Those in the rodeo-know are familiar with what’s called bulldogging. This activity is steer wrestling, and it involves leaping from a horse, onto a steer, then wrestling the steer to the ground. The inventor of this brass sport was Will M. “Bill” Pickett. Born in 1870 in the community of Jenks-Branch community, Texas, Pickett ultimately made an indelible mark on rodeo.
Born the oldest of 13 children to former slaves, Bill and four of his brothers operated a business called Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association. Later, after watching cattle dogs work, he developed the technique of bulldogging, in which he grabbed the steer’s horns, twisted its head up, and bit its lower lip or nose. Today, the biting aspect is not allowed but has been replaced with twisting leverage.
Photo: YouTube/Alex Gartland
Billed as “Dusky Demon,” Pickett first received national attention at the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, then traveled around the world demonstrating his tuned bulldogging technique with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and Wild West Show for over a quarter-century. Pickett was the first African American elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center.
He also became America’s first African American cowboy star after making two silent movies, “The Bull-Dogger” and “The Crimson Skull.” Although these movies are mostly lost, a 25-second clip does exist of him performing roping tricks. Additional honors include a U.S. Postal Service stamp, induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, being the namesake for Pickett Elementary School in Georgetown, and the honoree of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
Pickett and Maggie Turner were marriedin 1890, and the pair had nine children. He was a deacon in his church as well as a member of the National Guard. On April 2, 1932, Pickett was kicked in the head by a horse and died. He is buried near a monument to the friendship of Ponca Tribal Chief White Eagle and the Miller Brothers on Monument Hill, near Marland, Oklahoma.