For years Bill Martinelli was the face of Oakdale in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in the 1960s and 1970s. Now that legacy has taken him to his induction into the Cowboy Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
The ceremony was held on Sept. 27.
Now living in Knights Ferry, Martinelli recalled working on the local ranches during the week and rodeoing on the weekends during that era.
“It’s what a lot of people did back then,” Martinelli said, recalling that cowboys would come from out of the area and stay at the Live Oak Hotel for only 50 cents a day.
During that time Martinelli also drove a bull-dogging livestock truck for three-time champion steer wrestler Harley May to various rodeo events but would also compete in the rodeos.
During his legendary career as a bronc rider, Martinelli competed against rodeo greats such as Casey Tibbs, Alvin Nelson, Bill Linerman, and Winston Bruce.
Martinelli made the National Finals eight times and won the finals in 1965.
Many from that time remember Martinelli as a tall, pale-skinned cowboy with a hook nose and heavy beard who frequently appeared on the cover of Rodeo Sports News.
“From the Cow Palace to Calgary to Houston to New York, his smile like the hat he wore, never changed,” stated known rodeo announcer Bob Tallman for Martinelli’s nomination. “His style has been copied by hundreds of bronc riders who may never have a chance to meet him.”
Martinelli learned to ride growing up in Southern California and at age 19, he started his professional career in Idaho, then moving to Denver before coming to Oakdale. During his career he spent time riding broncs in Europe for Rodeo Far West, a Wild West show owned by ProRodeo’s Buster Ivory.
In 1972 Martinelli married his wife Kay, who he met at a Cow Palace Rodeo. They’ve remained married and have four daughters and 12 grandchildren
Martinelli retired from pro rodeo in the ‘70s at the age of 43 but remained in the circuit driving for the RJ Reynolds Company as the “Winston Man” taking the Winston scoreboard around to all the PRCA Rodeos.
While his daughters were growing up, he continued to share his skills and expertise in team roping and riding by mentoring them and other students at Oakdale High School and in junior rodeo, later following the girls as they went on to WRRA (Womens Pro Rodeo Association).
Early this year, his daughter Angie Martinelli-Studer was instrumental in nominating him for induction to the Hall.
What followed were numerous letters of support by prominent names in the professional rodeo community to the nominating committee.
Oakdale Cowboy Museum Director Christie Camarillo, who sits on the selection committee for the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, said there was a near two-inch thick booklet of submissions from which the committee and subsequent ballots selected eight individuals, four living and four posthumously, for this year’s induction.
“I find it real sad that the cowboy gets inducted and is deceased, not getting to realize his accomplishments,” said Martinelli’s wife, Kay of the posthumous inductions. “It was great Bill gets to be there and get recognized.”
Kay also said that Martinelli was very humbled and honored when he heard about the voting.
“When I heard he got in (the Hall of Fame),” Kay said, “I told him you better pack your bags, we’re going to Oklahoma City.”