July 30, 2019
Medora is the gateway to the Southern Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. And NO, we did not see the Medora Musical. Every single person that heard we went to the national park asked if we also went to the Medora Musical. We were too busy hiking and gazing in wonder at nature’s beauty, learning the history of the area and generally lounging around in the sweltering heat when it was too hot to move. The thought of sitting in an open air amphitheater when it is in the 90’s didn’t appeal to us at all. Maybe next time. Then again, maybe not.
We do hope to go back when it isn’t so incredibly hot. The downside of that plan is that Medora’s population drops to less than 100 residents after the high tourism days of summer and the musical shuts down. So, when it is cool enough for us to enjoy the area, the musical may not be running.
To be honest, we did consider it. We thought a nice night out with a touristy dinner of Pitchfork Steak before the musical could be fun. Expensive, but fun. But it was too darned hot. We had no hook ups at the campground so our goal was to stay somewhere cool(ish) until night set in. That included staying in our air-conditioned car, wandering the visitor center and eating at the local restaurants.
We tried eating at a few locations in Medora and other than a tiny family-owned restaurant at the back end of town that appears to have closed, but we wouldn’t recommend any of them. The pizza at Badlands Pizza Parlor was OK, but not great, kind of expensive, and the noise level was deafening if there were more than a handful of customers. The fried hamburger (Fleischkuekle) at the Farmhouse Cafe was a definite no-go. The ice cream was good but I don’t remember who we bought it from. It was sad. We finally decided that eating out would be our cool down plan and there was nowhere we wanted to go. Ah well, another day, another town.
The town itself has a little bit of history, a few eclectic shops and some general tourist stuff. It is right up against the entry gate of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit which is probably what keeps it alive.
The historic, somewhat restored, downtown district tries to transport you back in time to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Signs dot the downtown streets showing you what the view looked like “back in the day.” Among the buildings were a hotel, Congregational Church, school, railroad depot, and town hall.
Next to Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the town’s most famous resident was a French aristocrat named Marquis de Mores. He had big dreams of getting rich raising cattle on his ranches, slaughtering them in his own slaughterhouse, shipping them in his own refrigerated rail cars, and selling the meat to the public in his own butcher shops. He did own some ranches and he did build a slaughterhouse, the de Mores Packing Plant, in Medora, the remains of which can still be seen today. The town itself was named after the Marquis’s wife.
Being more interested in history and nature than Cowboy fondue and $40 semi-pro musicals we opted to visit the Chateau de Mores State Historical Park where we toured Marquis de Mores’s restored summer home and related museum. It was cheaper too, only $10 for both the house and museum.
Our entrance fee included a guided tour of the family’s summer home.
While the home might not have impressed de Mores’s family and friends in New York or France, it was certainly a top-of-the-line abode in Medora. Entertaining family and friends was common, so a nice comfortable dining room and parlor were got-to-haves. One thing I was curious about was the bricked up fireplace in the corner of the dining room. I found out that hearth was in another room. When a fire burned in the hearth, radiant heat warmed the other rooms.
The museum has a large exhibit that highlights the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and WPA (Works Progress Administration), two Federal government programs established in the depths of the Great Depression to put men (and some women) back to work. North Dakota was hit particularly hard during the Depression when one in three families lost their homes to foreclosure.
The museum also followed the Marquis de Mores’s life in Medora.
Despite his wealth, he managed to get on the wrong side of the law in 1883. The Marquis and several of his employees had a confrontation with three drunken hunters. During the ensuing shootout one of the hunters was shot to death. The Marquis went before a judge but charges of murder were dismissed on the grounds of self-defense. Several days later he was arrested again, and again those charges were dismissed. Two years later he was arrested again, indicted for the murder of the drunken hunter, spent several weeks in jail, and was acquitted at trial. He put some of the blame for his legal problems on one of Teddy Roosevelt’s employee’s. While awaiting trial he wrote a letter to Roosevelt in which he said, “I thought you my friend. If you are my enemy I want to know, and between gentlemen it is easy to settle matters of that sort directly.” Years ago many “gentlemen” settled their differences by dueling. Was that what the Marquis was suggesting?
When his packing plant closed in 1886 and his frontier business dreams in tatters, there was no reason for him and his family to stay so they returned east.
But the Marquis’s business instincts stayed strong. He returned to France and attempted to build a railroad across Indochina. When that failed he looked to Africa. While on an expedition to the Sahara he was ambushed and killed.
After he left, Medora pretty much ceased to exist. What’s left caters to tourists visiting the national park during the few months the area isn’t buried in snow.
H & J