William (Bill) Pickett was born on this date in 1870. He was a legendary cowboy of Black and Cherokee descent.
Bill Pickett, the second of 13 children, began his career as a cowboy while in grade school. Pickett soon began giving exhibitions of his roping, riding, and bulldogging skills, passing a hat for donations. By 1888, his family had moved to Taylor, Texas, and Bill performed in the town’s first fair that year. He and his brothers started a horse-breaking business in Taylor, and he was a member of the National Guard and a deacon of the Baptist church.
He signed on with the 101 Ranch show in 1905, becoming a full-time ranch employee in 1907. Soon he moved his wife and children to Oklahoma. From 1905 to 1931, the 101 Ranch Wild West Show was one of the great shows in the country. The 101 Ranch Show introduced bulldogging (steer wrestling), an event invented by Bill Pickett, one of the show’s stars. Riding his horse, Spradley, Pickett came alongside a Longhorn steer, dropped to the steer’s head, twisted its head toward the sky, and bit its upper lip to get full control. Cowdogs of the Bulldog breed were known to bite the lips of cattle to subdue them. This was how Pickett’s technique got the name “bulldogging.”
He later performed in Canada, Mexico, South America, England. He became the first black cowboy movie star. Had he not been banned from competing with White rodeo contestants, Pickett might have become one of the greatest record-setters in his sport. He was often identified as an Indian or some ethnic background other than black to be allowed to compete. Bill Pickett died in 1932, after he was kicked in the head by a horse.
Famed humorist Will Rogers announced the funeral of his friend on his radio show. His grave is on what is left of the 101 Ranch near Ponca City, Oklahoma.
In 1989, years after being honored by the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, Pickett was inducted into the Pro-rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy at Colorado Springs, Colorado. Bill Pickett is also in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.