Skip to main content

Don Bell Collection

Identifier: 2001-032

Scope and Contents

The Don Bell Collection is divided into six series: rodeo anecdotes, photographs, published materials, collected poems, Cowboys Turtle Association rosters, and Merle Fales cowboy anecdotes.

Note to the Researcher: Please be aware of of racist, derogatory, sexist, and inflammatory language used throughout the anecdotes.


  • Creation: 1910 - 1999


Conditions Governing Access

The Don Bell Collection has no restrictions and is available for research. If you are interested in researching the materials, please contact the Dickinson Research Center to make an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

The Don Bell Collection is the property of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Materials, even if owned by the NCWHM, may be protected under third party copyright. It is the patron’s responsibility to research and secure any such additional copyright and pay any required fees or royalties. It is not the intention of the NCWHM to impede upon any third party rights, and the NCWHM cannot be held responsible if the patron is involved in legal action due to violation of third party copyright claims.

Biographical / Historical

Born on June 12, 1911, Don had a love of horses and the open range and everything he did in life had him close to both. He grew up in Eastern Colorado and worked with livestock his entire life. He entered his first rodeo at the age of 12 and spent 17 years as a rodeo contestant. He worked as a farrier, big game guide, packer, and range cowboy. A showman at heart, he was a part of the Clyde Miller Wild West Show, the Bill King Rodeo Co., and Rufus Rollins’ Wild West Show. He worked on movie sets and had small parts in the Western movies Shane and Indian Love Call. He contested in rough stock events through 1942 competing in venues like Soldiers Field in Chicago and the Boston Gardens.

In 1943, he served in World War II until being honorably discharged in1945. He served in the 29th Infantry Division, one of the first units to land on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy. Despite the tremendous losses his infantry experienced, Don survived and became a decorated soldier earning two purple hearts and four bronze stars for his wartime bravery. Don would wear one of the bullets that struck him for the remainder of his life.

It may have been Don’s encounter with WWII war correspondent Ernie Pyle that led him on a path to writing following the war. The famed correspondent told Don, “Anyone that can tell stories like you should be a writer.” The rider turned writer began “henpecking” on a Smith-Corona typewriter much like the one Pyle left behind in the foxhole he and Don fled from while under attack from artillery shells. Like rescuing an old friend, Don retrieved the black Smith-Corona typewriter from the foxhole and had it shipped back home. Years later he would donate it to the Albuquerque, NM, Museum -where Pyle retired and where it still remains on display today.

In his retirement, Don’s love of writing never faded. He continued to write about his life and times while dutifully serving as a rodeo historian for the Rodeo Historical Society and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. He succeeded at inducting eight cowgirls and four cowboys into the Hall of Fame. He is an original Gold card-holding Cowboy Turtle Association member, the first professional rodeo association and an honorary life card holder of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

As Don said, he has “fooled around with an old typewriter juggling words.” In fact, his writing career spanned 30 years and he was still being published at age 93. His articles have appeared over the years in Western Horseman, Guideposts Magazine, The Ketchpen (the official publication of the Rodeo Historical Society), True West, and Good ‘Ol Days. At age 78 he published a book of poetry “Reflections of A Cowboy.” Some of Don’s most treasured and weathered belongings like his saddle, lariat, boots, and hat are at rest at the Smithsonian Institute’s American History Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2000, these artifacts, on loan from the Smithsonian, as well as a life-sized image of Don went on display at the Origins All Sports Museum located at The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

In February 2005, Don’s longtime friends at Guideposts Magazine reprinted one of his first stories originally published in 1976 titled, “The Lonely Trail.” In addition to his public achievements, it was his never-ending love of life and positive attitude Don shared with so many that he will be most remembered. Despite his battle with cancer, Don lived for every moment and told stories from his hospital bed to everyone who visited him. As he reminded the Guidepost readers in February, “I’ll ride this storm until it takes me home.” He died on April 21, 2005.

Don Bell was a Special Award Recipient of the Rodeo Historical Society in 2002, but due to ill health, he did not attend. Don’s daughter, Vicki Bell Abbott accepted the award for him. Abbott told that her dad put a sheep wagon in his front yard, and had the telephone company hook up a telephone in the wagon. This was his office and where he did his writing for many years.

Source: Powell Tribune, Obituary, April 21, 2005.


0.75 Linear Feet (1 legal box, 1 legal 3 inch box)

Language of Materials



The Don Bell Collection approaches the lives and events of rodeo from the perspective of a collector, admirer, and desiring historian. Toward the end of his life he frequently wrote brief anecdotes and memoirs of his rodeo experiences, friend, and his own ideas about the rodeo sport and history. He collected photographs, poetry books, and memoirs from other rodeo performers, often sending them to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s liaison with the Rodeo Historical Society, Judy Dearing.

Note to the Researcher: Please be aware of of racist, derogatory, sexist, and inflammatory language used throughout the anecdotes.


Note to the Researcher: Please be aware of of racist, derogatory, sexist, and inflammatory language used throughout the anecdotes.

The rodeo anecdotes series (2000-2002, n.d.) consists of 390 writings by Don Bell about rodeo. Many of the writings are his memories from his time as a rodeo contestant, but some are rodeo history pieces. Bell wrote the anecdotes to the Rodeo Historical Society, and many of them were written after he’d lost the majority of his eye sight. The anecdotes are arranged in the order the Rodeo Historical Society stored them and spelling errors have been corrected in the titles. Researchers should be aware of racist, derogatory, sexist, and inflammatory language used throughout the anecdotes.

The photographs series (1910-1997) consists of rodeo photographs in a variety of formats such as silver gelatin prints, postcards, and transparencies.

The published materials series (1954-2002) consists of books, poetry books, a Sports Illustrated magazine, and newspaper clippings.

The collected poems series (1978-2002) consists of loose poems that Don Bell mailed to the Rodeo Historical Society. The authors of the poems are: Don Bell, Otha Edwards, Howard Powers, Al Sammons, Bob Schild, Iva Nell Stokes Shaw, Jesse A. Wight, and several unsigned poems.

The Cowboys Turtle Association rosters series (1938, 1940) consists of two lists of Cowboys Turtle Association members.

The Merle Fales cowboy anecdotes series (2001 and n.d.) consists of one folder of material compiled by Merle Fales and mailed to the Rodeo Historical Society by Don Bell. The materials cover Fales’ time in rodeo.

Processing Information

The Don Bell Collection was donated to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2001 and 2002 by Don Bell. There are three accessions, but the primary accession number is 2001.032.

Note to the Researcher: Please be aware of of racist, derogatory, sexist, and inflammatory language used throughout the anecdotes.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the NCWHM Special Collections at Dickinson Research Center Repository

1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City Oklahoma 73111 United States