Black cowboy invented No. 1 rodeo event

Did you know that a Black man invented the main event performed at all rodeos for the last 100 years? Cowboy Bill Pickett invented the stunt called bulldogging (steer wrestling). In fact, he invented the word, too.

Usually riding his favorite horse, Spradley, Pickett would chase down a steer released into a pen, jump off his horse and wrestle the animal to the ground. His trademark move was to bite the steer on the lip or nostril to subdue it quickly. No one had ever tried the stunt – with or without biting – before.

Pickett was born in Taylor, Texas in 1870 to former slaves of Black and Native American heritage. By 12, he had quit school and was working odds jobs as a ranch hand and crop picker. Later, he joined his brothers in Oklahoma and started a “horse breaking” business. The Pickett boys entered rodeos to make extra money and that’s when Pickett introduced his bulldogging trick. Legend has it that Pickett got the idea from watching how cattle dogs on the plains would subdue the animals by biting it on the snout. So he tried it. Crowds were wowed by the improbable victory of man vs. beast. Pickett was a slight man, only 5-foot, 7-inches and the steers weighed between 800 and 1,000 pounds. Naturally, he lost a lot of teeth, too.

Image from Wikipedia

But his stunt was a hit and soon the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma signed him up for their Wild West Rodeo Show. Pickett moved his wife and nine children to live on the ranch and he toured with the show for 20 years. The “Dusty Demon” thrilled city slickers in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Canada, Mexico and Europe. He even performed his stunts for the British royal family (Queen Elizabeth’s grandparents).

Pickett died in 1932 at age 62. He came out of retirement to help the 101 Ranch when it was struggling financially during the Depression. Perhaps slowed by age, Pickett was knocked down and kicked in the head by a horse he was roping and died of his injuries.

The most widespread and egregious re-writing of American history took place with the myths of  how the Old West was won. Missing is the truth about the thousands of African Americans who settled the frontier. They were trappers, scouts, homesteaders, cowboys, peace officers, cavalrymen and gunfighters. You won’t find stories about them in the dime novels or the old Western movies, but thousands of Black cowboys lived and worked in the West. And Bill Pickett was the best of the best.

Like all the other African-American cowboys, Pickett never received the fame he was entitled to. Often he had to claim to be Indian because some rodeos wouldn’t allow Blacks to compete. And Western-movie cowboy stars Tom Mix and Will Rogers – who made millions in Hollywood — were Pickett’s assistants. (Pickett did star in two short silent films, now in the Library of Congress).

Pickett at Fort Worth Stockyards (Cow Coliseum)

But in the end, he was recognized for his greatness. Pickett was the first African-American cowboy inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. The Cowtown Coliseum (also called the Stockyards) in Fort Worth, Texas erected a bronze statue of him in one of its courtyards. The all-Black rodeo, the Bill Pickett Invitational, was started in 1984 and tours several western cities each year. 


The United States Post Office issued a stamp honoring Pickett as part of its “Legends of the West” series. After the stamps had been distributed, someone discovered that the image on the stamp was actually that of Pickett’s brother Ben. The Postal Service recalled the incorrect stamps and then printed new ones with Pickett’s photo. By that time a few sheets of the stamps had been sold and, because they were rare, were worth thousands of dollars. Other stamp collectors demanded that the Postal Service issue the incorrect sheets so that they could have a chance to own the rare stamps, while the lucky few who already owned them sued the Post Office, hoping to prevent them from allowing other collectors to have the stamps. (All) the lawsuits were a failure and the Postal Service finally organized a lottery to distribute 150,000 sheets of the “Ben Pickett” stamps to collectors. (

Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo


One thought on “Black cowboy invented No. 1 rodeo event

  1. Only a suggestion, why don’t you put the content of this post on a PDF or give it on an online article directory and share it so that more people can read it also? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s