Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Anna Killian's blog

Time-Traveling Partnerships

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a French marquis, a Dakota sheriff, and a future United States president walk into a bar…sound familiar? It may seem ludicrous, but it happened—at least, it sort of happened—right here in the Badlands of North Dakota!

A man with a moustache pointed at the ends stands wearing a cowboy yeat, jacket with tassles, striped shirt, and pants with tassles down the sides.

The Marquis de Morès in his Badlands attire. He is known to have said that he was as comfortable in buckskins as he was in a silk shirt, and he often posed for photos that enforce his claim.

You already know the story of the Marquis de Morès, a headstrong dreamer with goals of fortune and fame, and his attempt at building a cattle empire in the heart of the Dakota badlands. The railroad reached the Little Missouri River in 1880, and just three years later the Marquis stepped off a train car and into the annals of history. He built an abattoir (meatpacking plant) and a hunting lodge, known as the Chateau de Morès, in addition to spearheading other ventures in fortune.

Convinced that his town, Medora, needed a direct route to the Black Hills for tourists, businessmen, and freight, the Marquis founded the Medora-Deadwood Stage and Forwarding Company in 1884.  It must have been fate, because the sheriff of Deadwood, South Dakota, Seth Bullock, was campaigning for a freight line to connect his city with the railroad in North Dakota.

Poster that reads Medora & Black Hills Stage & Forwarding Co. Regular lone of coachs to Deadwood and the Black Hills connecting with the Northern Pacific R.R. at Medora. Shortest and most comfortable route passing through the most interesting portions of the famous "Bad Lands." Purchase through tickets to Deadwood via Northern Pacific R.R. & Medora.

Business poster for the Medora-Deadwood Stage and Forwarding Company.

Down in the Black Hills, Bullock had purchased land, built infrastructure, and tried to convince others that his city of Deadwood, founded in 1876, lacked only a connection to the outside business world. When the Marquis’s company came to town, Bullock shifted gears and began working with the Marquis to convince the Northern Pacific Railroad to help make the line permanent.

Man with a large mustache wearing a hat and suit complete with vest and tie.

Seth Bullock, sheriff of Deadwood, South Dakota, frontiersman, businessman.

Bullock volunteered a parcel of land on his ranch for a stage stop and dubbed it “De Morès.” Within a few months, the little stop had a saloon, a hardware store, and even a small neighborhood. Coaches stopped regularly with passengers and goods that had come in on the railroad. The Marquis and Bullock’s dream seemed to be coming true.

However, over the course of the next year, the company began to lose steam. The railroad funded other plans that left Medora on the sidelines, and Deadwood sought other means of commerce. Just one year after its birth, the stage line failed.

It was around this time that Seth Bullock met a young man from New York with big ideas of experiencing the wilderness. Can you guess who it was? Yes, it was Theodore Roosevelt himself. He had met the Marquis, even dined in his hunting lodge and borrowed books from his library and knew of the Marquis’s dreams of financial success. But the two of them in the same town was like two giant fish in a little pond.

A man holds a gun wearing a beanie looking hat, a jacket with tassles, and a bandana tied around his neck. Trees are in the background.

Theodore Roosevelt, a neighbor of the Marquis, friend of Sheriff Bullock, and future president of the United States.

As you know, Roosevelt became president of the United States in 1901, and he famously credited the North Dakota Badlands with giving him the experience he needed to become the leader of the country. Not only did the Badlands shore him up for D.C. challenges, but it also gave him connections. In Deadwood, Bullock and Roosevelt hit it off. As their personal aspirations lead them on separate paths, they worked hard to preserve their friendship. Bullock even erected a monument to represent the esteem the two men held for each other.

Today, Medora and Deadwood have once again begun a partnership. The Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, based in Sheriff Bullock’s hometown, reached out to the Chateau de Morès, home of the Marquis in Medora. Now, the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site is host to a traveling excellent exhibit that shares the intricacies of Roosevelt’s friendship with Bullock.

Four tan colored exhibit banners with text and images. Some of the images are documents. Others are of people and horses.

Current exhibit at the Chateau de Morès Interpretive Center, featuring the friendship of Roosevelt and Bullock. Free and open to the public through Labor Day, 2020.

