Nelson sheds light on Medora's lifeKaren Nelson, who portrays Medora, Madame de Mores in the History Alive! program, has uncovered information about the wife of the Marquis de Mores. The Marquis is known for his endeavors to build a beef empire in southwestern North Dakota during the 1880s. He built a summer home, the Chateau de Mores in Medora, when his family came for visits.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Karen Nelson, who portrays Medora, Madame de Mores in the History Alive! program, has uncovered information about the wife of the Marquis de Mores.
The Marquis is known for his endeavors to build a beef empire in southwestern North Dakota during the 1880s. He built a summer home, the Chateau de Mores in Medora, when his family came for visits.
Nelson recently learned how Medora died, how her granddaughter died at a young age, and the number of bear she shot while on a hunting trip.
“We’ve been working every winter to search the genealogy of both lines,” Nelson said. “It’s been pretty exciting to the staff at the Chateau de Mores. We post the new findings on our Facebook page.”
Nelson will present Madame de Mores in a final performance for the season at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. today on the veranda of the chateau. The Marquise will talk about her stay at the chateau in 1903, in what was her last visit to the Dakota summer home. The performance is sponsored by the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Visitors also may join in celebrating the Marquise’ 156th birthday Tuesday with cake and juice served throughout the day.
“History Alive! brings the characters to life,” site supervisor Samuel Kerr said. “People come to the house to hear about the story. It stays a story until we actually bring the characters here and they hear the words coming from people impersonating them. They get a much better feel for the story and what the site meant to the Marquis, the Marquise and their family.”
Nelson’s portrayal of Medora was the among the first in the History Alive! series.
“She’s the one that all the others built off and she does an excellent job — really bringing the character of Medora alive,” Kerr said.
While the chateau staff assists with the research, a majority of the work is done by Nelson, he said.
“Without the research and the things we find out, we would be just a story built around myths and assumptions,” Kerr said. “Having the research and finding new things every year, sometimes on a monthly basis, adds to the story and brings the story alive. Our goal is to be historically accurate by having research dispel a lot of the myths that grow up around a site like ours.”
Nelson makes a distinction between the town of Medora and the Madame de Mores or the Marquise. She was always referenced by her titles, never her first name.
“Nobody who came to town would ever have addressed her so casually — ever,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s research is mostly online. As information is collected, it’s archived through a software program.
“For a while it was just a room full of boxes and file cabinets,” she said.
She’s learned the family surname of the Marquis was Manca, a family that originated in Sardinia.
“They had a history of marrying very well,” Nelson said. “The King of Spain gave a grandfather the title of de Mores. The title was awarded for valor in battle.”
The French consider any title given in valor as the crème de crème, she added.
The Marquise’ maternal grandmother, Suzette Grymes married into Colonial heritage. Her second daughter met and married Baron von Hoffman, who pursued a career in banking.
Medora was born in Staten Island and had a sister, Pauline. They traveled back and forth to Europe, meeting the right people and having private tutors, Nelson said.
Medora and the Marquis married in 1882 on Valentine’s Day, first in a civil ceremony and then a church ceremony in Cannes, France.
Records show the Baron von Hoffman had investment interests in the railroad. As a forward-thinking man, he envisioned shipping beef grown in Dakota Territory to the cities.
“The Baron von Hoffman and the Marquis were partners — nobody conned him out of any money,” Nelson said.
Before the Marquis even stepped off the train, the equipment was on the way to Dakota Territory.
“They’d done their homework — their biggest weakness was they didn’t know enough about cattle,” she said.
The Marquis came to North Dakota in 1883 and the Marquise followed in the spring after her first child, Athenais was born. Louis was born in 1885.
The couple considered the chateau as a summer hunting cabin.
“She came and went as she pleased — she didn’t worry about chokecherry season,” Nelson said.
With a staff of some dozen people, Medora made out guests lists as much as a year ahead of time. Invitations were sent out and the staff would prepare treats for the guests after they arrived, Nelson said.
The Baroness von Hoffman — Medora’s mother — had a house built for them when they came for visits.
As a strong Catholic, the Marquise also contracted for St. Mary’s Catholic Church to be constructed and missionary priests to say Mass.
She arranged for classes to be taught by Miss Finger out of South Heart. The family paid her salary for the first year.
“It was for the community — that’s what the rich did — they took care of the people and educated them,” Nelson said.
One of the mysteries that Nelson set out to solve, was how Medora’s granddaughter, Thais, died. Folklore suggested she died in a horseback accident. However, Nelson learned she died at age 10 of unknown causes in Switzerland.
Louis had one son, Antoine, who never married. He died in 1982.
Medora died March 1, 1921, in Cannes, France. A recently discovered death certificate revealed she died from the complications of dysentery.
“It’s the worst flu ever imagined,” Nelson said.
Another myth surrounding Medora was that she shot three bear on a hunting trip in 1885.
“A letter said she shot four — it was written by a man who was an outfitter,” Nelson said.
The legacy of the Marquis and Marquis was described as a good story and it’s been Nelson’s pleasure to share that story with everyone.
For more information, contact the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site at 701-623-4355 or the State Historical Society of North Dakota at 701-328-2666.