SDQHA honorees: Melvin Ranches
Warren and Donna Melvin were a dynamic couple who have created a lasting legacy of family and horses. The Melvin family name is synonymous with rodeo and horse racing.
It was known that when Warren, a tall slender man, was young, he could break to ride anything with four legs. Born the youngest of twelve children to Dan and Bertha Melvin near Canning, South Dakota, he found that riding and breaking horses was good money.
Warren found it natural to compete in rough stock rodeo events. While rodeoing he set his sights for a young woman much like himself, Donna Maher. In 1951, they began their lives together.
Donna, the second daughter of Bill and Reva Maher’s six children, grew up in the saddle. At the age of eleven, Donna’s trick riding performances would entertain audiences at rodeos her parents helped put on. Her parents contracted stock as Diamond M Rodeo Company. As much as she loved the thrill of standing atop a horse, she also enjoyed riding one in a cloverleaf barrel racing pattern at fast speeds.
Their three children Monte, Michel and Marty were all blessed with the ability to love horses and participate in rodeo and on the race track as their parents and grandparents before them.
Their lifestyles did not change once they were married. This rodeo duo would continue to win and capture titles in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. Warren and other rodeo competitors founded the South Dakota Rodeo Association (SDRA) in 1955. Donna and her barrel racing mare “Cindy” qualified for the SDRA finals in 1956, 1957, and 1958, while Warren would claim the Bull Riding Championship in both 1956 and 1957.
The race track was also a very familiar place for the Melvin family. Warren proved his success as a trainer in 1986 and 1987, when the horses he trained won sixty races with jockey Chris Zamora riding. Easy Duplicate AAA son of Rocking Easy out of Dupes Debutant was Champion High Point Running Stallion for the SD Horse Racing Association for numerous years and in 1983 claimed the SD Derby winner in Aberdeen SD running 350 yards in 18.24.
In 1963, Warren and Donna purchased the 3,500 acre ranch south of Holabird, South Dakota, where Warren resided until his death. It was in the early 1960s that the Melvins would purchase a handful of broodmares. When their neighbor Pat Cowan, along with Tex Fulton, introduced Laughing Boy to South Dakota, the Melvins cut a deal with Pat to breed a few of their mares to this outstanding stallion. Laughing Boy was sired by Lightning Bar AAA whose sire was Three Bars (TB), the leading AQHA Race and Performance Sire. When the opportunity arose, they acquired some mares that were sired by Laughing Boy as well. These bloodlines existed throughout the Melvin breeding program. One of the Melvins’ great race horses was La Boya, a 1964 black mare sired by Laughing Boy and out of Donna’s old barrel horse mare Cindy. Las Boya was the foundation of the Melvin Ranch racing program. She was pretty enough to show one day and win a race the next day. Monte Melvin showed her in 1967 with great success.
The family purchased Rocking Easy, an own son of the legendary Easy Jet in the 1970s from Walter Merrick of Oklahoma. The cross with the Laughing Boy mares proved successful with their colts running and winning many race futurities. Heza Rocking Easy, Champion Two Year Old Running Horse in South Dakota, High Point Two Year Old Champion, and South Dakota Bred Futurity Champion, was one of the offspring of Rocking Easy’s first colt crop. Many more champions were to follow.
The race track wasn’t the only place to see Rocking Easy’s offspring, they shined in the rodeo arena, finding success in barrel racing and roping events. Mr Sharp N Easy “Flint” a son of Rocking Easy X Pansy’s Baby (mare of Laughing Boy) was Marty Melvin’s great hazing horse which was recognized as Top Hazing Horse in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and traveled to the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) numerous times. Babes Easy Baby (Rocking Easy X Flickas Babe) was PRCA/WPRA (Women’s Professional Rodeo Association) money earner ridden by NFR qualifier Celi Whitcomb Ray, later ridden by Hallie Melvin (daughter of Monte Melvin) and Teresa Melvin (wife of Monte Melvin). Easy Jacalynn (Rocking Easy X Come On Jackie) was a Wyoming High School Rodeo State Champion, National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) qualifier and a PRCA/WPRA money-earner, with numerous other wins to her credit.
In the late 1980s by Melvin Ranch bought a son of Dash For Cash- Power of Cash. Dash For Cash, a two time World Champion was not only a great running horse, but a successful sire as well. Power of Cash’s dam, River Witch, was a winner herself with earnings of almost $39,000. The intention of the new stallion was to cross with the Rocking Easy and Laughing Boy mares.
Again, time proved that Warren and Donna had the knack to turn out quality horses. They discovered yet another great cross producing more futurity winners and rodeo horses. Tim Nelson rode Powerful Banjo to the 2000 Heading Futurities Championship. The horse was later sold to Tyler Haugen who made the short round at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Denver Gilbert purchased the horse and used it in steer wrestling winning his way in the PRCA.
After much consideration, Warren and Donna felt it was time to inject an outcross with their running-bred mares, thus The Little Colonel would call the Melvin Ranch home in the 1990s. The Little Colonel was sired by the all-time great cutting and reining horse sire; Colonel Freckles out of a dam direct off the King Ranch, Otoe Mia. He too produced many great arena performers like Class of Colonel (The Little Colonel X Princess Shamrock) a barrel futurity finalist, fourth average 5-State Barrel Maturity, South Dakota High School Rodeo Association (SDHSRA) qualifier and South Dakota State 4-H qualifier in barrel racing and pole bending. The Michel Melvin family still stands MFR Power of Colonel, a son of The Little Colonel out of Power of Blues by Power of Cash.
