August 03, 2004

Behind the Curtain: Le Marquis de Mores

Our newest “look behind the curtain” subject is Le Marquis de Mores, a Frenchman who came to America, married well, moved West in the late 1800's and broke his teeth trying to compete with the meat packers by introducing ranching and meat packing at the source, challenged (maybe) Theodore Roosevelt to a duel, and moved back to France. I will show you how we go from cattle ranching in the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in France. After all, that's why I initially found him interesting.

I also found this guy to be fascinating because, after doing a little research, it appears that his story has been sanitized in English sources, including on US Government websites. This is an example of historical revisionism at work where the unsavory bits of this guy’s story have been swept under the rug so as not to scare the children or the animals. Seriously, this fellow may look normal enough for those times on the surface, but when you probe a little deeper, you find a real whack job, lacking only the certification from the professionals to be official and to compete for a world ranking. I elucidate below.

The Marquis and the Badlands

The Marquis first came to prominence in the US due to his ranching activities in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880's. There is a particularly gushing tribute to him at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation where you learn that the Marquis was dashing and "inquisitive". You also learn that he founded the town of Medora, ND, named for his wife, and which by 1884, "had a population of 251, and in addition to the packing plant boasted a newspaper, a brickyard, several stores and saloons, a hotel and St. Mary's Catholic Church." You don't learn that it was mostly his father in law's money that paid for this town and the Marquis' schemes.

The town was built to challange the Chicago meat packing cartel. Most of the cattle from the West was shipped to Chicago stockyards and killed and packed in Chicago. I'm sure you all remember Upton Sinclair's work about the horrors of that world: "The Jungle". That book actually led to goverment reform of the meat packing industry. The Marquis intended to slaughter and pack the meat right there in Medora and ship directly to consumers. It would be cheaper for consumers, cut out the middle men, and he'd get rich. He failed.

Competition from the Chicago meatpackers and a consumer preference for corn fed over grass fed beef are the reasons generally accepted for the failure of the venture, although as you will see below, the Marquis had an alternative explanation. Need a hint? Think about Cynthia McKinney’s father’s statements.

By 1886 it was all over and the Marquis returned to France in 1887. The Roosevelt Medora Foundation website sort of glosses over the further career of the Marquis.

The Further Career of the Marquis de Mores

The US Park Service has a biography of the Marquis and this is what they have to say about his further career:

Perhaps a word should be said here about the career of the Marquis de Mores after the failure of his Medora venture. Since his name is inextricably associated with the history of Medora, it is of interest to recount what eventually became of him. The story of his subsequent life is both stirring and tragic. De Mores returned to France, and then went to India for a year. Then he journeyed on to China where he toyed with plans designed to increase the influence of his native France. Returning to France he became involved in its political storms and it is alleged he took a part in the Dreyfus Affair and in trying to overthrow the government. He dreamed of augmenting the power of France in Africa, and as a means of doing so he is supposed to have conceived a plan to unite the Moslems against England. He went to Tunis in 1896 to lead an expedition into the Sudan and unite the Arabs in resisting the English advance in Africa. Against the advice of friends, he exchanged an Arab escort for one of wild Touareg tribesmen. They led him into an ambush at the well of El Ouatia. There he fell, but not until after he had left a ring of dead men around him. French colonial officials later recovered De Mores' body and returned it to Paris. He is buried there.

What's reaction upon finishing that? He's a hero, right? A romantic hero with a life that was both "stirring and tragic"? It was “alleged” that he became involved with the Dreyfus Affair? What, he fell in with bad company? Excuse my vulgarity, but, what the fuck? No mention at all of his less “stirring” activities? You read this and you're left with no understanding about what a strange and vile whack job this guy was. Let's continue.

The Missing Career Information, or why I think he's a whack job

The National Park Service and the Roosevelt Medora Foundation are sanitized versions. Let's look instead at what David McCullough says in his book, "Mornings on Horseback" at p. 345-46, where McCullough pulls no punches:

Followng a tiger hunt in India, he went home to France to proclaim himself the vicitm of a Jewish plot. The Chicago beef trust was now protrayed as the "Jewish beef trust". He turned to politics, launced a crusade to save France, a blend of socialism and rabid anti-Semitism, and went parading about Paris at the head of a gang of toughs, all of them dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts. With the collapse of the French effort at Panama, he joined iwth the unsavory Eduoard Drumont, a notorious anti-Semite, in an attemtp to blame that failure too on the Jews. It was this mania that led eventaully to the Dreyfus Affair, and the Marguis, before he went storming off to Africa, kept himslef in the forefront. His platform rantings set off riots, and in a series of duels with important Jewish army officers he became known as on of the most dangerous duelists in France.

The Marquis was himself murdered in June 1896 by a band of Tuareg tribesmen in North Aftica, where he had set off on a lone, harebrained scheme to unite the Muslims under the French flag in an all-out holy war against the Jews and the English.

Well, that puts a different spin entirely on it, doesn't it? Suddenly his adventures back in France and in North Africa look a little less "stirring" and a lot more insane, don't they?

There you go, from North Dakota and the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in one or two easy steps.

I don't know about you, but I am bemused by the idea of Frenchmen walking around the streets dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts in order to look tough.

Posted by Random Penseur at August 3, 2004 10:39 AM


The guy sounds like an absolute looney to me!

And you're right, that is a funny thought.

Posted by: Mick at August 3, 2004 11:00 AM

Personally I think there should be more Frenchmen in ten gallon hats. Might be less prone to appease if they had manly gear on instead of those berets and striped shirts. ;-)

Revisionism is scary. Especially when it's done so selectively as it was in this case. It's difficult not to see shades of Stalinism there.

Posted by: Jim at August 3, 2004 01:48 PM

I wonder why the Park Service and the Medora Foundation sanitized this guy's biography? I wonder if a well-placed letter or email or two might fix that?

Fascinating history. Thanks for sharing it.

Posted by: John Lanius at August 3, 2004 09:15 PM

O tempora, o mores.

Posted by: stolypin at August 3, 2004 09:26 PM

This is why if I could "do it all over again" I would have studied history. And not from textbooks. They condense everything too much and you don't get the layers.
And speaking of Frenchmen in 10-gallon hats, do you think he ordered his in metric?

Posted by: Pat at August 4, 2004 03:29 AM

John, I'd have to do a lot more research than this to show the Park Service the error of their ways and I just don't have the time. I looked at the endnotes in McCullough's book and he has nothing listed as a source for his information on this, but I trust him as reputable.

I really hate revisionism.

Good point about metric, although I don't recall when they switched over to that system of measurement.

Posted by: rp at August 4, 2004 08:12 AM

Thank you for this information, sir! For some years, I've been living near Paris, France, in a street called "Impasse du Marquis de Morès". Impasse - this means dead end. Up to now, I never knew who this man was and what he did. Now, I know that I've been living in a dead end named after someone who would have been a cruel enemy of mine if he had known me - even withour knowing me personally. Fortunately, he died as he deserved.

Best wishes, Robert Cohn

Posted by: Robert Cohn at December 19, 2004 10:05 AM

Not far off the mark but just as extreme in one direction as the revisionist versions of history are in the other. As a native of North Dakota, I grew up being exposed to all sides of this "hero" - and we did not regard him as such - only another of those curious people that make up history and was a product of his upbringing and time.

Posted by: swill at June 9, 2005 03:07 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?