Legends of Cheyenne Frontier Days, Part 2: African-American Rodeo Pioneer Bill Pickett
By 1904, Cheyenne Frontier Days was widely considered among the biggest rodeos in the country. That year, Cheyenne gained more national attention when a new performer burst onto the scene.
Bill Pickett was one of the first African-American rodeo stars. Credited as the inventor of the popular "Bulldogging" contest, Pickett learned his technique from an unlikely source.
After noticing that working dogs would often bring down a bull by biting its muzzle, Pickett wowed audiences by sinking his teeth into the steer's nose.
The Wyoming Tribune was the first publication to describe Pickett's exploits.
"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," they reported.
News quickly spread across the country. Following a profile in Harper's Weekly, Pickett was invited to perform with Will Rogers and Tom Mix in their traveling wild west show.
At the time, African-American train passengers were relegating to riding in cattle cars. However, Pickett was so admired, he was permitted to sit in the passenger cars which had previously been reserved for white customers only.
Following his death in 1932, Pickett became the first African-American inducted in the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.