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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published December 14 2013

Eriksmoen: The rise and fall of Mores’ meatpacking empire

Most of the wealthy businessmen who conducted large-scale enterprises in northern Dakota Territory lived outside what is now North Dakota.

These included Alexander McKenzie and Norman Kittson, after they made their fortunes, as well as James J. Hill, the directors of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and many of the bonanza farm owners who never lived in North Dakota.

The most notable exception was the Marquis de Mores. He not only built his magnificent home in present-day North Dakota, but also established the town of Medora to accommodate his wants and needs.

When Mores arrived at the site that is now Medora on April 1, 1883, he thought there was an opportunity to establish “the world’s largest meat-packing plant.” Because his father-in-law, Louis von Hoffman, was extremely wealthy, Mores also was confident that he had the financial backing to rapidly push forward with his plans. By the time Mores left Medora for the winter that year, he had constructed a large slaughterhouse, established a line of ice storage houses, formed the Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Company, and commenced the slaughtering and shipping of beef in refrigerated railroad cars.

Although Mores hoped to dress out 7,000 cattle in 1883, far fewer animals were slaughtered. Undaunted, he believed that in 1884 his company would kill and process 50,000 cattle. Mores also had other grandiose plans. He wanted to run a stage line and a railroad to the Black Hills, establish the largest herd of cattle in Dakota Territory, create a large salmon shipping industry and build factories to turn out leather, soap and glue.

Over the winter of 1883-1884, Mores began to move on plans to capture the freight trade to the Black Hills. He hired a couple of veteran freighters to establish the best route from Medora to the Black Hills.

Early in 1884, Mores traveled to Washington, D.C., to solicit key government officials about obtaining the mail contract to Deadwood. While that decision was pending, he negotiated special freight rates for Medora shipments to the Black Hills with the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Mores then met with the leading merchants of Deadwood and other Black Hills towns, as well as officials of the large Homestake Gold Mine, to get their support for the stage line from Medora. He also corresponded with a prominent businessman in southern Dakota who was the “largest freight forwarder in Dakota Territory,” and convinced him to use the Medora road.

In spring 1884, while waiting for all the pieces of the freighting enterprise to come together, Mores turned his attention back to his meat shipment endeavor. He returned to Medora in May, and by June 1, shipments were made to Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Buffalo. With the prospects looking good, the NPRCC increased its capital stock from $200,000 to $1 million. But things soon began to fall apart.

The number of slaughtered cattle shipped was far less than what Mores had planned. In June, his main freight hauler to Medora switched his freighting route to Dickinson because Mores refused to offer rebates. Mores also failed to get the mail contract from the U.S. government.

On top of that, Mores angered buffalo hunters by erecting barbed wire fences, and in a hostile encounter with some of the hunters, he shot and killed one in 1883. Many of them resorted to rustling Mores’ cattle.

To try and bolster his supply of beef shipped east, Mores brought in professional butchers from Chicago, but by June he was still only processing 80 cattle a day. The quality of meat was also considered substandard compared to the corn-fed cattle butchered in Chicago.

Some may have given up at this point, but Mores was determined to make his Medora venture profitable. He believed he could do it by bypassing Chicago and selling directly to butchers in New York.

Mores also did not give up on his plans to link Medora to the Black Hills by running a stage coach to Deadwood. In August 1884, he organized the Medora Stage and Forwarding Co. After building 13 stations along the 215-mile route, Mores’ first stage coach went out on Oct. 6, 1884. Passengers often complained about their unpleasant experience.

In 1885, Mores’ slaughterhouse was turning out only 40 slaughtered animals a day, largely because he was forced to abandon raising his own cattle and had to rely on ranchers. The railroads also refused Mores the same rebates on freight rates they gave his competitors. He finally realized that the stage line would never turn a profit, and on May 19, the coach made its last run to Deadwood.

In 1886, Mores made one last attempt to turn things around by meeting with a wealthy rancher who owned several butcher shops in New York City. Mores said he would ship the animals at a reduced rate directly to New York. This failed largely because of the untrue rumor that Mores’ cattle were infested with pleuro-pneumonia.

Because of the number of lawsuits due to unpaid bills and people claiming fraud, and since von Hoffman cut off his financial support, Mores and his wife left Medora.

We will conclude the story about 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.