The success of this new venture between our two sites depends, in part, on you! Be sure to visit the Chateau de Morès this summer to learn more about three great men—the Marquis, the sheriff, and the president—and then journey down to Deadwood to discover even more! You’ll uncover a history that makes you smile, and, if you’re lucky, you might even hear a joke that makes you laugh. All three gentlemen would approve.

Hidden in the Badlands: 5 Surprises at the Chateau de Morès

Call me Madame. Actually, you can call me Anna; we reserve the title “Madame” for Medora von Hoffman, the first lady of the Chateau de Morès. She and her husband the Marquis de Morès, Antoine de Vallambrosa, lived here 136 years ago. A lot has changed over the decades, but the Chateau itself has remained steady, guarding its secrets well.

What secrets? I am so glad you asked! At first glance, the Chateau seems like a lovely home tucked on a butte beside the Little Missouri River. The Marquis and Madame strove to be on the cusp of national innovation, and their opulent style is clear. However, throughout the house are hidden messages about their lives that only eagle-eyed guests can find.

Keeping with Madame’s spirit of hospitality, I invite you to come along for a sneak peek at my top five hidden surprises at the Chateau!

1. Fresh Air
On hot summer days, Madame could be found in her office planning anything from menus to hunting trips. But when the heat rose, she needed fresh air. Because of social boundaries, a lady could not simply open her door to allow the breeze to flow. Instead, she had to protect her modesty. Coming to the rescue, the Marquis had small windows built at the top of Madame’s office and bedroom walls that allowed fresh air into her rooms without compromising her privacy.

two small square windows above a larger window

The small windows at the top of the frame, shown here from the Chateau porch, lead to Madame’s bedroom and office.

2. Talking in Code
Madame and the Marquis tried to embrace the western frontier while keeping pace with eastern society. To that end, the main level of the house has several distinct areas: the dining and living rooms, the homeowners’ private quarters, and servants’ areas. Each room is connected by a hallway that circles the entire first floor. Each door in the hall is equipped with faux-stained glass that allows light to shine through while maintaining privacy. And, these doors talked in code. If the doors were open, servants knew they were welcome to pass through. If closed, they should refrain from entering.

white door with yellow stained glass windows

View of the servants’ corridor in the dining room. This door is shut, so you know what that means . . . no servants can pass through!

3. Baby, It’s Cold Outside
This fireplace is impressive. Measuring five feet deep, it could put out some heat on a cold night. Did you know this is the only fireplace in the entire Chateau? Based on an unfortunate claim, the Marquis believed the climate in the Badlands was mild and one fireplace would keep the cold at bay. This was wrong, but some years the family still managed to stay as late as December before leaving to enjoy a milder European winter.

corner fireplace made of red brick

This fireplace was the centerpiece for guests in the Chateau who gathered in the living room for entertainment. Can’t you imagine settling on the settee and reading a good book?

4. Richie Rich
My favorite clue, stashed among the wares of the hunting room, is one bag of tobacco. This seemingly ordinary purchase is a huge hint about the Marquis! In the 19th century, tobacco was just beginning to gain in mass popularity, and southern states like North Carolina had already proven to produce some of the highest quality plug tobacco in the nation. The Marquis used his wealth to ship it across the continent to North Dakota, showing just how much he was willing to spend on luxuries.

tan drawstring bag with black letters on front used for tobacco

Originally from Germany, the Marburg brothers moved to North Carolina and went into business with J.B. Duke and the American Tobacco Company. If the name “Duke” sounds familiar, Duke University was named after J.B.’s father.

5. Lost in Time
Several decades ago, a collection of beautiful watercolor paintings were gifted to the State Historical Society. The artist was none other than Madame herself. Among her impressions of the Badlands and international landscapes was one small painting of the Chateau. This is the most valuable to us, because it is the only known image of the Chateau completed in color. Thanks to Madame we now know the authentic colors to paint the house.

framed watercolor painting in blues, greens, browns

Today, the Chateau is painted to look like Madame’s watercolor version.

The next time you visit the Chateau, be sure to keep an eye out for more clues! You never know what history lies hidden in plain sight.