Idea for North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame originated on road home from rodeo


NEW TOWN, N.D. (AP) — Phil Baird had an idea to start an organization to honor North Dakota rodeo competitors. Baird, educator and former rodeo rider from Mandan, had authored “40 Years of North Dakota Rodeo.”

One evening, now more than 25 years ago, Baird along with western icon Evelyn Nuens, and her sister, Goldie Nutter, were on their way home on U.S. Highway 83 after attending the 40th anniversary of the Minot Y’s Men’s Rodeo in Minot when Baird brought up his idea, according to North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame history.

He proposed they start such an organization and without hesitating, Neuens said she thought it was a great idea.

Baird recently told the Minot Daily News that he always remembers Neuens, then 83, saying to him when she heard his idea: ”Let’s do it! I’d rather wear out than rust out.” Baird said he knew right then that they were on their way.

With Baird and Neuens at the helm, the idea was planted for an organization initially to honor rodeo competitors. Meetings were held across the state in early 1995 to determine the public’s interest in having a N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fam e and those attending the meetings said the organization needed to include more – North Dakota ranchers and Native Americans.

Baird said the key thread to tie them all together was the horse. He said the horse has a major impact on all – Native Americans, ranching and rodeo.

Nine communities in the state were interested as potential Hall sites and that number was reduced with the final selection of Medora as the site.

On Feb. 14-15, N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame held its annual meeting at the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge, west of New Town, kicking off its 25th anniversary year.

“It’s definitely our biggest event,” said Rick Thompson, current executive director of the organization. He said the annual meeting has always been held in February “because it’s the month we were founded. For us it’s a big deal and kicks off a whole year for 25 years.” He said more than 500 people were expected to attend the two-day event.

NDCHF was formally established with a board of directors in February 1995, and officially incorporated in March 1995.

A commemorative painting for the 25th anniversary of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame was created by artist Andrew Knudson, a Minot native. The painting has been reproduced in limited quantities on canvas and as a poster, and will be available at the annual meeting.

More history

According to N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame history, when it was organized its first board of directors, from various areas in the state, were: Evelyn Neuens, Bismarck, president; Phil Baird, Mandan, vice president; and Sherry Plummer, Dickinson, secretary-treasurer. Other board members were Dr. George Christensen, Minot; Virginia Eck, Bismarck; Ray Morrell, Mandan; Kaye Nelson, Grassy Butte; Winston Satran, Sentinel Butte; Willard Schnell, Dickinson; and Robert Tibor, Hebron.

Darrell Dorgan, Bismarck, became the organization’s first executive director in October 1997. (Dorgan retired in 2011.)

When N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame was organized, Baird said they insisted it could not be a western venture. “It had to be statewide,” he said.

He said they also established a trustee base. The trustees are a group of the organization’s members who represent the entire state within 12 districts. One at-large district (District 13) is comprised of out-of-state individuals. The trustees’ primary duty is to validate and submit eligible candidates for consideration for induction to the Hall of Honorees and to cast the written ballots of the approved slate of nominees for NDCHF induction each year.

After NDCHF was officially organized and incorporated, an extensive fundraising effort was conducted for the next several years, with funds raised from a mix of sources.

Baird said they did “a lot of research” as they made plans for the organization and a facility to preserve and maintain North Dakota’s western heritage and culture.

In May 2005, the ribbon was cut on the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame – Center of Western Heritage & Cultures: Native American, Ranching and Rodeo in Medora.

Baird said he promised Neuens a shot of whiskey when they had fulfilled their goal. After the ribbon was cut to unveil the new facility, they had their shot of whiskey together in recognition of that goal fulfilled. Neuens died in 2008.

Now provost and chief operating officer at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, South Dakota., Baird served for 21 years as co-founder and in other capacities throughout the years including president, vice president and interim executive director of the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame. “He drafted the original bylaws, shaped the first strategic plan, recruited the founding board members, presided over the annual meetings and watched over each induction ceremony from 1998 to 2015. He credits board members, trustees and members for their support,” according to information when he received the NDCHF Legacy Award in 2016.

Baird said every time he sees the sign going into Medora, he still can’t believe all that has been accomplished. “I go in there and I can’t believe it,” he said. “I’m just so proud of what we have there.”

Currently, NDCHF has 723 members and 216 trustees.

More than 200 individuals, ranches and rodeo livestock have been inducted in the Hall of Honorees since the first inductions were held in 1998. Those selected each year are inducted at the annual induction ceremony. This year’s event will be June 19-20 in Medora.

A number of NDCHF signature events are planned throughout the year.