Black History Trailblazers and Changemakers-DAY 28: Bill Pickett

Bill Pickett was a rodeo star, actor, and the first African American cowboy.  He won acclaim for being the first to perform bulldogging, a rodeo event that involves wrestling a steer to the ground and became a crowd-pleaser at Wild West events.

Early days

Bill was born December 5th, 1870 in Williamson County, Texas. He was the second of 13 children born to former slaves, Thomas Jefferson Pickett and Mary Virginia Elizabeth Gilbert. He had African American and Cherokee ancestry. After 5th grade, he left school to become a full-time ranch hand. By observing how bulldogs stunned cows, he created his own style of steer wrestling, becoming the first to perform the technique called bulldogging.


In 1890, Pickett married Maggie Turner, a former slave, and daughter of a white southern plantation owner. The couple had nine children.[6]

From entrepreneur to star

By 1888 his family moved to Taylor Texas, where he and his four brothers started their own business, the Pickett Brothers Bronco Brothers and Rough Riders Association.

In 1900 he became a showman, sponsored by Lee Moore,  a Texas rodeo entrepreneur. 

His reputation as a crowd-pleasing performer spread, and he was sought after by Wild West shows.

At the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days, performing under the nickname The Bulldogger, he turned in a  spectacular performance that was written up in the Wyoming Tribune.

Pickett had a unique method described in the Wyoming Tribune. Pickett would

"attack a fiery, wild-eyed and powerful steer, dash under the broad breast of the great brute, turn and sink his strong ivory teeth into the upper lip of the animal, and throwing his shoulder against the neck of the steer, strain and twist until the animal, with its head drawn one way under the controlling influence of those merciless teeth and its body forced another, until the brute, under the strain of slowly bending neck, quivered, trembled and then sank to the ground."

Pickett's performance also came to the attention of Harper's Weekly where it was reported nationally. Pickett also came to the attention of the Miller Bros. 101 wild west show who offered Pickett a role. Harper's reported:

"20,000 people watched with wonder and admiration, a mere man, unarmed and without a device or appliance of any kind, attack a fiery, wild-eyed, and powerful steer and throw it by his teeth."

In 1907 using the nickname Dusky Demon, Pickett performed in the 101 Ranch Wild West Show  with other industry greats such as  Will Rogers, Buffalo Bill, Tom Mix, and the well-known cowgirl Lucille Mulhall. 

With the 101…he also performed for Queen Alexandra. He was also allowed to travel on the show's train in the passenger cars rather than travelling in the cattle cars where blacks typically rode.

When Pickett died in 1932, Will Rogers interrupted his national radio program to give a personal eulogy. Pickett was the first black to be inducted into the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Since Bill had African-American and Cherokee ancestry, he used that when needed.  When the racist policies of shows wouldn’t allow blacks to perform, Bill would identify himself as Comanche, perhaps because it was more convincing since there weren’t many Cherokee tribes in Texas.

Pickett performed until about 1916, working as a cowhand and rancher thereafter. He later appeared in the silent films The Bull-Dogger (1921) and The Crimson Skull (1922).

Last days

In 1932, after having retired from Wild West shows, Bill Pickett was kicked in the head by a bronco and died after a multi-day coma.

Bill Pickett's grave and the White Eagle Monument are located on the ranch grounds of the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show.



  • The United States Postal Service chose to include Bill Pickett in the Legends of the West commemorative sheet unveiled in December 1993.[12] One month later, the Pickett family informed the Postal Service that the likeness was incorrect. Its source material was a misidentified photograph of Bill Pickett's brother and fellow cowboy star, Ben Pickett. In October 1994, the USPS released corrected stamps based on the poster for The Bull-Dogger.[13]

  • In They Die by Dawn (2013), the movie, Bill Pickett is portrayed by Bokeem Woodbine.

  • In March 2015, the Taylor City Council announced that a street that leads to the rodeo arena will be renamed to honor Bill Pickett. The Williamson County Expo Center is now located at 5350 Bill Pickett Trail, Taylor, TX 76574

  • On June 2, 2017, a new statue of Bill Pickett was unveiled in his hometown of Taylor, Texas; it is prominently displayed in front of the McCrory Timmerman building located at the intersection of 2nd and Main Streets

  • 1984, Lu Vason created the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, an all-Black rodeo which reaches over 130,000 spectators annually across the US and celebrates and honors Black cowboys and cowgirls and their contributions to building the west.

  • Two books have been written about Pickett's life

[My Amazon Affiliate link is embedded in this book cover. If you buy through that link you won't pay a penny more, but I will receive a small commission. Thank you.]


[My Amazon Affiliate link is embedded in this book cover. If you buy through that link you won't pay a penny more, but I will receive a small commission. Thank you.]







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