Billy McGinty


He counted Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody and Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton as friends. He was a war hero who charged up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War in 1898. He won the World Championship Bronc Busting competition in 1910. He was the first bronc buster to ever appear in a movie as part of an act for the Paris World’s Fair. He was a star performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. And, he was part of the first cowboy band to achieve national radio fame. 

Billy McGinty was born in 1871 and packed more adventure into his life than most men could ever dream of.  As a young man, he left home at age 14 and worked as a ranch hand in Dodge City, Oklahoma Territory, Texas and Arizona, gaining quite a reputation as a horse whisperer. When his father passed away in 1897, McGinty moved to Ingalls, just outside of Stillwater, to take care of his father’s ranch and livestock.


Billy McGinty          Billy McGinty


With the Spanish-American War about to explode onto the world stage, Billy McGinty was eager to enlist. He rode his horse all night in order to arrive in Guthrie, OK the next morning where recruits skilled in horsemanship were being selected. Being only 5’2” tall, McGinty seemed completely unable to march in step during his basic training but was undaunted by the angry rants of his superiors. He knew that this Rough Riders group would be a mounted Cavalry unit and he would do just fine once they got on horseback.


     Rough Riders in Tampa, FL
McGinty arrived with roughly 1,000 soldiers and 1,200 horses in Tampa, FL to begin the journey to Cuba.


Not only did McGinty fight bravely during the Battle of San Juan Hill, but he also volunteered for an extremely dangerous assignment to take food and water to soldiers pinned down in a trench. While he was able to dodge the barrage of enemy fire himself, the food packages that he was carrying were shot through with several bullet holes. Teddy Roosevelt said of Billy McGinty, “We had no better or braver man in the fights.”


Billy McGinty and Teddy Roosevelt with Rough Riders

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt poses with Billy McGinty and other Rough Riders after the Battle of San Juan Hill.


     Billy McGinty

Rough Riders (Billy McGinty is 3rd from right on back row)


Still craving adventure after the war, McGinty toured the world with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show where he rode bucking broncs and participated in re-enactments of the Battle of San Juan. The Congress of Rough Riders re-enactment was always the hit of the show during the 1899 and 1900 seasons.


     Billy McGinty

Buffalo Bill Wild West Show postcard depicting the Rough Rider re-enactment of the Battle of San Juan Hill


When he came home to his old stomping grounds in Ingalls and Stillwater, he found himself a local celebrity. He became good friends with Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton and the pair delighted in telling stories to willing audiences around town.


     Billy McGinty and Frank Eaton

Billy McGinty (mounted on right) and Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton (standing, center) were close friends


His name was so recognizable that he was convinced to lend it to a local cowboy band. Billy McGinty’s Oklahoma Cowboy Band gained popularity and reached a wide audience through radio shows even though McGinty never played or sang. He mostly added cowboy charm and acted as the announcer for the band. He retired from the band after a few years and his friend and bandmate, Otto Gray, picked up the torch and reached new heights of fame.


     Billy McGinty's Oklahoma Cowboy Band

Billy McGinty (seated, left) and his Oklahoma Cowboy Band. After Billy left the band, his friend Otto Gray (seated, right) took them to new heights of fame.


Billy McGinty passed away in 1961. He was a cowboy’s cowboy and left an indelible imprint on the Stillwater area and the world at large. He was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2000.


     Billy McGinty



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