Bill Pickett

"Bulldogging" Bill Pickett biting a cow's lip

William (Will, Bill) Pickett was a legendary cowboy from Taylor, Texas of black and Indian descent who invented the sport of “Bulldogging.”  He was born on December 5, 1870 at the Jenks-Branch Community on the Travis County line. He died April 2, 1932, near Ponca City, Oklahoma.

From 1905 to 1931, the Millerbrothers’ 101 Ranch Wild West Show was one of the great shows in the tradition begun by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in

1883. 101 Ranch Show introduced bulldogging (steer wrestling), an exciting rodeo 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,

Biting another cow's lip!

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. That’s how Pickett’s technique got the name “bulldogging.” As the event became more popular among rodeo cowboys, the lip biting became increasingly less popular until it disappeared from steer wrestling altogether. Bill Pickett, however, became an immortal rodeo cowboy, and his fame has grown since his death.

He died in 1932 as a result of injuries received from working horses at the 101 Ranch. His grave is on what is left of the 101 Ranch property near Ponca City, Oklahoma. Pickett was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1972 for his contribution to the sport.

Bill Pickett was the second of thirteen children born to Thomas Jefferson and Mary Virginia Elizabeth (Gilbert) Pickett, both of whom were former slaves. He began his career as a cowboy after completing the fifth grade. Bill 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 Bill was a member of the national guard and a deacon of the Baptist church. In December 1890, Bill married Maggie Turner.

Known by the nicknames “The Dusky Demon” and “The Bull-Dogger,” Pickett gave exhibitions in Texas and throughout the West. His performance in 1904 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days (America’s best-known rodeo) was considered extraordinary and spectacular. He signed on with the 101 Ranch show in 1905, becoming a full-time ranch employee in 1907. The next year, he moved his wife and children to Oklahoma.

He later performed in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, and England, and 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 other ethnic background other than black, to be allowed to compete.

Bill Pickett died April 2, 1932, after being kicked in the head by a horse. Famed humorist Will Rogers announced the funeral of his friend on his radio show. In 1989, years after being honored by the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, Pickett was inducted into the Prorodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy at Colorado Springs, Colorado. A 1994 U.S. postage stamp meant to honor Pickett accidentally showed one of his brothers.

Bill Pickett on a U.S. Postage Stamp

Bill Pickett on a U.S. Postage Stamp


OLD BILL PICKETT

Old Bill Pickett’s gone away,
Over the great divide,
To the place where all the preachers say,
Both saint and sinner abide.

If they check his brand like I think they will
It’s a runnin’ hoss they’ll give to Bill.
Some good wild steers ’till he gets his fill,
And a great big crowd to watch him ride.

Old Bill Pickett’s a long time gone,
Left me here to sing this song.
Old Bill Pickett’s a long time gone,
Left me here to sing this song.

Old Bill Pickett was a mighty black man,
And he rode for the One-O-One.
Way down yonder in the Cherokee Land,
Around when the West was won.

He’d jump a steer from a runnin’ hoss
And throw him down with a mighty toss
He worked for many, but he had no boss
He’s the last of the great cowhands

Way down south in Mexico
He took a great big dare
To try and hold a fightin’ bull
To see how he would fare

He grabbed Old Toro by the horns
Grabbed the bull’s nose in his jaws
That crowd never seen such a thing before
For an hour and a half they cheered

With the great Will Rogers and Wild Tom Mix
He rode in the rodeo
For all who paid their fifty cents
They gave a great big show

For all who paid to come and see
Bill wrestled steers with his teeth
We’ve never seen such a mighty feat
‘Cause he left us long ago

Way down on the Miller ranch
In the year of thirty two
Bill Pickett roped a sorrel stud
To see what he could do

That sorrel stomped and jumped and bucked,
And tromped Bill’s body in the dust.
At seventy-three, Bill was out of luck.
He took eleven days to die.

They laid him down in a six-by-three,
Beneath the land he knew.
And they left a cross for the world to see,
said, “Of his kind we’ve seen few.”

That night for Bill they drank some wine,
And old Zack Miller wrote these lines:
And left ‘em here for me to find,
To put to music and sing to you.

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