Biographies,  Tales of the Ranch,  The Cowboy Chronicle

Charles Franklin Martell: Pre-1940’s Ranching Division nominee 2019

In 1908 a young man left his family dairy farm in New York going west to fulfill his dream in western North Dakota. Charles Martell arrived with nothing, worked for his uncles and was on his own by 1914. He established a ranch headquarters known as “Horse Camp”, running several hundred head of horses and cattle. Martell learned to identify and purchase strong breeding stock and expertly break horses.

The 1920’s saw local horse markets declining, but Martell found new profitable markets for local horses in New York.  As farming practices became more mechanized the horse market again declined, so he shifted his focus to cattle. Martell’s ranch grew to 3000 acres where he ran over 200 head of cattle and raised hay and wheat.

Martell provided numerous opportunities for employment giving many their start, paying good wages and sharing his expertise.  He was respected and admired for his generosity, honesty, skill and knowledge of animals.

Instrumental in getting roads built in McKenzie County and postal and railroad service established, Martell also facilitated the establishment of a John Deere dealership and grain elevator in Charbonneau. Martell and his wife Lila were honored with the Dakota Territory Centennial Homesteaders Award in 1961.

A founding member of the McKenzie County Grazing Association, his understanding of good grazing practices proved useful during his long tenure as director. Prior to his death he was helping establish a museum to preserve the history of McKenzie County.

Ben Johnston, (NDCHF Inductee 2015), broke horses for Martell.  Andrew Johnston, (NDCHF Inductee 2006) and Fifty Years in the Saddle author, was a friend and supporter.

Martell’s investigation and single-handed pursuit of a pervasive group of rustlers ultimately enabled the state’s attorney to put six in state prison in 1919. (Story published in North Dakota Horizons magazine.)

A benefactor of Home on the Range and other charities, Martell created and self-funded the C F. Martell Memorial Foundation; a self-perpetuating educational fund operating since 1962, assisting thousands of disadvantaged youth. His legacy endures through the C. F. Martell Family Endowment at the Fort Buford State Historic Site/Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center.


  • This short biography appeared in the The Cowboy Chronicle, Volume 23 Issue 1.  
  • Charles Franklin Martell (1885-1966) was inducted into the NDCHF on June 15, 2019

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