Black History Month Highlight: Bill Pickett

In honor of Black History Month, the AHC would like to share some of our collection material that highlights African-American life in the West and beyond.

The Cowboy

The original cowboy archetype in the US imagination was tall, rangy, and Caucasian—think of Owen Wister’s Virginian, Jack Schaefer’s Shane, or the first cowboy superhero, Hopalong Cassidy, played by the actor, William Boyd.  (Not coincidentally we have the papers of Wister, Schaefer, and Boyd here at the AHC.)  In reality, however, American cowboys were a more diverse mix and a significant percentage were African American.  One example, a famous figure on the rodeo circuit, is Bill Pickett, the first African American inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Ben or Bill Pickett. On the back is written: “Ben Pickett, not Bill Pickett.” University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Photofile: Cowboys – Black Cowboys, Negative Number 6248.

“Bulldogging” Bill Pickett became famous for his innovative approach to steer wrestling.  As rodeo lore tells it, Puckett worked as a cowhand and observed bulldogs working the herds on various ranches.  These bulldogs managed their bovine charges by biting them on the lips.  The dogs would chomp down on the cow’s lip until the cow lay down and then the men could brand the animals.  Bill Pickett watched these dogs and decided to try it for himself; it apparently worked so well that he began to steer wrestle on the rodeo circuit.  This new technique came to be called “bulldogging” after the breed of dog that inspired it.

He died in 1932, the result of a ranch accident, but was inducted posthumously into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1971.

–Rachael Dreyer, Reference Archivist

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