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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published December 07 2013

Eriksmoen: Marquis de Mores generated headlines in 1880s

The man who attempted to make western North Dakota a national center for supplying processed beef was also called “the most celebrated duelist of his day.” It has been reported that he even challenged Teddy Roosevelt to a duel, a challenge that was declined.

From 1883 to 1886, the Marquis de Mores (occasionally spelled “de Moores”) generated more national and international press coverage than anyone else living in the Dakota Territory. His attempts at revolutionizing the meat processing and shipping industry, founding a permanent thriving new town and establishing a successful stage line between Medora and Deadwood all ended in failure.

Antoine Amedee Marie Vincent Amat Manca de Vallombrosa, the oldest of four children, was born June 14, 1858, in Paris to Richard Manca and Genevieve de Perusse des Cars. Antoine’s father was awarded the title of Duke of Vallombrosa. The duke and his family divided their time between Cannes, located on the French Riviera, and Paris.

Antoine was very bright. Besides receiving a classical education, he became fluent in French, English and Italian, and he understood German.

Upon graduation in 1873, Antoine began military training, but was unable to join the navy because “illness forced him to miss the required entrance exams.” He then enrolled at the Jesuit College in Poitiers, France, and, after graduation in 1876, entered the elite military academy at St. Cyr. Antoine completed his education at the academy in 1879 and then entered the cavalry school at Saumur. He actively joined the military as a 1st lieutenant in 1880, but because France was at peace, he resigned his commission in 1881 and went to Paris.

Having attained legal age, Antoine inherited the title “Marquis de Mores et de Montemaggiore.” Being a titled man of privilege, Mores is reported to have lived above his means in Paris. Realizing that his inheritance could not keep up with his lifestyle, he decided to make his fortune in the stock market. Mores lost most of his when the securities bubble burst.

At Cannes, Mores met Medora von Hoffman, who was living with her family at the von Hoffman winter home. Her father, Louis A. von Hoffman, was a wealthy New York banker who made a fortune investing in the U.S. railroad industry. Medora and Mores fell in love and married Feb. 15, 1882.

After a honeymoon in Paris, the married couple traveled to New York, where Mores accepted a position in Louis von Hoffman’s bank. D. Jerome Tweton, in his book “The Marquis de Mores,” wrote, “During the winter of 1882-1883 the Marquis immersed himself in the world of finance, pouring over banking and investment reports. He became especially fascinated with the great cattle boom which was reaching its zenith.”

While at the bank, Mores was visited by his cousin, Count Fitz-James, who just got back from a hunting expedition in the Badlands of Dakota. His cousin’s stories about the beautiful, rugged country out west fueled his imagination. Mores loved to hunt and was an expert marksman. He also saw this as an opportunity to check out the feasibility of locating a slaughterhouse in the area.

After conferring with his wife and father-in-law, telling them about his plans to transport dressed prairie cattle out east from Dakota in refrigerated railroad cars, Mores prepared for his trip to the Badlands. On April 1, 1883, he and his private secretary, William Van Driesche, arrived via the Northern Pacific at a point where the railroad crossed the Little Missouri River. On the western side of the river was the town of Little Missouri, where Mores envisioned a home base for his operation.

Over the next few days, Mores was convinced he had chosen the ideal location for a slaughterhouse. The NP provided rail facilities to ship the beef east and to bring supplies and workers to Little Missouri. East of Little Missouri, there was open rangeland and available land along the railroad line for his operating facilities. The river could provide water for his cattle during the summer months and ice for beef storage during the winter. There were rows of trees along the river to provide shelter from the sun for his cattle, and the buttes would provide shelter from the cold winter winds. Little Missouri was “the shipping point for Texas cattle driven north along the Chisholm Trail.” Finally, outlays of abundant lignite would provide a valuable power source.

Before Mores left New York, von Hoffman said that he would help finance the operation if the site looked promising. “Mores began buying up thousands of acres, including strips of land that stretched along both sides of the river.” He then determined that Little Missouri was not the ideal location for his base of operation and moved it east of the river to a site he named Medora. There, he began building a large slaughter house that could process 150 carcasses a day. At Medora, Mores also made plans to build homes for employees, offices, a hotel, a general store, a brick plant, a school, a Catholic church and a recreation hall.

To help finance his growing enterprise, Mores met with Edgar Haupt, the president of the 1st National Bank of Mandan, and his brother, Herman Haupt Jr. Together they formed the Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Co., which was capitalized at $200,000. This enterprise attracted other investors, including Louis von Hoffman. Ice houses for beef storage were built along the NP at Helena, Miles City, and Billings in Montana Territory, Bismarck and Fargo in northern Dakota Territory, and Brainerd and Duluth in Minnesota.

The slaughterhouse in Medora was completed in October 1883, and the butchering of animals commenced. Since it was closing in on the winter months, the operation began on a limited basis. Believing that the future looked very bright for his enterprise, Mores eagerly awaited 1884, when everything would be in full operation.

(We will continue to tell the story of the Marquis de Mores next week.)

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by

Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments

or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.