Saturday, June 21, 2014

My, My, My Medora

In 1883 a French aristocrat, the Marquis de Mores, thought it would be cool to move to North Dakota and set up a cattle ranch and slaughterhouse (or to him, an abattoir), to supplant Kansas City and Chicago as the source of beef shipped to the east coast. The Marquis didn’t really know much about cattle ranching, but he talked to people and found a nice tract of grassland in western North Dakota.


So he bought the land, built a 26 room hunting cabin (compared to the castle back in the old country, this really was a cabin) brought in cattle, and built a slaughter- house/packing plant.

As far as the meat business was concerned, de Mores was no Oscar Meyer. More on that later.


He hired some folks to handle the cattle and the meat packing, and used the house, which became known locally as the “chateau”, to entertain his friends, mainly from New York, where he had established a residence. When guests were invited to the hunting cabin they were warned that they would be roughing it.


Some were even asked to share one of the 10 bedrooms in the house. The Marquis and his wife Medora each had their own suite, but his had something of an innovation for the time and place.


His suite had an indoor outhouse. That square box behind the weird bathtub is the device one would expect to find in an outdoor outhouse. The only difference was that there was no hole under the box. There was a tray that was accessible from outside, and one of the servants would empty it at regular intervals. I guess that’s no weirder than a servant emptying a chamber pot, and with  much less mess in the case of a spill.

Anyway, back to the cattle business. Turns out that the rich grass the Marquis saw during his pre-purchase tour of the land was an aberration.  Although there is cattle in western Dakota, this is an area with an arid climate – about 12 to 15 inches of rain per year. Not nearly enough to grow the amount of grass needed to support a major cattle operation. So the endeavor failed and after 3 years the Marquis moved back to New York. Medora loved the house and loved to hunt, so she spent time here after the business failed. The town that grew up around the ranch became known as Medora, and that’s its official name to this day.


A few years after the slaughterhouse closed, it burned down. All that’s left is the big chimney you can see in the distance in this photo taken from the porch of the chateau.


Visiting the Chateau de Mores wasn’t our prime reason for visiting Medora, ND. In fact, we didn’t even know it existed until we got here. We came because Medora is the location of the entrance to one of America’s lesser known national parks: Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Teddy first came here to hunt bison then spent many years in this area, mainly at his Elkhorn Ranch. The 29,000 acres of North Dakota badlands and grasslands were acquired by the United States in 1946 and the park was named after the area’s favorite son.


The Little Missouri River runs through the park’s three section, south, Elkhorn Ranch (not accessible by road) and north, which is about 50 miles north of the south section. We were told these yellow flowers which were all over the place  are an invasive species of clover which may be taking over for the natural grasses in the park.


The park has DSC_0307a number of species of animals, both large and small, which can often be seen from the road. In the background of this picture you may be able to see some of the 700 bison who call the park home. In the foreground is a very noisy prairie dog who was trying to protect his village from invading humans.


There are also a number of feral horses that were introduced to the park. These aren’t mustangs, but descendants of ranch horses that escaped or were turned loose and now exist as herds of wild horses.

DSC_0317 On a smaller scale, we spotted a couple of dung beetles rolling a ball of, well, dung, along one of the walkways in the park. We don’t know where they were taking it, and we don’t know if it was bison dung, big horn sheep dung, or horse dung. But, does that really matter?


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