The next sire purchased for the program was Firewater Frost in 1999 from the Open Box Rafter Ranch. This stallion was sired by Fire Water Flit, a multiple leading world barrel horse sire and champion rope horse sire. Fire Water Flit’s Dam, Slash J Harletta has been described as one of the greatest maternal producers of barrel horses of all time. She was an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Champion and NFR qualifier; and producer of three NFR Qualifiers out of the eight colts she foaled. Firewater Frost’s dam, Frost Drift, is an own daughter of Orphan Drift, the sire of many ROM performers and top arena athletes. In November 2007, Marty’s wife Judy competed on Firewater Frost at the AQHA World Show and placed sixth in the world in barrel racing. The Melvins felt that Firewater Frost was their sire for the future. They hosted an annual production sale from 1985 to 2005.
The Legacy Continues through the Generations
A true love of horses run deep in the roots of the Melvin family. Raising quality horses has given the Melvin children and grandchildren added advantages in the rodeo arenas. Each of Warren and Donna’s children followed in their footsteps. Marty and his family have taken on the showing aspect of the horses in the AQHA, rodeo and futurity activities.
Monte’s family continues with their breeding program, rodeo and barrel racing futurities with daughter Hallie Hanssen. Michel and family carry on the tradition of raising and racing horses.
In Monte’s younger years he won four Badlands Circuit Championships in bull riding and all-around titles. He trained the family horses at the race track for a number of years, before turning the track duties back to Warren in order to focus more on the arena horses. Monte is married to Teresa (Daly) and they have 3 children – Ashley, Hallie and Cash. Teresa was a top WPRA barrel racer winning titles in both the Great Lakes and Badlands Circuits and claiming the 1980 Badlands Circuit Horse of the Year with Flickas Babe (Sonny Champ X Flicka Ward). In 2005 Monte, Teresa and Hallie purchased Famous Charmer sired by Dash Ta Fame. The dam, Kellys Charm was sired by the legendary stallion, The Signature. Hallie and her husband, Lee Hanssen, now stand The Kandyman (Tres Seis X Famous Silk Panties) The sire of MS French Walla Walla who won over $230,000 in her futurity year (2021). Hallie is carrying on the tradition as an outstanding horsewoman. She has been winning barrel futurities and rodeos and is listed as a top-ranked trainer winning over $1.7 million dollars jockeying horses around three barrels. They make their home in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Michel, too, competed in all aspects of rodeo while growing up. She found her niche in the barrel racing word. She married to Gilbert Ecoffey, who grew up in the race horse family, and they continued breeding and training winners on the track. The highlight of their horse racing career was in 2006 when they were named the Leading Thoroughbred Trainer at the Ft. Pierre, South Dakota, Racetrack. In 2007, Pager, an eight-year-old gelding (Phone Trick X Hunt) was invited to run in the Claiming Crown at Henderson Kentucky where he claimed fourth place. They have raced tracks in Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon and Arizona . The Ecoffeys live at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, raising 3 children; Matthew Mushitz, Donnel Ecoffey and G.W. (Gilbert) Ecoffey. Michel received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and in 2006 received her Master’s in Biological Science and was a professor in Agriculture and Natural Resource at Oglala Lakota College.
Their children G. W. Ecoffey and Donnel Ecoffey continue the legacy on the track with G. W. receiving the Leading Trainer honor in June 2021 at the Energy Downs Track in Gillette Wyoming. Continuing yet today, Gilbert had 234 starts, 41 first place finishes and earned $258,783 in 2021 and has total earnings in his career of $965,215 with 1,232 starts and 191 first place finishes. Michel’s husband Gilbert died in 2018.
Marty ‘Chip’ died in 2019 at the age of 59. Marty claimed that his highest achievement in the rodeo world was qualifying and competing at the National Finals Rodeo eight times. In 1989 he was Reserve Champion Steer Wrestler and won the average and the NFR in Las Vegas. He was also voted the Coors Favorite Cowboy. He was bestowed the Linderman Award twice, which is given to the cowboy who wins the most money in both timed and rough stock events. He always credited his parents for giving him the foundation for his successful rodeo career. Marty’s wife Judy (Painter) has taken a number of the Melvin horses to the pay window barrel racing as well. Judy too came from a great rodeo family, her mother; Marilyn (Scott) Freimark was the first Miss Rodeo America. Marty and Judy made their home in Paradise Texas raising their three children, Marilyn, Paul and Katlyn. In 2007 they all won saddles riding Melvin Ranch Horses. They too carry on the Melvin l
egacy standing Firewater Frost at stud. He has sired many great athletes such as Firewater Cartel, Firewater’s Fast Credit, Flits Flaming Fire, Flits Maverick and Flits Fastandfurious just to name a few.
Warren and Donna Melvin have been bestowed many honors in their lifetime. They believed highly in helping the youth in the field of horsemanship. In 1998, Donna was presented the Spirit of South Dakota award. Governor Bill Janklow appointed her to the Commerce and Regulatory Board in 2001. In 2002, the Melvin Ranch was recognized by the Casey Tibbs Foundation.
Donna died Sept. 30, 2007. Warren died Sept. 30, 2010.
Writers Note: My husband Denny and I are blessed to be long-time friends of the Melvin family. I worked very closely in 2007 with Donna and Warren writing and publishing an article from which a majority of the history was shared directly by them. Michele and Monte provided me with factual information from the past ten years of the Melvin Legacy carrying on. I am extremely grateful and honored to update this article recognizing Melvin Ranch by the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association as South Dakota Legacy Racing Honorees.
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