When I was a kid, I thought John Wayne was the epitome of the American cowboy-until my mother told me that black cowboys existed
My fascination with the cowboy lifestyle-the dirt, rodeos, the horses, bucking bulls and ‘twangy’ music- led me to do a report in the 6th grade about Bill Pickett, a Black rodeo star of the Miller brothers’ 101 Ranch Wild West Show Wild West.
Through that little 6th grade report grew an appreciation. What history tired to hide about the great western frontier, a 6th grader was able to discover and share with her peers.
Born December 5, 1870 in Taylor Texas, Pickett invented the technique called “bulldogging,” is an event in rodeoes in which a cowboy wrestles a steer, in what was and is, considered to be a spectacular event in rodeo.
Pickett, died in 1932 and was honored in 1989 by the National Rodeo Hall of Fame He was inducted into the Prorodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy at Colorado Springs, Colorado.
According to billpicketrodeo.com, “The Black cowboy has been an integral part of the history of the American West from the earliest rodeos to the present. In fact, Texas was discovered and explored by a Black cowboy named Estavanico, and over 35% of the cattle trail drivers in Texas were Black. Entire Black communities existed on the frontier of the Old West – over half-million families in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas alone.”
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the nation’s only touring Black rodeo. Lu Vason, who understood the importance of the black cowboy in American history, started the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo Series and the first Bill Pickett Rodeo was held in 1984. It reportedly drew thousands and has continued to draw huge crowds annually ever since.
I am not trying to convince my peers to love the rodeo, the cowboy lifestyle or even the cows. What I want is for my peers to have that same appreciation for yet another black pioneer who opened the door for those behind him-the same appreciation I had gained in the 6th grade and continues to grow today.