by Lea Michelle Cash
Although there are thousands of African American cowboys who helped to shape the history of America’s West, there is no greater documented legend than William “Bill’ Pickett. Bill Pickett was born in 1870, five years after the Civil War ended. He was the second of 13 children born to former slaves. He completed the fifth grade and at the age of 10 became a cowhand. Observing the relationship between cattle and the bulldogs that were used to control them, Pickett used the bulldog’s skills as a human, and he titled the skill “Bulldoggin”. Mastering this exceptional talent of “bulldoggin” which includes, grabbing a steer by the horns, biting their upper lip, and wrestling them to the ground, history records was an amazing event to watch Pickett perform. He became known by the nicknames “The Dusty Deamon” and “The Bull dogger.” Along with other tricks and stunts, he performed “bulldoggin” at County fairs and Wild West shows.
His career spanned over 40 years as a professional cowboy and rodeo champion becoming the first black cowboy movie star. He also rode wild broncos and bulls. Bill Pickett performed all over the world even performing for the British Royal Family. There is no other cowboy like him. Often times to compete in rodeos where blacks were not allowed, to compete against whites, he would turn to his Indian ancestry (his mother being half Cherokee Indian).
Over the years, the “bulldoggin” skill that Pickett invented became known as “Steer Wrestling”. Although biting the steer’s upper lip is no longer permitted due to the ethical treatment of animals, “steer wrestling” is a major featured event at all rodeos. Pickett was inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame called the “Greatest Cowboy” of his day. It has been 28 years, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR) continues to create and preserve the history and contributions of African American cowboys. Lu Vason, the BPIR Founder, and President said, “The rodeo has blossomed into something larger than I ever could imagined. We are now celebrating our 28th anniversary and I remain very humble and blessed to have created an event that is family oriented, educational and entertaining at the same time.” Recently on Saturday and Sunday, July 21-22, at the City of Industry’s Expo Center, hundreds of spectators young and old gathered to watch black cowboys and cowgirls compete in eight major rodeo events labeled as “The Greatest Show on Dirt.” The events were Bare Back Ridin, Bull Doggin, Calf Ropin, Steer Undecoratin, Barrel Racin, Calf Scramblin, Relay Racin, and Bull Ridin—all absolutely spectular.
The Grand Marshall of this year’s event was famed actor and cowboy Glynn Turner, and the Co-Grand Marshall was noted actor and cowboy Reginald T. Dorsey. The coordinator for the LA area event is Margo Ledrew Wade. The Black Voice News has been a proud sponsor of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo for many years, celebrating the legacy and lives of black cowboys. The BPIR travels to several cities across the country every summer in July. For next year’s 2013 event, please go to website www.billpickettrodeo.com.