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The Antisemitic Duelist

Lawrence Bush
June 22, 2017

Amédée de Morès (1858-1896), a notoriously antisemitic French duelist and marquis, killed a Jewish captain, Armand Mayer, during a duel with sabers on this date in 1892. Mayer’s funeral drew out tens of thousands of mourners in protest of rightwing French antisemitism. De Morès began life as a soldier and became a cavalry officer. He had his first duel in Algiers, where he was sent to help suppress an uprising. Leaving the cavalry in 1882, he married an American woman and moved to the North Dakota badlands to become a rancher and stagecoach owner. De Morès sought to revolutionize the ranching industry by shipping refrigerated meat to Chicago by railroad, bypassing the stockyards, but the “railroads, undoubtedly working hand in glove with the Chicago beef trust, refused to grant him the same rebates on freight rates they gave his competitors,” writes historian Nathan Miller, “... and range-fed -- on grass -- beef turned out to be less popular with consumers than beef that had been fattened -- on corn -- in the stockyards of Chicago. The marquis’ father-in-law withdrew his financial backing and soon the packing plant closed.” Known as Emperor of the Badlands, de Morès gained a reputation as a hot-tempered gunslinger and was arrested and acquitted for murder several times; at one point he virtually challenged Theodore Roosevelt to a duel. De Morès returned to France in 1886 and was commissioned by the French army to build a railroad in Vietnam, from China’s border to the Gulf of Tonkin. The project was undermined by political intrigue in France by 1889. De Morès then joined Edouard Drumont’s Anti-Semitic League of France. According to the State Historical Society of North Dakota, “He spoke out against the Jews, but also exposed corruption in the government and tried to make things better for the underprivileged classes....In 1893, his father, unhappy with his political activities, took him to court to appoint a guardian for his financial affairs. He was in Africa trying to establish a Franco-Islamic alliance when he was murdered in 1896. His wife always believed that his death was politically motivated.”

“The Marquis was as well known for grandiose moneymaking schemes as for his skill as a rifleman. His wife, Medora Von Hoffman, the daughter of a wealthy Wall Street banker of German descent, was the source of his wealth....While the Marquis was in jail during his trial for the killing of Riley Luffsey ... he shot a letter to Roosevelt on September 3, 1885 that expressed concern that Roosevelt’s employee and friend Joe Ferris had been ‘very active against me and has been instrumental in getting me indicted,’” and asked ‘Is this done by your order?... If you are my enemy I want to know it...between gentlemen it is easy to settle matters of that sort directly.’ ... Carefully, TR wrote back to the Marquis, ‘Most emphatically I am not your enemy; if I were you would know it, for I would be an open one, and would not have asked you to my house nor gone to yours.’ TR closed that he was ‘ever ready to hold myself accountable for anything I have said or done.’ TR’s tactful response cooled tensions... The Marquis backed out of any direct confrontation with Roosevelt.” --National Park Service

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.