The North Dakota Duel That Almost Was
It was on July 11, 1804 that one of our nation's most famous duels took place.
Then Vice President Aaron Burr and the nation's first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton went head-to-head in a duel. The story surrounding this duel is quite fascinating but long story short, Hamilton shot his weapon and missed (supposedly on purpose), and then Burr shot Hamilton in the stomach, damaging Hamilton's liver and spine. Hamilton died the next day.
As we embark on the 213 year anniversary of that duel, I took it upon myself to look at the history of dueling in North Dakota. I turned to Jim Davis from the North Dakota State Historical Society.
The boring part of this story is the fact that dueling was never legal in the state of North Dakota. In fact, Davis sent me documents from the Penal Code for the Dakota Territory from 1877. (North Dakota became a state in 1889)
It states that anyone who fights in a duel, regardless of injuries, is subject to a maximum of ten years in prison.
The law also stated that anyone who participates in a duel would be unable to hold, be appointed to, or be elected into any office.
Here's where things get interesting. Let's talk about Marquis De Mores. The name may sound familiar. He founded Medora. His house is now a historical site in the area. Originally from France, and known to be a deulist, Marquis De Mores had a cordial yet tumultuous relationship with a young man who happened to enjoy ranching in the Badlands area of North Dakota.
The young man was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, as we know, was a man who loved the North Dakota Badlands and it just so happened that prior to his Presidency, Roosevelt was a neighbor of Marquis De Mores.
Marquis De Mores and Roosevelt a few times had disagreements over land ownership rights.
Marquis De Mores, was charged for murder a few times as well but was acquitted each time.
One time, while Marquis De Mores was serving time for a murder, he sent a letter to Roosevelt regarding a particular incident and asked, "If you are my enemy I want to know it...between gentlemen it is easy to settle matters of that sort directly," according to the National Park Service.
With Marquis De Mores suggesting to settle the matter "directly," it was implied that he challenging the future President to a duel.
Fortunately, Roosevelt declined the invitation. He replied, “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."
Had the duel occurred, Roosevelt could have been killed, or at the very least, not been allowed to hold public office (granted it may only apply to office in the state of North Dakota). But it would have likely changed the course of history drastically as the 26th President of the United States would have been someone else.
Dueling remains illegal in North Dakota.