Black News and News Makers in History: Bill Pickett

Black news - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Bill Pickett, cowboy, this week in Black historyWilliam "Bill" Picket, born on December 5, 1870 in Travis County, Texas, to former slaves, he was the second of thirteen children. With only a fifth grade education, he became a ranch hand. Pickett soon began giving exhibitions of his roping, riding and bulldogging skills, passing a hat for donations.

By 1888, his family had moved to Taylor, Texas, and Pickett performed in the town's first fair that year. He and his brothers started a horse-breaking business in Taylor. He was a member of the National Guard and a deacon of the Baptist church. In December 1890, Bill married Maggie Turner.

Pickett signed on with the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1905, becoming a full-time ranch employee in 1907. Soon he moved his wife and children to Oklahoma.

From 1905 to 1931, the 101 Ranch Wild West Show was one of the great shows in the country in the tradition begun by William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody in 1883.Black News - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Bill Pickett this week in Black history

The 101 Ranch Wild West Show introduced bulldogging (steer wrestling), an event invented by Bill Pickett, one of the shows stars. Riding his horse, Spradley, Pickett came alongside a Longhorn steer, dropped to the steer's head, twisted its head toward the sky, and bit its upper lip to get full control. Cowdogs of the Bulldog breed were known to bite the lips of cattle to subdue them. This was how Pickett's technique got the name "bulldogging."

He later performed in Canada, Mexico, South America, and England, exhibiting American cowboy skills for royalty. He became the first black cowboy movie star with at least one movie, "The Bull Dogger" made in 1922. Had he not been banned from competing with White rodeo contestants, Pickett might have become one of the greatest record-setters in his sport. He was often identified as an Indian or some other ethnic background other than black, to be allowed to compete. In his travels around the world, he became known as "'Dusky Demon', the 'daredevil Negro' who wrestled wild steers to the ground."

Author Cecil Johnson describes Pickett in his book, "Guts", as an American cult hero-a courageous cowboy who shared center stage in the rodeo arena with the likes of Tom Mix and Will Rogers. Pickett perhaps was to rodeo what Jackie Robinson was to baseball.

Bill Pickett died April 2, 1932, from injuries he suffered after being kicked by a horse while working on the 101 Ranch. Famed humorist Will Rogers announced the funeral of his friend on his radio show. His grave is on what is left of the 101 Ranch near Ponca City, Oklahoma.

In 1989, years after being honored by the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, Pickett was inducted into the Pro-rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy at Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The Bill PicBlack News - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Bill Pickett this week in Black history.kett Invitational Rodeo tours annually in his honor. A painting of the famous Black cowboy was presented to the Oklahoma Senate to be displayed along with other historical paintings in the state's Capitol.

Bill Pickett is also in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

A bronze statue, "The First Bulldogger," honoring Bill Pickett stands proudly outside the Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Pickett's notoriety reached even new heights in 1993, when the U.S. Postal Service issued a "Legends of the West" stamp series that included Pickett-alas, the wrong Pickett. A photo of Pickett's brother, Ben, was inadvertently used in place of Bill's photo, leaving the postal service with 250 million printed Ben Pickett stamps that were eventually recalled and replaced. [The corrected stamp is shown here.]

Compiled from http://www.bronzebuckaroo.org/bill.htm and http://www.blackcowboys.com/billpickett.htm.

Ode to Bill Pickett: 


Old Bill Pickett's gone away,
Over the great divide
To the place where all the preachers say
Both saint and sinner abide
If they check his brand like I think they will
It's a runnin' hoss they'll give to Bill
Some good wild steers 'till he gets his fill
And a great big crowd to watch him ride

Old Bill Pickett's a long time gone
Left me here to sing this song
Old Bill Pickett's a long time gone
Left me here to sing this song

Old Bill Pickett was a mighty black man
And he rode for the One-O-One
Way down yonder in the Cherokee Land
Around when the West was won

He'd jump a steer from a runnin' hoss
And throw him down with a mighty toss
He worked for many, but he had no boss
He's the last of the great cowhands

Way down south in Mexico
He took a great big dare
To try and hold a fightin' bull
To see how he would fare

He grabbed Old Toro by the horns
Grabbed the bull's nose in his jaws
That crowd never seen such a thing before
For an hour and a half they cheered

With the great Will Rogers and Wild Tom Mix
He rode in the rodeo
For all who paid their fifty cents
They gave a great big show

For all who paid to come and see
Bill wrestled steers with his teeth
We've never seen such a mighty feat
'Cause he left us long ago

Way down on the Miller ranch
In the year of thirty two
Bill Pickett roped a sorrel stud
To see what he could do

That sorrel stomped and jumped and bucked
And tromped Bill's body in the dust
At seventy-three, Bill was out of luck
He took eleven days to die
There was nothin' they could do

They laid him down in a six-by-three
Beneath the land he knew
And they left a cross for the world to see
Said, "Of his kind we've seen few"

That night for Bill they drank some wine
And old Zack Miller wrote these lines
And left 'em here for me to find
To put to music and sing to you


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