Bill Mackin: Always a cowboy at heart

Andy Bockelman
Bill Mackin looks over the vast array of cowboy materials on display at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. A longtime collector of items like guns, spurs and other Western equipment, Mackin donated and later sold his collection to Moffat County and volunteers regularly at the museum.
Andy Bockelman

If you ask Bill Mackin where his hobby began, he’d tell you it started during his childhood at a neighborhood theater in 1940s Dallas, Texas, where he, like many kids at the time, were enchanted by Western films.

For him, it was not so much about the men — he liked Gene Autry but didn’t care for Roy Rogers and got the impression “Hopalong Cassidy” star William Boyd was terrified of his horse — but about everything surrounding these cowboys: their boots, their hats, their saddles and perhaps more than anything, their guns.

“I’ve just always been fascinated by it,” Mackin said.

For decades of his life, the 75-year-old Craig resident amassed hundreds of Western materials by attending auctions and other sales, making contacts with a large variety of people and continually adding to what he calls “junque” — the preferred term of collectors for the treasures that others might deem junk.

“It was always a kick because to me, they’re toys, and I had more toys than any other kid on the block,” he laughed.

To Mackin, the best items were those made between the Civil War era and the end of the 19th century associated with bona fide buckaroos. However, he admits that one could hardly call him a cowboy despite an adolescence in Utah that involved lots of horseback riding and later in life, a short stint in the rodeo world that ended immediately when he broke his jaw.

Perhaps it was the freedom of the West that appealed most to him growing up as his family moved all over the country to accommodate his father’s career before finally settling in Salt Lake City when he was in the fourth-grade.

It was about that time the collecting began, becoming greater as time went.

Though the exact number of cowboy goods is something he’s long since forgotten, the process of compiling such a collection is something that’s brought him a lot of memories and ultimately a good addition to his retirement plan.

The collection game was never a full-time job for Mackin, who worked professionally in the mental health field, but his interest was something that brought him a small piece of fame when he published “Cowboy and Gunfighter Collectibles: A Photographic Encyclopedia with Price Guide and Makers Index” in 1989.

Vintage firearms had rarely been out of demand, but it was about that time that an interest in gear like holsters, spurs and other materials had resurfaced.

“That was just starting to blossom, and I was fortunate enough to be right on the cusp of that,” Mackin said.

It wasn’t long after the release of his book that Mackin came into contact with Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, arranging a loan agreement in 1992 for the burgeoning institution to share and display the items that were dear to his heart.

“He’s always been our go-to guy for that kind of stuff,” Davidson said.

Mackin officially sold his life’s work to Moffat County in 1999 for more than $700,000 to become a permanent part of the location.

However, he’s rarely too far from the Cowboy & Gunfighter section that takes up most of the museum’s second floor. Twice weekly, Mackin volunteers at the outlet to discuss the historical aspects with interested patrons.

“To have someone you can depend on to show up on a given day like that just as a volunteer is great,” Davidson said.

Several copies of his book, which is currently out of print, are on hand, and he’s more than happy to discuss the details of the guns and other paraphernalia that made up such a big part of his life.

And, the obsession with cowboys still isn’t completely done. The research that he put into his guide more than 25 years ago, done before the digital age, continues in a new way thanks to Internet search engines.

“I’ve been like a little kid again ever since I discovered Google,” he chuckled.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or

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