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Cowboy Hall of Fame


The national Cowboy Hall of Fame was founded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1955…but the decision to put it there wasn’t an easy one. Many cities wanted the honor of housing the museum, which was expected to be major tourist attraction—judging by the average daily attendance of about 1200 people passing through the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma.

An organizing committee for the coveted museum was formed from individuals from across the western states, including Brooks Keogh Keene, president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, former North Dakota Governor Norman Brunsdale, serving as an ex officio member, and his lieutenant governor, Ray Schnell of Dickinson, a cattleman who had also “boarded broncs” during his lifetime.

Schnell ended up chairing the committee, which would select the site of the museum. There was a lot of publicity over this, and he threw himself into it with passion. Unfortunately, he was slightly misquoted in an interview he gave in Washington, as saying that the Hall of Fame wasn’t intended for rodeo cowboys, when instead he meant that it wasn’t intended for rodeo cowboys alone. On this date, he set the record straight. The Bismarck Tribune published his clarification. Schnell had many professional rodeo riders as friends, and said: “It would make me feel just terribly bad if any of those fellows thought I was taking a crack at them.”

Soon, there were only three cities left in the running: Dodge City, Kansas; Colorado Springs; and the winner, Oklahoma City. Schnell said that some of the greatest cowboys had come from there, and were being produced there, still. Also, the location, at the heart of a “tremendous railroad, highway and air system networks,” made it accessible.

Huge promotional bids were made by all of the front-running cities, but no city in North Dakota even made it into the top ten, especially against such promotions. However, Larry Chambers, then a reporter at the Tribune, wrote that many North Dakotans would like to see a similar shrine to the cowboys in this state. Where?

He wrote: “Right in the heart of one of the still practically untouched, real cowboy areas in the nation – Medora. We don’t really expect anybody to go through with this idea. But it’s fun to dream that it could come true.”

Today, with the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora, one can feel the realization of that dream.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Bismarck Tribune: Saturday, April 30, 1955
The Bismarck Tribune: Friday, February 4, 1955
The Bismarck Tribune: Tuesday, March 8, 1955