Don McLaughlin literally grew up with a rope in his hand. In 1933 at the age of 5 Don and his younger brother Gene, age 4, started performing as Trick Ropers and Trick Riders at rodeos including New York’s Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden. While performing at rodeos, Don watched some of the great ropers of the 30’s and 40’s such as Everett Bowman, Clyde Burke, Royce Sewalt, Toots Mansfield and Troy Fort.
Don joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association and in 1947 started competing in calf roping as a full time profession. In 1950 McLaughlin was runner up to RCA World Champion Calf Roper Toots Mansfield. The next 8 years Don McLaughlin dominated the calf roping event. He was the RCA World Champion in 1951, 52, 53, 54 and again in 1957. During the same time Don also started competing in the Single Steer Roping. In 1960 he won his first World Championship in Steer Roping and added 2 more in 1963 and 1970.
Don McLaughlin had a total of 8 RCA World Championships and was especially proud of the fact that the titles were spread out over 3 decades. In 1960 he was the first man in RCA history to win 2 National Finals Rodeo Average Titles the same year. He had a total of 3 NFR Average wins and 14 times qualified for the National Finals in Steer Roping.
In 1979 Don was part of the inaugural class of inductees to the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Champions in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Don was also inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, The Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame and The Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame.
Other ropers during the same era considered McLaughlin to be one of the smartest ropers that ever entered the arena. He had an uncanny ability to remember calves and steers even when he had only seen them roped one time. Don was also know for riding some of the best roping horses in the business. McLaughlin was a master at choosing horses that “fit” him and gave him an advantage in the roping events.