Dakota Datebook

Marquis de Mores

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Medora Stage and Forwarding Company was incorporated by the Marquis de Mores on this date in 1884. It consisted of a stagecoach line between Medora and Deadwood, South Dakota.

The Marquis, otherwise known as Antoine-Adedee-Marie-Vincent-Amat Manca de Vallombrosa, got off the train in Dakota Territory in the spring of 1883. The handsome 25 year-old had chosen the Little Missouri River for starting what he hoped would be a meatpacking and shipping empire. He christened his new domain Medora, for his new bride.

The aristocratic young couple could have settled in luxury anywhere they wanted, but the Marquis had heard stories of the easy money to be made on cattle out on the prairie rangelands. Meatpacker Gustavus Swift had been revolutionizing the industry by cutting out the middleman. Instead of sending live cattle east, Swift slaughtered them in Chicago and then shipped the meat to customers via boxcars installed with meat hooks. Swift shipped his beef with the boxcar doors open for ventilation. Obviously, this only worked during the winter.

The Marquis planned to improve on Swift’s methods by using refrigerated cars packed with ice blocks. He would do his own slaughtering and dressing in Medora, where he had ample water, ice, fuel and grazing land for fattening his cattle. In their leisure time, he and Medora could also enjoy the ample hunting available in the surrounding Badlands.

The Marquis’ financial backing came from a number of investors, including Medora’s father, a wealthy Wall Street banker, and a Northern Pacific Railroad executive, who helped de Mores form the Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Company. The Marquis bought 15,000 acres along the Little Missouri, built a plant, and began butchering that fall.

The Marquis though his plant would be able to process 150 head of cattle a day. When he found 50 per day was more realistic, he immediately made plans to build more plants and ice houses in southern Dakota, Montana and Minnesota. He also started shipping salmon from Oregon to New York. By the end of the year, the town of Medora had grown to 251 residents, with three hotels, a church, about a dozen stores, a brickyard and a newspaper, The Badlands Cowboy.

His other venture, the Medora Stage Company, offered passengers daily 36-hour journeys to or from Deadwood for the grand total of $21.50 per trip. The company used four different coaches, one of which was named “Kittie.”

By the following summer, the Marquis’ business was in trouble. There wasn’t a call for dressed beef in the immediate area, and range cattle were best slaughtered only in the fall. Other meat-packers were butchering corn-fed cattle throughout the year, and eastern appetites preferred these to range cattle. It is thought that the Marquis had too many interests and not enough experience to adequately carry out his plans. He gave up in the fall of 1886 and went back to France. A towering smokestack on the west edge of Medora is all that remains of his ambitious dream.

The South Dakota Historical Society has Kitty on display in its museum and reports, “This stagecoach served a number of companies – before and after the Medora-Deadwood line. It is reputed to have been used by Wells Fargo, Overland Mail, and the Gilmer and Salisbury Stage Company before being purchased by the Marquis de Mores and afterwards was used by a smaller stage line in Northern Minnesota.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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