Ralph Madsen, known as the Tallest Texan Cowboy, was above 7 feet 6 inches (2.28 meters) tall and weighed 228 pounds (104 kg). He was born Ralph Earl Madsen on April 19, 1897, in Norfolk, Nebraska, and was not from Texas as his nicknames and stories suggest.
Ralph’s parents were of medium height with his father about 6’2″ tall and his mother 5’8”. He had two sisters and a brother about five foot eight. Even though he was tall, Ralph Madsen wore a size nine shoe and his hands were average size.
He spent most of his life on a ranch and a greater part of it in the saddle. On the ranch, he acquired veterinary skills and was an authority on horses, sheep, cows, and pigs.
During WWI, Ralph attempted to enlist to fight in both the USA and Canada but was turned down. The military authorities believed he would be too tall for the trenches and would make an easy target.
Later in life, he began touring with his manager, Sam Houston who promoted him as a Texas native, though he was a genuine ranch hand who possessed all of the traditional riding and roping skills.
According to the flyer produced by Sam Houston: “Ask Mr. Madsen anything about a horse, or a domestic animal, he is always ready to talk intelligently on animals or farms. So many people ask him foolish questions in order to appear ridiculous, he is quite witty and goes them one better.”
This is how an article in the “New York Times” of September 18, 1919, described him: TALL TEXAN STOPS TRAFFIC. Ralph Madsen, 7 Feet 6, Attracts Big Crowd in Times Square. Ralph E. Madsen, the Texas Giant, made his first appearance in New York yesterday and succeeded in tying up traffic wherever he went. Madsen is 22 years old and a native of Ranger, Texas.
His first Broadway appearance was made shortly after noon in Times Square, and so great was the crowd which gathered to see him that the traffic policeman asked him either to sit down or move on. Madsen moved and the crowd followed. The giant was a motion picture actor, and he visited the Eastern cities to promote the showing of his films. He called on President Wilson a few weeks ago in Washington.
Madsen worked sideshows and fairs for years and is among the most widely photographed of men in his line by virtue of the fact that he appeared in four major Hollywood films: 3-Ring Marriage (1928) with Mary Astor; The Sideshow (1928) with Marie Prevost, Ralph Graves, and Little Billy Rhodes; the Our Gang short Mama’s Little Pirate (1934), and The Mighty Barnum (1934) with Wallace Beery.
In 1932, Madsen married Verne Marie Rice, a more typical five feet, five inches tall. Ralph died in Nebraska in 1948 at the age of 51.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress / Getty Images).