In the 1880s, the cattle industry was booming in the western United States. Hoping to strike it rich with his idea of using refrigerated cars to ship beef, Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Morès, established a summer home in western North Dakota. A brutal winter would put a quick end to his enterprise, but his house, the Chateau de Mores, still stands in the town of Medora, which was named for his wife.
A nobleman of French and Sardinian ancestry, the Marquis de Morès built this two-story, 26-room house in the Badlands of the Dakota Territory in 1883. He purchased over 44,000 acres of land to raise a vast herd of cattle and set up a packing plant to ship beef in refrigerated railway cars and avoid paying for the services of the Chicago Stockyards. He would entertain dignitaries of his day including his neighbor, the future President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt.. His wife, Medora Von Hoffman of the famous New York banking family, painted watercolors that still hang in the visitors’ center.
The Marquis was one of many Europeans who bought large tracts during the boom, not knowing how soon it would crash. The price of beef plummeted in 1885, and most grasslands throughout the West became overgrazed. The summer of 1886 was exceptionally dry and hot, which kept the grass from growing back. Finally, the winter of 1886–87 was brutal. Punishing snowstorms and below-zero temperatures kept what little grass remained from growing, and an estimated 500,000 cattle perished in what would be called “The Great Die-Up.” The Marquis de Morès left the area that November, along with Roosevelt and many other aspiring cattle barons.
Today, the Marquis’ home still stands with most of its original furnishings intact, and is available for tours during the summer season. The packing plant burned down in 1907, with only a tall chimney standing in what is now Chimney Park. The Chateau, which is located close to the entrance of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit, gives insight to a would-be cattle baron’s life in the late days of the Wild West.