This Friday and Saturday, June 18-19, will be the celebration of the 26th Annual North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies at Medora, N.D. Friday evening’s season premier event will be held at the Hall of Fame Center, while the inductions will take place on Saturday at the Tjaden Terrace of the Medora Amphitheater, spearheaded by Executive Director Rick Thompson and his very efficient staff.
Let’s look back at its infancy. First and long running Executive Director Darrell Dorgan worked tirelessly in promoting awareness and membership of the over-due organization. For four consecutive years he put together an eight-city tour of North Dakota towns during the deepest of the winter, enlisting retired UND History Professor Dr. Jerry Tweton and myself to put on an hour-and-a-half worth of history and contemporary cowboy humor. We would do Wednesday and Thursday nights, back to back for a full month with a Williston, Minot, Devils Lake, Grand Forks, and so on, format. The next year we’d do smaller towns, such as Bowman, Watford City, and on, the same way.
There were many unusual events. Darrell did the emcee chores and always opened by saying he is the younger brother of Byron Dorgan and they were raised in the small town of Regent in the southwest corner of the state. At the outskirts there’s a large sign that reads; Regent, North Dakota – Home town of U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan. Darrell would say, “I live in Bismarck now, but it’s my family obligation to drive back out there every two weeks and put that bugger back up.” That’s good humor – all in fun. It always got a good laugh and set the stage for a fun evening.
One time traveling with my good friend Mike Martin from Enderlin, N.D., who had taken classes from Dr. Tweton, we stopped at a local crossroads gas station to fill up. I followed him in as he paid, when a weather beaten, “lot of hard miles” looking stranger approached me and gave me a full load of his anti-government, tax protesting philosophy as I stood mute. After a long silence up the road, Mike finally addressed me, “You really can pick em – you must have looked like an easy recruit.”
I was also working schools as an Artist-in-Residence teaching writing, so Darrell would coordinate my locations so I could make our night performances close by. One time I was working at the Sykeston School, staying at Carrington. The Wednesday gig at Jamestown was a breeze, but the following evening at Fargo’s new Public Library was a stretch and I was running late.
Not having any idea of its location I had previously called my south Fargo friend, Lonnie Nelson, who had long hunted deer on our ranch. He said he’d pick me up at a given location in West Fargo and drive me on in. He hurriedly dropped me off at the library’s southwest intersection and said, “There it is,” while he searched for a parking spot.
I ran the full block along its south side wall, but couldn’t find a door, so I dashed back to my starting point and headed north. Finally a couple saw my panic and hollered, “Over here.” I stormed into the back stage out of breath and puffing and exclaimed, “Let’s go, I’m ready.”
Devils Lake was the real memory maker. It was always held at Lake Region College and the students were in attendance. The sign language interpreter stood beside me on stage and artfully translated my “Cowboy Slang.” I apologized to her for making it difficult, but she just smiled and told me to continue – it was all a part of our culture, but the real historic culture came in Dr. Tweton’s presentation.
He was telling of old records of the railroad’s plan to come through and was searching for local properties to build on. An entrepreneuring businessman got wind of it and grabbed up the choice acreage that they needed. Feuds broke out with others that wanted in on the deal, climaxing in a shooting.
Just then a lady spoke up saying, “That was my Great Grandfather that got killed and to this day, it’s never been solved.”
Then a man stood up in the back of the room and said, “Oh, I know who done it – it was my Great Grandfather.” At first stunned, the crowd then broke out laughing.
We solved a 100-year-old “cold case murder” that evening.