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.

New North Dakota Visitor Center at Chateau de Morès Offers Expert Advice and a Selfie Station

They say love makes the world go round, and we believe it here at the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site. This summer we are feeling the love from our partners at North Dakota Tourism as they help us navigate the waters of our brand-new visitor center! That’s right, the Chateau is now home to a flagship effort that matches expert staffers with travelers from across the world.

Thanks to this partnership, ND Tourism provided a new display for informational literature, exclusive merchandise, as well as brand new photo-ops to help commemorate your Western Dakota adventure. Meanwhile, we staff the visitor center with knowledgeable Chateau team members ready to help you discover the jewels of North Dakota.

So what can we do for you?

A woman stands holding her arms up and apart and is behind a big desk that says Be Legendary

The Chateau De Morès State Historic Site is home to a brand-new visitor center thanks to a partnership with North Dakota Tourism.

First off, we are here to help you plan a legendary trip. From the moment you walk in the doors of the Chateau Interpretive Center, you have options! You can purchase tickets to the historic Chateau, secure your spot on a wagon ride through the bottomlands, and even browse our one-of-a-kind gift shop.

If you are anything like me, there is no such thing as “too much research” for the perfect road trip. Our brochure wall is a great spot to find information from all over the Peace Garden State outlining tourist destinations, statewide trails, local eateries, regional offerings, and more.

A wooden wall display with many brochures. In the middle is a sign that says North Dakota Legendary, and there are fake sunflowers below it.

So many brochures, so little time. Where in North Dakota will you go?

Don’t forget the selfie! Strike your prettiest—or funniest, or most daring, or just plain fun—pose in front of the new Maah Daah Hey selfie station, where you can insert yourself into the magnificent Badlands landscape. Then tag us on Facebook, @ChateauDeMores, so we can share your glory with our followers.

A woman with her red hair pinned back stands in front of a banner that says North Dakota Be Legendary and has a wooden post with a turtle outline on it.

Moi, at the Chateau’s Maah Daah Hey selfie station.

Looking for a bit more info? We can also help you maneuver the new North Dakota Tourism website. Here we can help you find specific guides, maps, digital magazines, and suggested routes. We can even print some of these for you. The best part? All of this is free to you!

On one  wall is a banner that says Chateau de Mores and has a photo of a qwhite house with red roof surrounded by green grass, trees, and hills. On the other  wall is a display with many brochures.

Come on over and see us some time!

This partnership with North Dakota Tourism has already helped the Chateau offer a more well-rounded experience for our guests, and we are excited to watch this effort grow. In the coming years you will be able to find visitor centers like these in all four corners of our state. But for now, your chance to see this project is exclusively at the Chateau. Come check it out! We are open 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily and can’t wait to see you.

10 Surprising Facts About North Dakota’s Famous French Aristocrat

If you have visited Medora, you have no doubt heard of the Marquis de Morès and his dream to transform the Western cattle industry. You may have heard a few colorful stories about the man, as well. Yes, it’s true—the Marquis was involved in a gun fight on the outskirts of Medora! It is even possible you heard a myth or two about this French aristocrat-turned-cattleman. No, he didn’t break a bottle of champagne over a stake on April 1 to mark the spot where he wanted to begin building his new town. But he did take plenty of other steps that made his legacy memorable and fascinating. Read on to learn a few things you might not have known about the Marquis.

1. He was born in Paris, France, on June 14, 1858, in his mother’s family home.

The Marquis showed an interest in the military from a young age. Here he is dressed up like a soldier when he was just a toddler! SHSND SA 00042-00001

2. By the age of 10, he spoke French, German, Italian, and English.

3. During his college years in Paris, he volunteered to serve in the French navy, but due to sickness he was rejected. Nevertheless, he persisted in his education and was admitted to the premier French cavalry school, known as the Special Military School of Saint-Cyr, the equivalent of West Point, where he excelled in his studies to become an officer. He went on to hold a few short posts with the French cavalry in Algiers.

4. He was an incredible horseman, which only added to his success at Saint-Cyr and later helped him find his footing in the West.

The Marquis excelled at Saint-Cyr, particularly in his equestrian courses. He brought his love of horses with him to Dakota Territory. SHSND SA 00042-00010

5. By 1882, he had killed two men in duels.

6. That same year he met and married Medora von Hoffman on the French Riviera. They honeymooned in Biarritz, France, a town known for its high culture and whale watching.

Medora von Hoffman pictured just a few years before her 1882 marriage to the Marquis. SHSND SA 00042-00060

7. After their honeymoon, the Marquis accompanied his wife’s family back to New York City and turned his eye toward the cattle ranches of the West. With his father-in-law’s money backing his plans, the Marquis packed his private train car and followed the rails to Dakota Territory.

8. The Marquis planned to revolutionize the ranching business in Dakota Territory. Instead of raising cattle on the range, then driving them north to the rail line and shipping live animals to slaughter in Chicago, the Marquis wanted to provide slaughter facilities on the range and ship fresh beef straight to market. Eventually, he hoped to ship beef—and a multitude of other products—up into Canada, down the Mississippi, around the Great Lakes, and to both coasts.

