The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame shares its mission, and more than a few of its honorees, with the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
Chester Reynolds had a dream. He was a Kansas City native who rose from sales manager to president of Lee Jeans. He had a creative mind and came up with the idea of Buddy Lee, a doll who “modeled” miniature samples of his company’s clothing line. But Chester’s greatest dream was to find a way to enshrine the cowboy and his era. He worried our great western heritage was being lost in the modern world.
The idea for a national museum first came to Reynolds in 1948. He launched his endeavor in 1953 when he invited the governors of 17 western states, prominent cattlemen, and leaders in rodeo to serve on a board of trustees for what would become the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. In 1955 the site of Oklahoma City was chosen for the center. Chester lived long enough to see the ground broken for the museum in January of 1958. He died in December of that year, but his dream was well on its way to becoming reality.
The mission statement of the national museum is, as would be expected, strikingly similar to the vision of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and Center of Western Heritage and Cultures.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum preserves and interprets the evolving history and cultures of the American West for the education and enrichment of its diverse audiences of adults and children.
The connections between the two organizations are many. In the early fundraising years for the national museum two North Dakotans were national trustees: Brooks Keogh and Ray Schnell. Both of these men are inductees into the NDCHF and were instrumental in helping raise funds to ensure that North Dakota was a part of this endeavor. Andrew Johnston, another NDCHF inductee and author of Fifty Years in the Saddle worked alongside them.
Several North Dakotans and NDCHF inductees are also honored in the halls of fame at Oklahoma City. Victor Hugo Stickney, was one of the national museum’s first ten inductees. While not a cowboy, Stickney was a physician who came to Dakota Territory after graduating medical school, serving the people of the plains until his death in 1927. He was the only doctor in western Dakota Territory during Theodore Roosevelt’s years and became good friends with the future president. They met when Dr. Stickney treated Roosevelt on his return from the odyssey of hiking back to Dickinson from the Killdeer Mountains with three boat thieves he had pursued.
Five members of the famed “North Dakota Six Pack“, rodeo’s elite during the 1950’s and 1960’s, are inducted into the National Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Another rodeo star from North Dakota, recognized in both the NDCHF and the National Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame is Pete Fredericks. In 2011, Pete was also inducted into the first Indian National Finals Rodeo Hall of Fame. Interesting side note: You can see Pete and his son in the iconic western movie Dances with Wolves.
This is just a small example of the many prestigious North Dakotans who contributed to our western history and culture and made a national impression. There is much to celebrate and showcase when thinking of our western heritage. With the support of those who share the mission and vision to preserve and display western history, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum will continue to proudly champion our great western legacy for generations to come.