(April 21, 2005)
On Thursday, April 21, Don Bell of Byron died with his family by his side.
Whether you called Don Bell your husband, your friend, or your dad, everyone who shared a relationship with him knew there was something more to this man; he had the stuff legends are made of.
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 his country 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," so that's what he did. 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, N.M., Museum where Pyle retired-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 Cowboy Hall of Fame. He succeeded at inducting eight cowgirls and four cowboys into the Hall of Fame. He is an original Gold card holding Turtle Association member #868-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 re-ran 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."
Celebrating his life and stories are his wife of 50 years, Elvira,; daughters Donna Bell of Billings, Mont., Vickie Bell Abbott of Meeteetse, Bernadette Bell of Albuquerque, N.M.;and granddaughter, Sarah Dawn Mauthe. Honoring Don's wishes of no service, the Bell Family is honoring his work of keeping the sport of Rodeo alive by establishing The Don Bell Memorial Rodeo Scholarship fund for a Northwest College student. Contributions may be made to the First National Bank of Powell, Box 907, Powell, WY 82435.