated railroad cars.
However, the population of Little Missouri met "the crazy Frenchman" with disbelief and even with open hostility ! The Marquis didn't much appreciate such a welcome, and so he proceeded to build his own village on the other bank of the river... He named it Medora after his wife, and probably also to pleasure her parents, whose financial largesse enabled the whole project in the first place...
He bought thousands of acres of land, and built a factory for meat packing. He also built a summer house with 26 rooms, that the villagers mockingly called "the Chateau de Mores". Still, even that wasn't the end of his building projects, for he also built a hotel, a house for his in-laws, several houses for his workers, a brickyard, a church and several ranches.
He hired many cowboys, set up a stagecoach line, and founded the Pacific Refrigerated Car Company. His intention was to slaughter 150 cattle per day, process them and ship them east. Between 1883 and 1886, the village grew phenomenally, so much even, that the "unfriendly" village of Little Missouri completely died out. Revenge is sweet !...
One of the Mores' neighbors was the 24-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, an asthmatic and lean young man, who came to the region in 1883 to hunt buffalos. He found the life in the West so interesting that he bought the Maltese Cross Ranch before he moved back east. The cabin in which he lived can still be visited.
One year later, his mother and his wife died almost simultaneously in New York, and a deeply stricken Roosevelt returned to the Badlands. There he bought a second ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch, located about 50 km from Medora, and involved himself in cattle raising. He became a welcome guest at the Château de Mores.
The Marquis was a most irascible man and his arguments and fights were proverbial. He was also a formidable marksman, who regularly engaged in duels. At one time he was accused of murder, and he almost challenged Roosevelt to a duel, because he thought that Roosevelt was the instigator of the accusations.
Had this duel taken place, the course of American history would certainly have been very different, since Roosevelt was certainly no match for the Mores. Years later Roosevelt would be elected President of the USA !
The End of the Medora Adventure
In 1886, and after a period of severe drought, whereby the local livestock was almost halved, de Mores' company went bankrupt. The drought was actually not the only reason for his bankruptcy, but as usual in legends, the less positive aspects are somewhat dressed up by historians...
The flamboyant Marquis was rarely in Medora to manage his company, and he financed everything with borrowed money, since he was not particularly wealthy. He suffered from an unlikely megalomania, and led an extremely rich and pompous life.
Next to this, his company gravely suffered from a fierce opposition, if not outright boycott, from the Chicago meat processing companies and their allies, the railroads. Together, these controlled practically the entire meat market. Finally, eastern consumers preferred meat from animals that were fed with corn instead of prairie grass.
The marquis and his family left the village of Medora and returned to France. Father-in-law and the other shareholders gracefully settled the 1.5 million dollar loss...
The bankruptcy of the meat processing plant was a major disaster for Medora, but the final blow was inflicted by the frigid winter of 1887, which killed almost all of the herds. The local cattle raisers never recovered from this disaster, and Medora became a ghost town.
In 1907 the meat processing plant burned down, and in 1936 the family donated the "château" to the state of North Dakota.
The End of the Marquis
Even after his American debacle, the Marquis still cherished the most outrageous plans. He planned to build a railroad in Indochina, and to go into French politics. Unfortunately, he had to drop these grand projects for lack of donors and allies.
In 1895 he sponsored and actively participated in a dubious attempt to chase the British from North Africa. The following year and during this daring exploit, after a fierce battle he was killed by Tuaregs in the Sahara.
A new Beginning for Medora
In 1947 the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park was established. In 1958, the Burning Hills Amphitheatre was built to perform the drama "Old Four Eyes", commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roosevelt.
One of the attendees was the wealthy entrepreneur Harold Schafer, owner of the Gold Seal Company. He thought that it would be a shame to let Medora decay any further, and to let so much interesting history disappear. He blew new life into Medora and transformed the town into one of the most touristic attractions of the Upper Midwest. In 1986, after the death of Schafer, the family donated its possessions in Medora to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.
As opposed to the sad stories of de Mores and Medora, the name of another local entrepreneur cannot go unmentioned. In 1883, the French Pierre Wibaux (1856-1913) immigrated to Beaver Valley, near the town of Mingusville, some 40 miles west of Medora. He left the family textile business in France to seek fortune in cattle raising in America.
He bought the W-Bar Ranch and raised cattle on the Open Range, the open prairie plains of some 28,000 hectares, before barbed wire fences were introduced. Wibaux was befriended with both de Mores and Roosevelt.
After the disastrous winter of 1887, which killed almost all of the herds, he retained his faith in cattle raising, raised additional financial support, and bought all of the remaining livestock.
Two years later, he owned 40,000 animals and extended his workforce to 30 cowboys ! He became the wealthiest man in the region, and in 1895 the town Mingusville was renamed to Wibaux...