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Who is Bill Pickett?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Bill Pickett invented the technique of bulldogging, or steer wrestling, and was known as the world's first black cowboy and rodeo star. He was actually a combination of black, white and Native American Cherokee. Bill Pickett is said to have come up with the idea of bulldogging by watching bulldog herding breeds handle steers.

Bill Pickett's method of steer wrestling involves a cowboy on horseback who jumps onto the steer and forces the steer's neck back by twisting it. Then the cowboys would bite the steer's lips and eventually get the steer right to the ground. Pickett demonstrated his technique in rodeo shows and in some movies and was called The Dusky Demon.

William Picket was born 5 December, 1870 in Travis County, Texas. He was the first of 13 children born to Thomas Jefferson and Mary Virginia Elizabeth Pickett, who were both former slaves. By the time Bill was 18 years old, the family had moved to Taylor, Texas and Bill began a horse-breaking service with his brothers called Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association. Bill Picket had also joined the National Guard and was a deacon in his Baptist church. He was 20 years old when he married Maggie Turner, a former slave and daughter of a white plantation owner, and they had nine children.

At one time, Will Rogers and Tom Mix were assistants to Bill Pickett during his rodeo shows. Bill began steer wrestling for entertainment purposes in 1904 and was sometimes known as The Bulldogger as well as The Dusky Demon. He worked with Buffalo Bill Cody and the 101 Ranch Show that Cody had started in 1883. Pickett brought bulldogging to the show with the help of his horse, Spradley.

In 1993, Bill Pickett became the first black man whose achievements were honored in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma. During most of the years Pickett was involved in rodeo shows black people were not allowed to be in rodeo competitions with white people. Sometimes Bill Pickett did get to compete in rodeos by registering as Native American. In 1994, a United States postage stamp was released in honor of Bill Pickett, but one of his brothers, Ben, was actually first pictured on the stamp before the mistake was corrected.

Bill Pickett died at the age of 61 on 2 April, 1932 at the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma. A horse he was roping gave him a fatal kick to his head. Pickett's name lives on in the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo circuit as well as the Pickett Elementary School in Georgetown, Texas.

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