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William Pickett (1870-1932)

Original Article by: Dianna Everett (© Oklahoma Historical Society)

The originator of rodeo steer wrestling, or bulldogging, African American cowboy William “Bill” Pickett is believed to have been born December 5, 1870, in Travis County, Texas, about thirty miles north of Austin. He was one of thirteen children of Thomas Jefferson Pickett and Mary Virginia Elizabeth Gilbert Pickett.

After completing a fifth-grade education, Bill Pickett went to work on a ranch. He soon learned to “bulldog” a steer by grasping it by the horns, twisting its neck, biting its nose or its upper lip, and making it fall on its side; this biting technique he had learned by observing how herder dogs controlled steers. Soon he and his four brothers (B. W., J. J., C. H., and B. F.), established their own horse breaking business in Taylor, Texas. Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders advertised “catching and taming wild cattle a speciality.”

Bill Pickett entered his first rodeo in 1888 at the fair in Taylor. By the early 1900s he was a popular rodeo performer. In 1905 he joined the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Billed as the “Dusky Deamon” [sic] he performed with that outfit for more than a quarter-century. In 1907 he moved his family from Texas to the 101 Ranch, near Ponca City, and in the off seasons he worked as a cowboy and also competed against white contestants in hundreds of rodeos around the West. In order to enter these events, Pickett was often identified as being an Indian, not an African American. His “bite-’em-down” technique of felling a steer evolved into steer wrestling, which remains one of rodeo’s most important events.

Bill Pickett also performed in a number of motion pictures and is credited with being the first black cowboy star. Richard E. Norman Studios, an all-black film production company of Jacksonville, Florida, featured Pickett in Crimson Skull (1921) and The Bull-Dogger (1922), both filmed in Oklahoma. Bill Pickett died April 2, 1932, of head injuries inflicted by a rogue horse at the 101 Ranch. He was buried on the ranch near the White Eagle Monument.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Pickett, William,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

© Oklahoma Historical Society.

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