Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Medora, ND - The Marquis & the Marquise

“I shall be the richest financier in the world!” - Marquis de Mores

Well, things do not always turn out the way one wishes - as the Marquis de Mores found out. In 1883 he bought a 6- square mile section of land near the Little Missouri, founded a town he named after his wife, Medora, built a 26-room home that the locals sarcastically called a ‘chateau’, a hotel, several stores, built a packing plant, bought refrigerated railroad cars and planned to ship cattle already dressed to the East.
At the time, cattle were being shipped live by train to the stockyards in Chicago. However, they needed to be fed and watered along the way, most lost weight in shipment and many suffered disease and damage in the 1000-mile trip in railroad cars. Thus, the weight that the cattle man shipped and was charged for by the railroads was much more than the weight that the cattle arrived in Chicogo and the cattlemen got paid by the stockyards.
Great theory but the exection ran into some unexpected problems. The blizzard of 1887 caused many cattlemen to lose 80% of their herds, he was overextended in his finances, was too involved in other plans and schemes to manage this business, neither the railroads nor the Chicago stockyards were happy with his idea and thwarted him at every opportunity, he got into some legal problems in the area, and unfortunately Easterners preferred corn-fed beef to grass-fed beef. In the end the summer of 1886 was his last in this area.

But what a run they had and what a colorful swath they cut while they were here in Madora.
Their home is still here and now a State Historical site, and several other buildings they built are also though the packing plant burned down in 1907 and only the chimney survived. We toured the visitor center, the exhibits and the home today. Since they closed the home expecting to return, many of their furnishings were still in it when it was given to North Dakota by their son in 1936.
The home was quite elaborate for this time and place. Compare it to Roosevelt’s cabin on the range.

The Marquise was a great horsewoman, an excellent shot and loved to hunt. She joined most of the hunting trips that they organized and - get this - even wore pantaloons while she was riding.
The only trips she missed were when she was pregnant. At one time she actually took a trip to Wyoming - alone - to hunt. She rode side-saddle and the house even has her saddle along with that of her husband.

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, was acquitted 3 times and in the end another man confessed to the murder. He almost challenged Roosevelt to a duel, because he assumed 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 Marquis. Years later Roosevelt would be elected President of the U.S!

She was quite an accomplished woman: she played the piano well, was an excellent artist and she spoke 7 languages and we saw one book in their library that was a French/Spanish dictionary.
The home was exquisitely furnished for a home on the prairie in the 1880’s. The home had lots of windows and a long hallway between the rooms on the front of the house and those on the back. This all allowed for good ventilation and cooling breezes during the intense summer heat. Here’s the office of the Marquis. Note the bricking in the corner, that is the back of the fireplace in the living room. Radiant heat in the office - how cool, or should I say ‘how warm.’
Here is the bedroom of the Marquise.
Here’s the guest room for her parents when they visited from New York. 2 twin beds AND in the same room. Certainly not something they were used to - no wonder they built their own home in town.
Maid’s room. The maids used the same stairway and the same floor that the rest of the family used. Very unusual - for New York where the Marquise came from. But, this was the North Dakota prairie and there was no bridge between the chateau and town so the maids could not live in town and walk to work in the morning.
Wine racks. Many of the bottles were still full when the home was given to the ND Park Service.
Living room lounge chair.
Dining room. Note the bricking in the corner - another part of the radiant heat.
Dining room set. The blue bown off to the left is the finger bowl. When guests were finished with their dinner, they dipped their fingers in the finger bowl, wiped them on the napkin, set the finger bowl to the upper left and the servants knew that this gues was ready for dessert.

I was especially intrigued by the folding candle stand. All folded up, it rests inside a blue velvet case.
The kitchen. The window off to the right is the passage to the dining room for food.
This is the yellowed booklet off to the left. It is a listing of some of the provisions they bought fot the house, the date and the cost.
Here’s the room that all the guests gathered in before the hunt.
And, here they are mounted and ready to go. The Marquise is to the left of center.
The view from the home over the town to the colorful Badlands on the other side. If you look closely, you can see the chimney of the packing plant off to the left of center.
It was really quite a fine home and the furnishings were quite elaborate for the frontier.

In the end:
        the meatpacking factory closed in 1887
        the hotel burned in 1886 and burned to the ground in 1907
        the stage coach closed in 1885 after only 7 months operation
        the left the chateau for the last time in 1886
        the Marquis was assassinated in North Africa 1896

But the town of Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park are thriving and attracting more and more visitors every year.

You know how we enjoy the works of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Well, there was small museum on the property right next to the entry that they built for the home when the state took possession.

We really enjoyed the home and the museum. Both combine to tell a unique story: the story of the founding of Medora and the short-lived story of the Marquis and his idea. His ideas were ahead of his time but just couldn’t make a go of it.

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