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Yellowstone County History

Marquis De Mores 1883 Ice House Proposal

And the Abandonment

Saturday, October 25, 2003


In October 1883, the Marquis De Mores proposed to the Billings’ residents that he be permitted to erect a Beef Slaughter House in the vicinity. To support his request, the Daily Herald on Saturday, October 14, 1883, published an announcement requesting that each resident attend a town meeting within two hours to decide the issue. The proposal was:

The People of Billings were to give him title to 160 acres of land near the town, located between the bluffs and the river, secure for him free access to and from it, erect an ice-house capable of holding 3,000 tons of ice, and place that amount of ice in it.


In return the Marquis De Mores would pay for the Ice House by July 1884, and by that time he would have erected a large slaughtering and refrigeration establishment on the land given to him, and he would conduct that business.

The residents agreed to the proposition, and appointed John R. King, Fred H. Foster, J. R. Hathaway, George R. Hulme and J. A. Babcock to a committee to determine the cost of the and the ice house and ice. They were to wait upon the citizens to ascertain the amount of money that would be subscribed towards the plan. They met for the balance of the day, and the plan looked like a good prospect for the town. They concluded: “Its location here would prove a great convenience for stockmen, who would find a ready sale for their cattle, instead of having to ship them by rail to a distant market. It would also be a source of wealth to the town, as besides employing a considerable number of men, it would tend further to make Billings the head center for cattlemen from a large surrounding district, and other industries, such as soap and glue factories would necessarily follow in its wake[1].”

Following the meeting, on October 13, 1883, H. H. Mund, acting on behalf of the Billings’ citizens, submitted a favorable response to the De Mores proposal. It represented the following terms:

         160 acres of land would be provided, with the title held in trust for a term of five years, at the end of which the land would be his, providing that during that time the planned facility would have a continuous operation (as seasonally practical), and if the operation should become abandoned for longer than one year, the land would revert to the Billings’ citizens, except for such cessations of operations shall be by the consent of the citizens. Access as required would be provided.

         Additional security shall be provided, satisfactory to the citizens, that a slaughterhouse will be erected and in operation by July 1, 1883, along with the buildings exhibited by you for this effort.

         The icehouse cost and ice cost would require an agreed upon security (deposit) before July 1, 1884.

The total cost estimate for the land, facilities and ice amounts to $12,000.

What Happens Next is Up to the Reader



On October 31, 1884, The Northern Pacific Railway Company received a land deed from De Mores for their refrigeration project. This consisted of Part of Lot #1, Section 34, Township 1 North, and Range 26 East. From the following history, it is apparent why the project was abandoned.

In 1881, while on a tour of France, the Marquis met a New York girl, Medora Von Hoffman, whose father was a wealthy banker. On February 15, 1882 they married in Cannes. In March they sailed for America. The Marquis took a job in his father-in-laws’ bank. It was there that he met a cousin, Count Fitz-James, who was returning from a hunting expedition in the Dakotas. The Marquis was fascinated by the western tales, and immediately conceived a plan to become wealthy. Gustavus Swift had just invented the refrigerated rail car and the Marquis had an idea of how to make it productive. His father-in-law liked the plan and offered to back him with $3,000,000. He first established Little Missouri as the home base for his operations. This was the shipping point for Texas cattle driven north along the Chisholm Trail. He proposed to establish a series of packing plants along with icehouses, and ship slaughtered beef to the market, thus reducing the current costs by a wide margin. At this time virtually all of the slaughtering was done in Chicago, Omaha and Kansas City. His plan obviously upset many of the slaughterhouse operators. After some additional investigation he determined that Little Missouri was not the correct town for his purposes, and he then selected a piece of land in the Dakotas. He started with 8,000 acres for grazing, and another 4,500 acres for water rights. He named the location Medora. Many of the local cattle kings were gravely upset by his gaining water rights of the “open range”, and they took an immediate dislike towards him. Here he constructed a complete town, and the Chateau, which was the centerpiece. He decided to fence in his land, and on June 24, 1883, a local man and friend, Frank O’Donnell, got “thoroughly soused” and got tangled in the wire fence, which he then cut. This kept up for about a month, until in July, the Marquis had decided that enough is enough, and took a shot at him, missing and killed his horse[2]. The local folk, already detesting the Marquis, since he was a foreigner, intensified their anger, and on September 12, 1885, the Marquis stood trial. The jury immediately returned a Not Guilty verdict, but the damage had been done. The De Mores left town and abandoned the refrigeration and slaughterhouse activities. On June 6, 1896 he traveled to Africa to promote an alliance between France and the Islamic Nations. There a Touareg fanatic assassinated him. The property remained in the family and was managed by his wife until her death on March 2, 1921. In 1936, Louis Vallambrosa, the eldest son, deeded the property to the North Dakota Historical Society.[3]


Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved.


[1] Daily Herald, October 13, 1883.

[2] Frank wrote a letter of apology to De Mores soon as he sobered up, signing it “Your Friend.”

[3] For details, refer to “That Fabulous Frenchman”, by Jerry Jones

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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