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"Frontier Justice in Dakota" - Setting the Stage

Inquiry Question

setting the stage imageWhat do you think is happening in this picture?

Photo analysis worksheet

The question will be answered as the students complete the lesson. No other information should be given at this time since they will be seeing the image later in the lesson.

Land Promotion, Acquisition and Fencing

Promotion of the Badlands

The early surveying parties, soldiers, and construction workers noted the abundance of wildlife in the Little Missouri Badlands. No sooner had the Northern Pacific Railway reached the Little Missouri River in September 1880 than the exploitation of the region as a game country began. Frank Moore's Pyramid Park Hotel served as an outfitting point for hunting parties. Newspapers in Dakota publicized the country as a hunters' paradise. E. G. Paddock and Howard Eaton, professional guides for hunting groups, ran a continuous advertisement in the Mandan Pioneer. The publicity given the region by the railroad and newspapers was soon to affect its development. When the Badlands Cantonment was abandoned early in 1883, Henry Gorringe, a retired naval officer, arranged to convert the buildings into a tourist resort. Before abandonment of the cantonment, a settlement named Little Missouri, and commonly called "Little Misery," had sprung up about half a mile southeast of it on the western bank of the river.

The excellent hunting in the vicinity attracted a number of easterners and foreigners. Some of these people thought the region had potential as a cattle country and invested heavily in the livestock business. Several Texas outfits developed ranches in the northern ranges where the nutritious grasses fattened cattle more easily than the grasslands of the southern plains. About this time, a Minnesota outfit, Wadsworth and Hawley, occupied a site on the Little Missouri about 15 miles north of the new settlement of "Little Misery." And about the same time Howard Eaton and E. G. Paddock established a ranch 5 miles south of the new town.

Investors from a wide variety of places pushed into the badlands in 1881, 1882 and 1883: Pierre Wibaux from Roubaix, France; Sir John Pender of London; Theodore Roosevelt from New York City; Henry Gorringe and Abram Hewitt, New York financiers. Like so many others, they saw the West as a place to make money. If General James S. Brisbin were correct in The Beef Bonanza or How to Get Rich on the Plains, the cattle frontier offered a last golden opportunity to make an easy and quick profit.

A cattle craze had engulfed the Little Missouri country when the Marquis de Mores and his private secretary, William Van Driesche stepped off the train in April 1883. The badlands were all that the Marquis had anticipated.

"After a close examination of said region," the Marquis wrote, "it has been found that all the advantages needed by the shipping point for the cattle produced in the country exist at the crossing of the Little Missouri and of the N.P. railroad. These advantages are: eastern limit of the range; shortest haul to market; railroad facilities; water and ice to any extent; abundance of fuel in the shape of lignite; immense amounts of range, shelter and grass along the Little Missouri river, allowing the beef crop to be concentrated and held within reach, before or during shipping time, not only without loss of substance, but with constant increase of same; possibility at that time to secure a perfect title to enough land to own a permanent right of way to said shipping point.”

The Marquis selected well; no better location could have been found in 1883. He would start his own town and name it for his bride – Medora.

Land Acquisition - Valentine Scrip

His decision made, the Marquis acted quickly to buy land, organize a business, and build an abbatoir (slaughterhouse.) He made arrangements for the purchase of land using Valentine Scrip, a document issued by the federal government authorizing the holder to acquire a specified acreage of unoccupied public land, the location of which he chose. In effect, scrip is a deed to a specific amount of land, and so it has been bought and sold much as if it were land. Baron Von Hoffman had secured considerable Valentine scrip in five transactions between 1874 and 1882. The Marquis purchased this scrip from his father-in-law for $15,000 and filed claim to 220 acres of land which would give him access to the river, the road, the land south of the Little Missouri settlement, and the land east of the river. In addition to this land the Marquis acquired almost 9,000 acres from the Northern Pacific Railroad for $23,314.This railroad land provided him a private range. So that he would have a ready supply of cattle, he purchased somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 head at a cost of $36,000.

The legality of transactions in scrip was never challenged, yet when de Mores began to take over property to which he was entitled by the purchase of Valentine Scrip, there were rumblings about the Marquis' expropriating the Bad Lands as if he had paid nothing. This was nonsense, but the criticism shows how deeply he was resented by those who didn't have his means, for they too, could have bought land through the purchase of Valentine Scrip if they had had the funds.

Fencing the Land

To those used to the open range country whose boundaries were set only by custom and winter quarters, the new innovation of fencing was the height of impudence. Many Little Missouri residents feared that the community would be swallowed up by the expansion of the Marquis’ holdings. Resentment continued to build and open hostility erupted when his men started fencing the land, closing some of the favorite trails used by the hunters. Threats to drive him out of the Badlands had frequently been made to the Marquis. Those threats escalated into violence on June 26, 1883.

Setting the Stage was compiled from Chester L Brooks and Ray H. Mattison, Theodore Roosevelt and the Dakota Badlands. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1958 (Reprinted 1962) Reprinted, with revisions, Medora, Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association.1983. D. Jerome Tweton, “The Marquis de Mores in the Badlands of Dakota.” Virginia Heidenreich-Barber, ed. Aristocracy on the Western Frontier: The Legacy of the Marquis de Mores. Bismarck: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1994. D. Jerome Tweton, The Marquis de Mores: Dakota Capitalist, French Nationalist. Fargo: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1972

Locating the Site

Maps may be accessed online or printed for classroom use.

Using an atlas or online map, find Medora on the map. Using the information from the Setting the Stage reading, why did the Marquis choose this site for his cattle operation?

This map will be used in Visual Evidence activities.

1/8 miles W and 1/8 miles S of
Medora Chimney Park -
west edge of Medora
De Mores Memorial Park -
downtown Medora, ND 58654
Get Directions

The Interpretive Center is open year round
Winter: Labor Day-Memorial Day
9 a.m.-5 p.m. MDT, Tuesday-Saturday, with the last tickets sold at 4 p.m.
Summer: Memorial Day-Labor Day
8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily with the last tickets sold at 4:30 p.m.

The Chateau is open May-October, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, weather permitting. Please call to verify.

Chimney Park and DeMores Memorial Park open year round.

Contact Chateau de Mores:
phone: 701.623.4355
fax: 701.623.4921

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phone: 701.328.2666
fax: 701.328.3710