GXB14847 Bill Pickett by Chris Calle © Wind River Studios

Although there were many black cowboys on the frontier, they were, for the most part, overlooked by the writers who labored to keep the romance of the Old West alive. Not so Bill Pickett. This black cowboy from Texas was called by his peers “the greatest sweat and dirt cowhand that ever lived — bar none.” Pickett was fortunate enough to have been immortalized by the fact that he invented bulldogging, the forerunner of modern steer wrestling and the only standard rodeo event that can be traced to a single individual. Pickett performed for years with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show. As a special attraction, he would ride his horse Spradley alongside a Longhorn steer, drop quickly to the creature’s horns and twist its head around until he could sink his teeth into the animal’s upper lip. Using this “bulldogging” technique, the steer could be controlled and even brought to the ground. Pickett learned his unusual method of subduing cattle by watching bulldogs, which were at that time employed as cattle dogs. As steer wrestling became more popular with rodeo cowboys, the lip-biting procedure was dropped. In 1932, when Bill Pickett died at the age of 70 from injuries received working horses at the 101 Ranch, he was buried on the old ranch property near Ponca City, Oklahoma. Forty years later, in 1972, he was elected to the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in recognition of his contributions to the sport of rodeoing. Bill Pickett was the first black man ever to receive this honor.

Image and Text © Wind River Studios