Workers at the Marquis' abattoir (slaughterhouse) pose beside one of his refrigerated train cars. This car would leave Medora and travel all the way to Chicago and beyond, taking fresh Dakota beef to hungry customers in the East. SHSND SA 00042-00150

9. He established a stagecoach line between Medora and Deadwood. For $26 (roughly $600 today), travelers could take a bumpy ride in his stagecoach and in three short days roll into Deadwood. The Marquis envisioned this would help establish trade between his town and the rich goldfields of the Black Hills. He even partnered with Sheriff Seth Bullock to see this vision come true.

This poster lauded the overland stagecoach between Medora and Deadwood. You can travel almost the same route today—just follow U.S. Route 85 from Belfield to Belle Fourche. SHSND SA 11354

10. After the brutal winter of 1886-1887, the Marquis’ plans were put on hold (as were most cattlemen’s plans), and he returned with his family to New York City. When his father-in-law withdrew financial support from his Western ventures, the Marquis began searching for other adventures. This eventually led him to northern Africa, where he attempted to establish trade with nations there. On his way through the Sahara Desert in 1896, he was murdered by his Tuareg guides just a few days before his 38th birthday.

Check out those views. Summer is just around the corner, and the Chateau is the perfect spot to explore on your next vacation. Photo by Tawnya Bulger

There is so much to his incredible story! When you plan your summer holidays, add the Chateau de Morès State Historic Site to your itinerary and discover even more about the Marquis’ Western dreams. We look forward to welcoming you!

Top 5 Highlights of Winterizing the Chateau de Morès

Did you know that some historic houses hibernate? Like a giant bear in one of our national parks, the Chateau de Morès must be carefully conditioned to survive the frigid North Dakota winter. And, y’all, it gets cold. Last year, temperatures in Medora clocked in at well below zero, and, for both the Chateau and this Carolina gal used to spending Christmas in flip-flops, that is cold enough.

Why do we shut the Chateau down? Because it lacks a modern heating system. By mid-October, it is simply too cold for guests to tour comfortably. And it was too cold for the Marquis and Madame as well. When he built the Chateau, the Marquis included only one fireplace. Despite its size and central location—the fireplace is about 5 feet deep by roughly 4 feet tall in the middle of the home—it did not provide enough warmth for year-round living.

So we follow their example! Before frost forms on the windowpanes, the Chateau team arms itself with white gloves, bed sheets, and (at least in my case) layers of wool and synthetic blends. Then we head out to protect fragile linens, pack away prized china, and cover century-old furniture. This undertaking is one of my favorite parts of the job because it gives us the opportunity to examine our artifacts. During the summer, our focus is sharing the Chateau with guests from around the world—just like the Marquis and Madame! But the cold weather gives us the chance to make sure the house is fit to survive another season. All 26 rooms plus the basement—that’s a little more than 7,000 square feet—get some tender, loving care from the team.

Welcome to my Top Five Highlights of Winterizing Our Chateau!

1. We get to touch the artifacts! First, let me put our curator’s mind at ease: We wear agency-approved gloves and always use both hands. Still you can’t deny there is something truly incredible about holding the same teacup that Madame used 137 years ago.

A man in a plaid shirt and white gloves holds a white teacup and saucer with blue flowers and leafy vines

Ed Sahlstrom holds a teacup, part of the original collection used by Madame and the Marquis from 1883-86. Madame chose this Gower pattern for its dainty durability—the perfect set of china for life in the badlands.

2. We explore all the nooks and crannies of the Chateau. The house may be small compared to French chateaus, but for us there are still spots tucked away. For example, Madame’s maid was the only servant who had her own workroom hidden beneath the staircase.

3. We treat any problems we discover. It’s an old house, and sometimes things go wrong, or they just need a little TLC. When that happens, we always try to take care of any issues before the first snow. This year, the porch needed conditioning, so we grabbed our brushes and got to work.

A man stands on the porch of an old house painting the floor with a mop while another man stands on the grass in front of the house holding a hammer

Ed Sahlstrom (assistant supervisor) and Mike Sunday (grounds personnel) stain the porch of the Chateau. The porch will live to see another summer!

4. We crawl underneath the Chateau. You read that correctly — we get to go underneath the house. How cool is that? We make sure nothing is nesting in the crawl space and confirm that the unfinished basement is as protected as possible. This basement may look uninteresting, but it once held about 600 of bottles wine, beer, and mineral water that the family left behind. Check us out on Facebook to learn the whole story and find out where you can buy the same wine the Marquis left when he headed east.

5. Finally, we walk on the roof! We historians aren’t usually a thrill-seeking bunch. At least not physically. Give us a good archival mystery, and we are entertained for days. But it’s not so often we do gravity-defying activities. Except at the Chateau, where we annually traverse the second-story rooftop to close the shutters. Don’t worry—we use a spotter and basically hug the house as we make our way across the surface. But it’s a thrill, and the views are incredible.

So there you have them—my favorite aspects of winterizing the Chateau. Happy fall, y’all! This Carolina girl is already bundled up.

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.