Researching is not my favorite thing to do. I’d rather be brainstorming with my writing buddies while eating homemade snacks. But research is necessary. I will confess I enjoy going on research trips—just getting away from home makes it worthwhile.
When I sold a three-book deal for a trio of stories set in historical North Dakota, I rejoiced and then said, “What have I done?” I knew nothing about N.D. and had never been there. So I started researching, looking for a place to set a ranch. I found out that most historical ranches were in the Southwest part of the state around The Badlands, where there are abundant grasslands intermixed with steep buttes, beautiful rock formations, and wide valleys.
While narrowing down exactly where to set my ranch, I stumbled on the story of a French marquis, Antoine Amedee Marie Vincent Amat Manca de Vallombrosa—oi, what a mouthful—(better known as the Marquis de Mores) who came to the Dakota Territories in 1883 with the dream of shipping dressed beef back east in refrigerated rail cars to provide urban dwellers better meat. My first thought was…they had refrigerated trains back then? Yep, they did.
The Marquis de Mores invested heavily in his dream. With the help of his father-in-law, Baron Von Hoffman, the Marquis incorporated the Northern Pacific Refrigerator Car Company in April 1883. He built a meat-processing plant just west of the Little Missouri River. The plant could process 150 beef carcasses per day.
The tiny town located where the plant was built was named after the river, but had the nickname of Little Misery. The Marquis didn’t like that so he built his home—a twenty-six room chateau—on the east side of the river and started a new town which he named after his wife, Medora.
The Marquis and his industrious wife were involved in many enterprises including cattle and sheep ranching and the Medora-Deadwood Stagecoach line. They even built a Catholic church in Medora. Things went along well until two horrible winters that killed 80% of all the cattle in the area, as well as growing pressures from Chicago meet producers. When the Marquis’s meatpacking business collapsed in 1886, his commercial empire did as well. His dreams, however, created a romantic legacy that lives on in western North Dakota.
My husband and I visited Medora, which is set in the heart of the Badlands. The tiny town has gone through a restoration revival in hopes of tapping the tourism industry. You can visit the marquis’s home, which is still there and filled with many of his personal belongings and furniture. The meat-processing plant burned down in 1907, but the tall, native-brick chimney still stands in silent tribute to this early attempt to capitalize on the meat-packing business.
I fell in love with the Marquis’ story and with Medora, and I hope to go back someday for another visit. Needless to say, I set my three stories in and around Medora. The first book comes out this fall and is called Wild at Heart. It’s the story of a female dime novelist who is challenged by one of her readers to get her facts straight about the West. Rancher, Adam McFarland invites the novelist to his ranch, expecting a man. But his world is turned upside down by a spunky city gal who wields hatpins for weapons.
So…what jewels have you stumbled upon in your research?
I would like to offer a drawing for a free book from my website. Winner’s choice, as long as it’s a book I still have copies of. See them all at: www.vickiemcdonough.com