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First Roughrider Rancher-of-the-Year Award


Melvin Griffin was born into ranching life at Stacey, Montana on this date in 1908 to Rose Anna and Lewis Griffin. Melvin only attended school through the eighth grade, but he started trailing cattle with his dad when he was only ten, and after trailing cattle into North Dakota in June 1926, 18-year-old Melvin saw there was ranch work available. He began breaking horses at Alex LaSotta’s Triple V Ranch, where he became known for having a good eye for telling if a horse was sound or not.

He enjoyed horseback riding and became active in rodeo, riding saddle broncs and roping calves. He also served as a pick-up man and rodeo judge, including at the last Sanish Rodeo performance.

Melvin also participated in one-hour rodeos in Medora designed to entertain passengers during train stops. He even rode a bucking mule for the entertainment of Queen Marie of Romania. He rodeoed in North Dakota and Montana for about 20 years in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

In 1931, he started his own ranch, raising horses and cattle with the Bar U Bar brand. Les Tisor of Medora once said, “I saw Melvin ride bucking horses and, while they were clowning around, he could ride them backwards or any direction and never get bucked off.”

Melvin married Margaret Gunkel in 1935 and started a family, the couple raising three children. By 1957, the family had moved to the Gunkel Ranch southwest of Belfield, which was Margaret’s original home. They eventually owned three ranches near Medora, staying at the ranch north of Medora until 1978 when they moved into Belfield.

Melvin was known for his honesty, work ethic and willingness to help others. He received the first Rancher-of-the-Year Award given by the Dickinson Roughrider Commission. He died on August 25, 1998, in Dickinson and is buried in Medora. He was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2009.

Dakota Datebook written by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.


ND Cowboy Hall of Fame Cowboy Chronicle – June 2009

Obituary – Billings County Pioneer, September 1, 1998

NDCHF nomination information – 2009