Don Gladstone Rickey, Jr., was born on August 3, 1925 in Cook County, Illinois. Educated in the Chicago, Illinois, public schools, he graduated from Geneva, Illinois, Community High School in 1943. Rickey attended Northern Montana College in Havre, Montana, from 1946-1947 and from 1947 to 1950 the University of Kentucky from which he graduated with a B.A. in History. He received an M.A. in History from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma in 1951 and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma in 1960.
Rickey's interest in the military grew partly from his own time in the armed services. He served in the United States Navy on the carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise, from 1943 to 1946. Recalled to military service in 1951, Rickey again served in the Navy, this time on the U.S.S. Bache, a destroyer, during the Korean conflict.
Rickey's career reflected his interest in military history, especially that of the American West. As a Teaching Fellow at Oklahoma State University from 1950 to 1951 and as a Teaching Assistant at the University of Oklahoma from 1952 to 1953, he taught basic courses in United States History. In his position as Historian of the Phillips Collection at the library of the University of Oklahoma from 1953 to 1955, he specialized in materials in Native American and western history. From 1955 to 1960, Rickey served as Historian for the Custer Battlefield National Monument (currently called the Little Bighorn National Monument) in Montana. He conducted research there, participated in archeological projects and published pamphlets and guide books.
From 1960 to 1963, Rickey was Chief Research Historian at the Museum of Westward Expansion, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis, Missouri. There, he prepared exhibits displaying the settlement of the west among other responsibilities. He was Historical Master Planner for the National Park Service, Region II, based in Omaha, Nebraska, from 1963 to 1966, becoming Western History Research Team Chief for the National Park Service in 1966. In 1968, Rickey became Assistant Director of the U.S. Army Military History Research Collection at the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, where he also taught military history courses. At Carlisle Barracks, Rickey conducted a survey of Spanish-American War veterans that was similar to the survey of Indian War veterans he conducted for his doctoral dissertation. In 1972, he became Historian for the Bureau of Land Management, Denver Service Center.
Rickey married Doris Merriell after World War II. They divorced in 1966 and Rickey married Nan Carson. Retiring in 1979, Rickey continued to consult for historical museums, give talks and conduct "living history" courses for the National Park Service. He died on September 15, 2000 in Evergreen, Colorado.