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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published December 22 2013

Did You Know That: The misguided later life of the Marquis de Mores

When the Marquis de Mores abandoned his efforts to establish a large meat processing center in Medora, Dakota Territory, in 1886, “the newspaper’s conservative estimate was that he and his investors had lost $1.5 million.”

He returned to France and organized a hunting expedition to Nepal. The party arrived in Bombay, India, and took a train to Calcutta, where they were informed that because of political disturbances they would not be allowed into Nepal for at least 30 days. While waiting for admittance, his party hunted tigers in India.

In February 1887, Mores negotiated with the Nepalese government to allow him into the country. His hunting party employed 63 elephants, 230 oxen and 115 carts.

Returning to France by ship, Mores encountered people returning from French Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). They told him a fortune could be made through the construction of a railroad across the northern portion of Indochina.

When Mores arrived in France, he rushed “to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and unfolded his plan” for a railroad. Mores promised the French government he could complete the project without any cost to the government. His plan was taken from the American model where land adjacent to the proposed railroad was given to the railroad company, which the company was then authorized to sell. French government officials requested more specific details. To provide them with a comprehensive plan, Mores, his secretary William Van Driesche, and an engineer embarked on an exploratory trip to China on Oct. 21, and arrived in Hong Kong one month later.

Mores arrived in Haiphong, in present-day Vietnam, on Dec. 1, and proceeded to Hanoi, the capital, where he met with Governor-General Etienne Richaud. The governor was impressed with Mores’ proposal and arranged a meeting with Chinese village chiefs. Almost all of the chiefs were enthusiastic about the plan. Mores started a survey of the route and, in February 1888, returned to France expecting to receive permission to proceed with his railroad line.

However, the French government under Prime Minister Charles Floquet didn’t respond to Mores’ request because it was busy reacting to criticism of its radical revision of the constitution and what became known as the “Panama Canal Scandal.” A number of Floquet’s cabinet officials were accused of taking bribes from Ferdinand de Lesseps, president of the company building the canal.

On Feb. 22, 1889, Pierre Tirard became prime minister and named Ernest Constans as his Minister of Interior. Constans didn’t like Mores and rejected his railroad project. Mores then set out to discredit Constans and get him removed from office, but failed. His attempt caught the attention of the French press, and he soon had some influential followers. One of them was Edouard Drumont, leader of the anti-Semitism movement in France.

In 1889, Mores joined the Anti-Semitic League of France, claiming that he was a “victim of a Jewish plot.” He believed his railroad plan in Indochina was sidetracked due to the actions of a couple of Jews in the Panama Canal affair, and that his Dakota enterprise was ruined because of a “Chicago beef trust dominated by Jews.”

One person who took issue with Mores was Camille Dreyfus, a Jew, who wrote, “A man who had married a Jewess ought not to spit on the Jew-father’s beard.” Mores challenged Dreyfus to a duel and, on Feb. 3, 1890, before it was to take place, is reputed to have said, “I shall let him fire first, and then I shall fire just as he is dropping his pistol arm and break it for him. I will put a stop for a while to his writing impudent libels about me.” The bullet from Mores’ pistol struck Dreyfus in the arm, and “the presiding doctors declared the duel over.”

In a duel with swords on June 23, 1892, Mores killed Capt. Armand Mayer, a Jew. In 1893, Mores was brought to court by his father, Duke of Vallombrosa, who claimed that his son was incompetent and unable to handle money and that a guardian needed to be appointed. Mores won the case, but felt abandoned.

In an attempt to put a halt to England’s colonization and Jewish influence in Africa, Mores’ grand design was to unify France with the Muslem world. In 1894, he went to Africa, where he attended and organized anti-Semite rallies and visited with Arab chieftains. For the next two years, Mores tries “to unite the Muslims in a Holy War against the British and the Jews.” On June 9, 1896, he was surrounded by nomadic tribesmen of the Sahara Desert and assassinated.

Although Mores’ later life appears to have been misguided and fueled by an unhealthy hatred, his dreams and efforts in northern Dakota Territory in the 1880s were noble. If he had not overextended himself and alienated many by his tactics, his plan to make Medora a thriving community may have come to fruition.

Eighty years would pass before another dreamer and entrepreneur would realize the potential that existed in this scenic and historic location and invest heavily in its restoration.

“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.