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Cowboy Hall of FAme names director: Kevin Holten seeks to uncover history of western way of life

Kevin Holten

By Linda Sailer

Kevin Holten’s new position as North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame executive director has super-sleuth qualities about it — uncovering western history locked away in archives and photo albums.

“We’re concentrating on bringing out history from research at the archives at the Bismarck Heritage Center,” Holten said. “I’ve already uncovered 15 stories just talking to people.”

A Dickinson resident, Holten accepted the appointment on Oct. 1. His mission is to expand, preserve and promote North Dakota’s Native American, ranching and rodeo history.

“Kevin recognizes a lot of stories that need to be shared and the values we have in the Dakotas,” board president Phil Baird said. “People appreciate that good work, ethics and a handshake are really important.”

He said Holten brings a wealth of knowledge that will take the Cowboy Hall of Fame beyond state boundaries.

 “He has a vision of becoming a western heritage mecca that reaches out throughout the United States and even abroad.”

Growing up western

Holten credits interest in the western way of life to his  hometown of Wildrose and listening to the stories about his grandfather.

“My grandfather was a horse wrangler,” Holten said. “In 1908, he started working at the Heckman Ranch north of Wildrose — that was before Wildrose was a city. The ranchers used to run thousands of head of cattle and hundreds of horses.”

Holten brings a diverse background in marketing, sales management, media communications, community service and events coordination to the position. He earned a degree in journalism and arts from the University of North Dakota.

He found time to compete as a saddle bronc rider, steer wrestler and team roper through various rodeo associations. He also produced the NDRA-sanctioned rodeo held in Medora this past summer — the first rodeo since 1992.

It was during this rodeo that he was approached about applying for the position as executive director.

“I’ve always thought that cowboy and rodeo history has never gotten its real due,” he said. “That’s why we’re hiring an archivist, someone who is good at public relations and writing to do research.”

Hall of Fame roots

The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame organization was established in 1995 to preserve and sustain North Dakota’s western culture through the Center of Western Heritage and Culture: Native American Ranching and Rodeo in Medora.

The 15,000-square-foot interpretive center features permanent and traveling exhibits, the Hall of Honorees, a theater, gift shop, archives, multi-purpose meeting space and a 5,000-square-foot open-air patio.

 The Hall of Fame’s publication, the Cowboy Chronicle, is distributed to membership three times annually. Holten looks to publishing monthly and expand the circulation to more than 50,000 readers.

“We want to make people much more aware of western North Dakota’s heritage,” he said.

Holten said the Cowboy Hall of Fame has a collection of photography that will be posted online through the website,

“My plan is to reveal much more heritage well beyond the walls of the facility,” he said.

Telling family stories

As family histories are gathered, they may be placed in one of 50 displays and then added to the online collection. He will rely on families to submit articles about their rodeo and ranching legacy.

Holten wants to develop community displays that tell collective stories of the cowboys from Killdeer, Bowman or Watford City.

He also will focus on professional women’s rodeo that was common in western North Dakota.

“When women rode a bucking horse, they tied the stirrups together under the horse’s belly,” he said.

To tell the Native American history, Holten is turning to Butch Thunder Hawk for his expertise. Another idea is to depict their stories through holograms.

Holten said income sources include the gift shop, purchasing products online, and renting the facility.


The Hall of Fame partners  with the North Dakota Tourism Department and Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation for promotional opportunities.

 “We get inquiries from Europe and groups all around the country who want to come to North Dakota,” Holten said. “We will design a package for you.”

The package may include the Medora Musical, pitchfork fondue and lodging. It might include bronc riders and steer wrestlers for a show.

 “We’ll let you stand around the shoots as the horses buck out,” he said. “We’ll teach you how to shoe a horse or shape a cowboy hat.”

The organization is governed by a board of directors with 200 trustees representing the 13 districts within North Dakota.  An all-trustee meeting is scheduled Dec. 12 during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in  Las Vegas.

“The trustees will pursue the next chapter of the Cowboy Hall of Fame,” Baird said. “Their input is key to where we are going.”

The Cowboy Hall of Fame is open mid-May through mid-September and then by reservations. It will be open selected hours during Medora’s Old-Fashioned Cowboy Christmas, Dec. 6-8.

 For more information regarding the Cowboy Hall of Fame, contact Holten at 701-590-3532.