Monday, January 18, 2016

Bill Pickett, an Extraordinary Black Cowboy by Sarah J. McNeal

Bill Pickett was born on December 5, 1870 to Thomas Jefferson Pickett, a former slave, and Mary “Janie” Gilbert near Taylor, Texas. He was the second child of 13 with an ancestry of African-American and Cherokee. He left school in the 5th grade to become a ranch hand and married Maggie Turner, once a slave and the daughter of a white southern plantation owner. They had 9 children together.

An extraordinary cowboy, Pickett invented the technique of bulldogging, the skill of grabbing cattle by the horns and wrestling them to the ground. Pickett had witnessed cattlemen using a trained bulldog to catch a stray steer. He figured, if the bulldog could do it, he most certainly could. He practiced this feat by riding hard, leaping from his horse, and wrestling the steer to the ground. I guess he mimicked the bulldog by biting the cow on the lip and then falling backwards. Kind of gross in my opinion, but the stunt changed over time into what is called steer wrestling which is still practiced in rodeos today, but without biting the cow’s lip. Thank goodness.

Soon enough, Pickett became known for his tricks and stunts which he performed at county fairs. Along with his four brothers, Bill Pickett formed The Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association. That’s a mouthful, for certain. His name became well known and synonymous with popular rodeos. He performed his bulldogging stunt as he traveled around Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
I’ve talked about the 101 Ranch before because of two rodeo posters dated May 1901 that I found in my grandfather McNeal’s trunk. Well, in 1905, Pickett joined the 101 Ranch Wild West Show that featured famous cowboys like Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers, Tom Mix, Bee Ho Gray, and Lucille Mulhall. It wasn’t long before Bill Pickett became a popular member of the show and toured around the world and appeared in early motion picture shows in which he was known as “the Dusky Demon”. 

His ethnic background kept him from performing in many of the rodeos until he was forced to claim he was of Comanche heritage. In 1921 he performed the movies, The Bull-Dogger and The Crimson Skull.
He retired from the Wild West Shows, but continued ranching. In 1932, a bronco kicked Bill Pickett in the head. After lying in a coma for several days, Bill Pickett passed from this earth.

A headstone for Bill Pickett was erected beside the graves of Miller brothers who owned Ranch 101 at the Cowboy Hill Cemetery, but his actual burial place is near a 14 foot stone monument in honor of the friendship of the Ponca Tribal Chief White Eagle and the Miller Brothers on Monument Hill. The monument is also known as the White Eagle Monument to the local people and is less than a quarter mile north east of Marland in Noble County, Oklahoma.

Pickett was indicted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1971.
The United States Postal Service included Bill Pickett in its Legends of the West commemorative sheet which was unveiled December 1993. Bill Pickett’s family informed the post office they has made the stamp with the wrong image which was of Bill’s brother, a fellow cowboy star. The United States Post Office corrected the image and reissued the stamp in Bill Pickett’s honor October 1994.

The Taylor City Council announced in March 2015 that the street that leads to the rodeo arena would be named in honor of Bill Pickett.
It is always exciting to me when I learn of someone from such humble beginnings makes something of themselves and becomes an honored icon for others to look up to and emulate. Bill Pickett was such an icon.
To read more about Bill Pickett:
•           Hanes, Bailey C. (1977). Bill Pickett, Bulldogger: The Biography of a Black Cowboy. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-1391-X. OCLC 02632780.

•           Johnson, Cecil (1994). Guts: Legendary Black Rodeo Cowboy Bill Pickett. Fort Worth, TX: Summit Group. ISBN 1-56530-162-5. OCLC 31374075.

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. I'm happy to learn more about Bill Pickett. One of the local TV newscasters is Steve Pickett and I've wondered if he's a descendant.

  2. Oh Caroline, that is very interesting about Steve Pickett the newscaster. You should investigate. I'd like to know about that, too. Thank you so much for coming to visit.

  3. Now that's when you know you've been insulted: You're a Texan and somebody takes a notion to bury you in Oklahoma. :-|

    I've always admired Bill Pickett, Sarah. Thank you so much for spreading his story. In those days, a black man finding enormous success in a white man's world was an extraordinary accomplishment. We need more hard-working, boot-straps heroes -- of every ethnicity -- like Bill Pickett. :-)

    1. I loved your comment about Texan Bill being buried in Oklahoma. What's up with that?
      Here it is MLK Day, so maybe this was the best post for such a day. Anyone, no matter their ethnic background, can demonstrate the American dream by being determined and focused. The Irish were once scorned and ads for jobs blatantly stated they would refuse any Irish applications. After my people got through crying in their Guinness, they got to work and moved on up.
      Bill wasn't about to let anything get in his way. He is an American success story. People need heroes--and Bill was a hero.
      Thank you so much for your comment, Kathleen.

  4. I have heard of him but didn't know the details. What a fabulous post, Sarah. The pictures are wonderful as is every detail!

    1. Why Tanya, how very nice of you. Thank you so much for your kind comments.

    2. Fascinating, Sarah! I'm trying to recall if I've heard or read of this cowboy. He does seem familiar. A man must be very strong to bulldog a steer. Wow. I would have liked to see least once. Excellent research and the photos are great. Thanks for telling us about this character.

    3. Celia, I think the way the cowboy turned the cow's head helped to bring it down, but it still would take some work. I'm just thinking, if the cowboy did it wrong and the cow fell on him, the cow would certainly crush him. Not the kind of work I would want to do for certain. Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. You're always a great support and I consider you a friend, Celia.

  5. Great post about an amazing man! I read about Bill Pickett when researching for one of my books. Would love to write a novel with him as a cameo character.

    1. Lyn, what a great idea. I love stories that have actual historical people in them. I hope you include Bill Pickett when you write this novel. I appreciate you taking the time to come by and comment.


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