Profile: The Marquis and the Marquise de Morès

The Marquis de Morès (mar-Kee da Mor-ay) was born into the royal family of France. He received a good education, and by the time he was 10 years old, he could speak four languages—French, English, German, and Italian. After graduating from college and serving in the French army, the Marquis was in the finance business for a short time.

The Marquis de Morès

Figure 50. The Marquis de Morès, in a top hat. (SHSND 0042-102)

Medora von Hoffman was on vacation in France with her parents when she met the Marquis. Medora’s father was a very wealthy banker from New York. The Marquis and Medora were married, and Medora received the title of Marquise (mar-Keez) de Morès. After their marriage, the Marquis and his bride moved to New York.

In the spring of 1883, the Marquis came to the town of Little Missouri in the North Dakota Badlands on a hunting trip. He fell in love with the area and decided to start a business. His plan was to raise cattle, prepare the beef into meat, and ship the meat to Chicago in refrigerated railroad cars.

When the people of Little Missouri called the Marquis “The Crazy Frenchman” and did not support him, he built his own town on the other side of the river and named it “Medora” in honor of his wife.

The Marquis built a meat-packing plant, bought cattle and thousands of acres of land, and hired cowboys and other workers to run his operation. He also built a 26-room house on a hill overlooking the town of Medora. The neighbors called this large, fancy house the “Chateau” (sha-Toe), a name given to French castles.

In the fall of 1883, the Marquis, Medora, their daughter, and more than a dozen servants moved into the Chateau de Morès. Medora had the house decorated with expensive furniture, carpets, and drapes. In 1885, Medora had a son. Another son was born later in France.

Medora, the Marquise de Morès

Figure 51. Medora, the Marquise de Morès. (SHSND 1972.1630)

Medora was very well educated and had several hobbies. She could speak seven languages and was a talented musician and a gifted artist. She was also a skilled hunter who arranged hunting parties for the wealthy eastern guests who came to visit. The Marquis enjoyed hunting and was an excellent marksman, but Medora was even more skilled at shooting than her husband.

The town of Medora grew, while the town of Little Missouri across the river was abandoned. Besides the meat-packing plant, the town of Medora had several stores, a hotel, a saloon, a newspaper office, and a brickyard.

The Marquis carried on his business under the name of Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Company. He shipped beef to some of the larger cities in the East. The Medora-Deadwood stagecoach line was also established by the Marquis.

For three years, the new town of Medora bustled with activity. The Marquis built a Catholic church for his wife and a brick house for her parents. The de Morès family lived at the Chateau during the summers but spent winters in France.

The businesses of the Marquis had problems making a profit, and unfortunately, the drought (lack of rain) of 1886 and the extremely harsh winter of 1886–87 brought an end to his dreams. The meat-packing plant closed in 1886, and in 1907, the building burned down, leaving only the chimney, which still stands today.

After leaving North Dakota, the de Morès family moved back to France. Looking for more excitement, the Marquis went on an expedition to Africa. He had gotten involved in political disputes and made some bitter enemies. While he was in Africa, he was murdered.

The population of Medora dropped from over 250 people to become almost a ghost town. In the 1960s, Harold Schafer, a North Dakota businessman, rebuilt this old-time cattle town and made it into one of the top tourist attractions in North Dakota. The Chateau de Morès is now a state historic site. The house contains many of the original furnishings and personal effects of the de Morès family.