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PICKETT, WILLIAM (1870?-1932)

Bill Pickett

The originator of rodeo steer wrestling, or bulldogging, Bill Pickett is believed to have been born December 5, 1870, in Travis County, Texas, about thirty miles north of Austin. He was one of thirteen children of Thomas Jefferson Pickett and Mary Virginia Elizabeth Gilbert Pickett.

After acquiring a fifth-grade education, Bill Pickett went to work on a ranch. He soon learned to "bulldog" a steer by grasping it by the horns, twisting its neck, biting its nose or its upper lip, and making it fall on its side; this biting technique he had learned by observing how herder dogs controlled steers. Soon he and his four brothers (B. W., J. J., C. H., and B. F.), established their own horse breaking business in Taylor, Texas. Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders advertised "catching and taming wild cattle a speciality."

Bill Pickett entered his first rodeo in 1888 at the fair in Taylor. By the early 1900s he was a popular rodeo performer. In 1905 Pickett joined the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and Wild West show. Billed as the "Dusky Deamon" [sic] he performed with that outfit for over a quarter century. In 1907 he moved his family from Texas to the 101 Ranch, near Ponca City, where in the off seasons he worked as a cowboy and also competed against white contestants in hundreds of rodeos around the West. In order to enter these events, Pickett was often identified as being an Indian, not an African American. His "bite-'em-down" technique of felling a steer evolved into steer wrestling, which remains one of rodeo's most important events.

Bill Pickett also performed in a number of motion pictures and is credited with being the first black cowboy star. Richard E. Norman Studios, of Jacksonville, Florida, an all-black film production company, featured Pickett in Crimson Skull (1921) and The Bull-Dogger (1922), both filmed in Oklahoma. Bill Pickett died April 2, 1932, of head injuries inflicted by a rogue horse at the 101 Ranch. He was buried on the ranch near the White Eagle Monument.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bailey C. Hanes, Bill Pickett, Bulldogger: The Biography of a Black Cowboy (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977). Jerrold J. Mundis, "He Took the Bull by the Horns," American Heritage (December 1967). "Bill Pickett," Vertical File, Rodeo Hall of Fame, Rodeo Historical Society, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Willard Porter, "Bill Pickett," in Who's Who in Rodeo (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Powder River Books, 1982).

Dianna Everett

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