After the flat boringness that is North Dakota, the badlands area was a treat for the eyes. We stopped after a short driving day in Medora, a unique spot. Even though it only has 100 full time residents, it is a destination that could keep tourists busy for days. Last time we were here we saw the live musical about life in the west, made even more spectacular by its outdoor setting. We topped the meal off with a pitchfork steak fondue. And we spent the day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a spectacular chunk of badlands that TR bought as a ranch back in the day.
This time we visited the Chateau de Mores, built by the couple that put Medora on the map. The Marquis de Mores, a Frenchman filthy rich beyond belief, married an American woman named Medora van Hoffman, also filthy rich beyond belief. They both lived in castles on the French Riviera and had fine homes in New York City as well. The Marquis had the desire to prove himself as more than a rich idle dilettante, much to the disappointment of his father. He bought a chunk of badlands and started a community named for his wife. Medora.
Getting fresh beef to markets in the east was a real challenge in the late 1800's. Even putting cattle on the recently built railroad was problematic. During the journey east the cattle would dehydrate and lose weight; sometimes they would be injured packed into the rail cars. So De Mores decided to start a business slaughtering the cattle on site, packing the meat in ice and shipping it east on refrigerated cars. Over three years he built a packing plant, bought cattle and land, and employed cowboys and workers. He also started a stage coach line. All his business ventures lost money. The ice often melted before the meat arrived in Chicago and it could not compete with corn fed beef from Iowa. But the family was so rich, they hardly even noticed the downward slope of the money trail.
But the most striking legacy of his activities here is the 26 room mansion, that their neighbors called the chateau. For the de Mores it was a rustic home, but for the rest of the locals, the idea of having a tub in your bathroom, having multi course meals prepared by servants, and eating on fine china was lavish indeed. Both the Marquis and Medora loved to hunt and they brought guests here on the train and fed and entertained them in a manner similar to what they would have expected back east with western activities thrown in. But after the meat packing business went belly up, the Marquis took his family back to France and left the home with caretakers. They took such good care that most of the furnishings and dishes we saw today were originals. When the last de Mores descendant died childless, the home was given to the state of North Dakota and is a museum today. The ruins of the packing plants can still be seen at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
An afternoon in Medora has recharged our batteries and made us ready to face the endlessness that is Montana.