Skip to content

Out of the Vault: Bill McMacken

This is a contestant’s armband from the 1944 Madison Square Garden Rodeo worn by South Dakota cowboy Bill McMacken (1913-1967), a National Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee in 2012, donated to the Museum by his son, Patrick McMacken in 2021. Among the other objects are additional armbands from Boston, Fort Worth, Phoenix, Sidney (Iowa), and other rodeos; trophies; a South Dakota entry flag; and archival materials relating to his tour of Australia in 1938-39.

Truly an all-around contender who competed in Saddle Bronc, Bareback Bronc, Steer Wrestling, Steer and Bull Riding,  and Calf Roping, Bill McMacken was born on the family ranch in Sully County, South Dakota. With three older brothers, he hit the rodeo road around 1928, and the quartet soon became known on the circuit as the “Four Horsemen of South Dakota.”

McMacken competed from Boston and Madison Square Garden to Fort Worth, Denver and Cheyenne, but he proved a particularly strong contender in the Northwest. At Ellensburg, Washington, he took four all-around championships in 1936, 1937, 1939 and 1945. He did the same at Pendleton, Oregon, in 1937 and 1939, capturing the prestigious Sam Jackson Trophy. In 1941 at Pendleton he set a world record steer-wrestling time of 9.8 seconds, which stood for a decade. In 1944 McMacken took the all-round title at Lewiston, Idaho, and he did the same at Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1945. He also was a high-point leader with the American Rodeo Team that toured Australia in 1938-1939.

McMacken made cowboy advertisements for Camel cigarettes, tutored bronc-rider Casey Tibbs, and in later years served as arena director for the Harry Knight Rodeo Company. A CTA, RAA, RCA, and PRCA member for life, he was inducted into the Ellensburg (Rodeo) Hall of Fame in 1997. Bill McMacken died in a plane crash in 1967.

Rodeo Historical Society

Opened in 1965, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum preserves and interprets the evolving history and cultures of the American West for the education and enrichment of its diverse audiences. The Museum, with its Rodeo Hall of Fame, is a leading destination for rodeo and Western culture enthusiasts. Working together to preserve the heritage, support the legacy and honor the champions, the Rodeo Historical Society is a long-standing support organization of the National Cowboy Museum.

Enter your nomination for the Ben Johnson Memorial Award Nomination

This annual award is presented to a living person who has been involved in the rodeo industry
for a number of years and has contributed to the growth and betterment of pro-rodeo. Involvement
with youth and/or community activities also is a prerequisite for the honor. The recipient must be
someone who, like Ben Johnson, creates a positive image for rodeo and the Western lifestyle.
Induction into this prestigious hall of fame is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on an

Stay Connected

Sign up for our e-newsletter