Once upon a time, back when North Dakota was just a territory, not a state, and before highways and interstates carried us from place to place…a different sort of highway saw a lot whole of traffic.
“7to 9 million head of cattle and horses moved up the Great Western Trail,” said Great Western Trail Marker Project Manager Darrell Dorgan.
That ocean of cattle moved this way because cowboys in Texas were following the money. Back in the 1880s, cattle could be sold for $8 a piece in Texas. But farther north in Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakota territory and even Canad, the cattle could be sold for $20 to $35 a head, so the herds moved north– and so did a Frenchman known as the Marquis De Mores.
He saw the opportunity to be part of a booming beef industry. He wound up founding the town of Medora in 1883.
“They wanted to cut out the middle man. They said it would save a lot of money here, we’ll butcher right here, with our refrigerated cars. We’ll ship our product all the way to New York. And therefore we would make Dakota Territory the center of meat industry in the west,” said Chateau De Mores Assistant Site Supervisor Ed Sahlstrom.
As most North Dakotans know, the Marquis wasn’t the only big name in the area at the time.
“Theodore Roosevelt was known to come over to the Chateau and dine with the Marquis and Madam. He borrowed books from their library, biographies and history books, and international travel books and took them off to his ranches,” said Chateau De Mores Site Supervisor Anna Killian.
Neither would last long in the Dakota Territory. After a couple of years Roosevelt returned to New York and the Marquis began to feel the decline of the Great Western Cattle Trail, thanks to more settlement and a cattle disease known as Texas Fever.
But the Great Western Cattle Trail is still in use today, by people like you and me. So to remember the trail, markers are being put up all along Highway 85.
“We are going to mark that whole 200 plus miles from the South Dakota border to Canada. And we started a couple weeks ago by putting the first marker in on the South Dakota/North Dakota line and then going all the way to Belfield,” said Dorgan.
The project manager in North Dakota says remembering the Great Western Trail is important.
“This all took place from 1870’s until the 1890’s. And unless we mark it today it’s simply going to be forgotten 10 or 15 years from now, no one will ever remember it. So this is the last great shot at doing it,” said Dorgan.
More markers will be placed in the coming months. The hope is to have the project done next year.