Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo

Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo

Date Observed: November through February
Location: Varies

The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the nation's only touring black rodeo, on the road from November through February. Named after the renowned cowboy, it celebrates the contributions that African-American cowboys and cowgirls made to America's western frontier and showcases the talents of their modern-day counterparts.

Historical Background

William "Bill" Pickett was born on December 5, 1870, into a family of African American, Cherokee, and white lineage. He spent his formative years in Texas and worked with four of his brothers in the family business, Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association.

The exact date and place of Pickett's claim to fame is unknown, but it earned him a lifelong nickname - Bull Dogger - and created a rodeo event called Bulldoggin' that remains popular today. According to an October 11, 1931, article in the Tulsa (Oklahoma) World newspaper:

The steer lunged into the arena . . . [Pickett's] horse plunged full speed after it . . . the rider leaped from the saddle. He turned a complete somersault along the length of the steer's back, flying out and down over the curved horns to fasten his teeth in the side of the steer's mouth.

With sheer strength he dragged the running behemoth's head to the tanbark, thrust its horn in the ground, and forward momentum threw the steer hocks over horns in a somersault of its own.

Pickett's fame led the Miller Brothers to hire him. He and his family relocated to Oklahoma and the 101 Ranch where he joined their traveling Wild West Show, billed as the "Dusky Demon." When not on the road, Pickett worked as a farm hand, handling such chores as cotton picking, fence mending, corral building, and horse gentling.

On December 9, 1971, nearly 40 years after his death resulting from "an altercation with a bronco," William "Bulldog" Pickett earned the distinction of being the first black man to be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. In 1987 a bronze statue of Pickett - posed in his infamous bulldogging sneer - was unveiled at the Fort Worth Cowtown Coliseum. The U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor in 1994, although the first issue had to be recalled as it mistakenly portrayed one of his brothers.

Having traveled from Texas to Madison Square Garden to England and performed with the likes of Tom Mix and Will Rogers as his assistants, Bill Pickett has earned his place in history for his notable achievements - and for that bulldogging.

Creation of the Rodeo

Lu Vason, a special events producer in Denver, Colorado, developed the idea for the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in the late 1970s, after he attended Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming and noted the lack of black cowboys at this pre-eminent rodeo event. Vason learned of Bill Pickett during a visit to Denver's Black American West Museum. In 1984 the first Rodeo drew crowds numbering into the thousands. In recent years, annual attendance has easily topped the hundred thousand mark.

Observance

The Rodeo is a traveling event conducted annually from November through February. Nine rodeos can be seen throughout the United States. They have been held at arenas and fairgrounds in cities such as Atlanta, Georgia; Bakersfield, California; Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; Memphis, Tennessee; Oakland and Sacramento, California; St. Louis, Missouri; and Washington, D.C.

The Rodeo is entertaining and exciting, but it also has an educational aspect. Each performance is dedicated to the black cowboys and cowgirls who played an integral part in shaping the West, as well as those of today who help to keep the spirit of the West alive (see also Black Cowboy Parade).

Participants are attired in full western regalia and compete in the following events: bare back, tie down roping, ladies' steer undecorating, junior barrel racing, bull riding and - of course - bulldogging. Booming-voiced announcers call events, and crowds are also thrilled by the antics of rodeo clowns.

Contacts and Web Sites

Administrative Office 4943 Billings St. P.O. Box 39163 Denver, CO 80239 303-373-1246; fax: 303-373-2747

Black American West Museum and Heritage Center 3091 California St. Denver, CO 80205 303-292-2566

Fort Worth Cowtown Coliseum 121 E. Exchange Ave. Ft. Worth, TX 76106 888-COWTOWN (269-8696) or 817-625-1025; fax: 817-625-1148

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum 1700 N.E. 63rd St. Oklahoma City, OK 73111 405-478-2250

National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame 3400 Mount Vernon Ave. Ft. Worth, TX 76103 817-922-9999

Further Reading

Hanes, Bailey C. Bill Pickett, Bulldogger: The Biography of a Black Cowboy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977. Landau, Elaine. Bill Pickett: Wild West Cowboy. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2004. (young adult) Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Bill Pickett - Rodeo Ridin' Cowboy. New York: Harcourt Children's Books, 1999. (young adult)

Pickett (Bill) Invitational Rodeo

Various weekends from February through November
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, in operation since 1984, is a series of rodeo competitions in the United States that features the nation's only touring black rodeo. The event is named in honor of Bill Pickett (1870-1932), the first African American selected to the Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The tour begins in February in Memphis, Tenn., and draws more than 100,000 annually. During the regular season, cowboys and cowgirls compete in weekend events in cities throughout the country. Events include bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding, calf roping, steer undecorating, and bulldogging. Bulldogging, also known as steer wrestling, is an event created by the rodeo's namesake, who performed in the famous 101 Ranch Wild West Show with "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Will Rogers, and Tom Mix. A timed event, it features a cowboy on horseback racing a 600- to 700-pound bull, grabbing onto its horns, jumping out of his saddle, and wrestling the bull to the ground—all within a few seconds.
The top 10 finishers in each event at the end of the season in September are invited to compete in the championship rodeo held in November in Las Vegas, Nev. The championship festivities include a number of social and sporting events, with a formal reception for the participants and a golf tournament.
CONTACTS:
Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo
P.O. Box 39163
Denver, CO 80239-1163
303-373-1246; fax: 303-373-2747
www.billpickettrodeo.com
SOURCES:
AAH-2007, p. 54
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