A passion for all things cowboy: Belfield native shares his journey from the farm to 'Dakota Cowboy' host

·5 min read

Jul. 29—MEDORA, N.D. — There's an old adage that says, "It's almost impossible for someone to watch a sunset and not dream."

Sunsets are the epitome of hope. Their symphony of colors mark the transition from vivid blue skies to the umber hued veil ushering the night's calm. With a new dawn comes the prospects of a new day — and with it, new opportunities. What better place then to dream then in historic Medora, where remarkable sunsets are commonplace and dreams can be as big as the Badlands.

In a corner table at the Little Missouri Saloon, one man shared his own dream to highlight the history of the west. His voice has penetrated the airwaves of nearly every radio station in the state for the last 35 years. His intimate familiarity, of how the Western Edge has played backdrop to some of the state's most significant and intriguing history, arouses interest of neighboring tables. From beneath the brim of a cowboy hat, in an enthusiastic baritone rumble, "Wild" Bill Palanuk shared his journey from farm boy to television host.

"I never wanted to be a TV personality. I still don't," Palanuk, host of Dakota Cowboy, said with a chuckle. "But it's just so much fun to share all these stories. I mean look at these Badlands...I mean, how can you not share this with the world?"

Born and raised in Western North Dakota, Palanuk's voice has graced many audio books, radio stations and can even be heard on The Talking Trail App as he shares the history of displays at The Fargo Air Museum, The Enchanted Highway, The National Buffalo Museum, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park and more.

"I'm so blessed to have had the career I've had, but this new vehicle in Dakota Cowboy... to be able to share these amazing stories is humbling. What can I say, I have a passion for all things cowboy. I'm just an anchor...the stories and the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame are the true stars of this show, I just put the puzzle pieces together."

An avid learner, Palanuk learned to appreciate a good story from an early age as he spent many hours with his late mother, Agnes Palanuk, as she worked as a newspaper reporter. Bill Palanuk learned the stories of the people and cultures of southwest North Dakota. He learned of North Dakota's Native Americans, her ranchers and ranches, the deep roots of pioneer farmers and the rough and tumble grit of rodeo stars. Through it all, the voices of the many Ukrainian communities, spoke to him and his own heritage. These and other stories would mark his young adult years as he made his career in radio.

"My mother founded the Ukrainian Cultural Institute in Dickinson and wrote the book 'Ukrainians in ND: In Their Voices'. As a small boy, I would accompany her as she interviewed the original immigrants who came to the United States from Ukraine," Palanuk said of his early years and fascination with a good story. "She was also a journalist who was invited by Harold Schafer to see the most 'amazing spectacle the badlands has ever produced.' With that, I also accompanied her to the first ever performance of The Medora Musical."

Despite the growing name recognition and subsequent notoriety as the voice of the west, Palunuk admits that he struggled in his later years following his mother's death.

"It's amazing as I look back to even a year ago, I had such depression and anxiety. I couldn't attend events, announce rodeos anymore or really do anything in the social realm. I was 50 pounds over weight and I was just a mess," Palanuk said. "It kind of all started with my mother's death, and then shortly thereafter I was in some legal challenges with the organization she founded. It was so god-awful horrible of a time that I just didn't want to take part in anything."

Palunuk added, "If someone told me in those dark days, even a year ago, that I would be on television...I would have said no way."

In his time away from the spotlight and microphone, Palunuk found peace in forgiving.

"I moved past my anger and found my voice again. I realized that I am fortunate to have spent so much time in my youth with a front row seat to the very many passionate people who promoted the history of our state. I feel I have been preparing for this show my entire life," Palunuk said. "On 'Dakota Cowboy' viewers will have a front row seat to the numerous activities happening all season long in Historic Medora. It'll highlight the very important mission of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. It's going to be a great window into western culture and life, the people who made their marks and more. We're very excited."

The show will also be charting the progress of The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library which is slated to open in 2025, as well as coverage of The Medora Musical, the Bully Pulpit Golf Course, Point to Point Park and many of the other attractions in North Dakota's top tourist locale.

"There will never be a shortage of fun, entertaining and informative content on "Dakota Cowboy" and I'm certainly excited to be able to bring that to the people," Palunuk said.

Dakota Cowboy airs on BEK News on Sundays, at 6 p.m. MST. on Consolidated's Western North Dakota Channel 17.