Bill Pickett

Rodeo Star of Creole Heritage





Bill Pickett ... The Bull Doger


Wild West show performer, cowboy


Bill pickett


was a major star of rodeos and Wild West shows and the inventor of a unique style of bulldogging in the first years of the twentieth century.


For most of his life he was a cowboy.

Willie M. Picket was born to Thomas Jefferson Pickett and Mary Virginia Elizabeth Gilbert Pickett on December 5, 1870, in the Jenks-Branch community about thirty miles northwest of Austin, Texas, in Travis County. He was oldest of thirteen children born to the couple between 1870-1890. Thomas Pickett was born slave in 1854 in Louisiana, mixed and included Native American ancestry. After slavery, Thomas Pickett moved his family to a small holding near Austin sometime in the early 1870's and began to raise vegetables for market. His oldest son, Bill, went to a rural school through the fifth grade.

About the time Bill Pickett finished his schooling in 1881 at the age of eleven, he learned from observing cattle dogs a method of controlling cattle. Bulldogs had originally been bred to control bulls by biting their sensitive muzzles and holding on. Pickett discovered that he too could subdue cattle by biting; as an adult he leaped from his horse, seized the steer by the horns, and pulled the head back to the point to the ground, with the animal often landing on top.

This technique is forbidden in modern bulldogging - now officially called steer wrestling - which involves much lighter animals weighing between 400 and 750 pounds. Pickett faced steers between 800 to 1,100 pounds. Naturally, he lost teeth and was frequently injured; although he tried to work in spite of damage to his body, he was sidelined on one occasion for nine months. Over the years he estimated that he bulldogged some 5,000 head.


Pickett and several of his brothers worked on ranches around Austin and became skillful cowboys. Pay for cowhands was low, about five dollars a week with board. Thus, in Austin around 1886, Bill Pickett rode bucking horses on Sunday afternoons to amuse bystanders and picked up some extra cash by passing the hat. He also gave occasional demonstrations of his method of bulldogging, which amazed spectator to whom it was completely new, especially since Pickett was not a large man. At five feet, seven inches, he weighed 145 pounds.

The Picketts moved to Tyler, Texas, around 1888. There, between 1888 and 1890, five Pickett brothers offered their skills at breaking horses.

For some years Pickett worked on various around Tyler. On December 2, 1890, he married Maggie Williams. The Picketts had nine children: Sherman, Nannie, Bessie, Leona, Boss, Willie Kleora Virginia, Almarie, and Alberdia. The two sons, Sherman and Boss, was a deacon of the Tyler Baptist Church. Pickett took any farm and ranch work available, including cotton picking, and supplemented the family diet by hunting. Sometime in the late 1890's he became blind for eleven months; when the condition cleared up, his eyesight was never toubled again.

Bill and Tom Pickett gave exhibitions of bulldogging at the first Tyler county fair in 1888. It is not clear when Bill Pickett began to tour extensively. Lee Moore, a local rancher, managed his touring, and Pickett made appearances in many Texas towns before making extensive out-of-state engagements beginning in 1900. After the 1902 season, Pickett had a new manager, Dave McClure, who took Pickett to major events like the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days Celebration. Coverage by a national magazine pushed Pickett and his bulldogging into the spotlight.

Pickett joins 101 shows

Ex-Confederate soldier George W. Miller and his three sons had built up a very large and profitable ranch near Ponca City, Oklahoma, called the 101. To entertain a convention of editors, the miller brothers staged a wild-west show on their ranch on June 11, 1905. The show attracted some 65,000 persons to the specially built facilities. Pickett's modern rodeo, brought to the event his star bulldogger, now billed as "The Ducky Demon."

The 101 Ranch staged another show in 1906. By now the millers liked the money the shows brought in and were ready to develop a traveling show. In 1907 they signed a contract with Pickett, who maintained his relationship with the 101 for the rest of his life.

The pickets moved first to accomadations on the ranch, but the family later settled in Ponca City. Pickett lived on the ranch and visited his family when he could. For a traveling cowboy, family life became secondary. From 1907 through 1913 Pickett toured with the 101 show in the United States, with an occasional foray into Mexico. He appears to have been earning about six dollars a week plus board for his efforts in the shows, and during the winters he did regular ranch work. In the winter of 1913 the show went to South America and then to England. All the horses were seized by the British government at the outbreak of World War I, and the troupe had difficulty in booking passage home. At the close of the 1916 season, the Millers ended their shows, which had contributed to the $800,000 profits of the 101 Ranch between 1908 and 1916.


Pickett now did ranch work at the 101 Ranch, with occasional rodeo appearances. In 1920 he moved with his family to Oklahoma City. While his family was happy there, he was not. In 1924 he moved back to the 101. The ranch was now experiencing hard times, so he had no regular salary but asked for money as he needed it. A new 101 show went on the road in 1925 but with little financial success; the shows limped along to an end in 1931.

After a brief illness, Maggie Pickett died in a hospital on March 14, 1929, and was buried near Norman, Oklahoma. Bill Pickett was now left alone since all of his daughters had married and left home. In 1931, the 101 Ranch went into receivership. In March 1932 a horse kicked on the porch of the main residence of the 101 on April 5, he was buried about three miles away on the ranch.


Bill Pickett's skill as a bulldogger can be seen in a film short, The Bulldogger, preserved in the Library of Congress. Pickett received posthumous recognition. On December 9, 1971, he was the twentieth person and the first black inducted into to the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. The North Fort Worth Historical Society unveiled a bronze statue of him in 1987. Millions more people became aware of him when the Postal Service planned to issue a commemorative stamp in March 1994 but discovered that the stamp bore a brother's likeness and had to issue a corrected version. Bill Pickett was a living legend. He was a brave and innovative man who revolutionized the rodeo. A Living legacy is his family; Pickett had 215 living direct descendants in 1994 - Robert L. Johns


Sacre bleu. :)
The photo you identify as Bill Pickett is the very photo artist Mark Hess
used to create the infamous stamp: "Millions more people became aware of him when the Postal Service planned to issue a commemorative stamp in March 1994 but discovered that the stamp bore a brother's likeness and had to issue acorrected version."

If one looks at clothing and pose in the first stamp one can see it matches the clothing and pose of Ben Pickett in the photo at could blame poor Mark Hess?

The photo was (incorrectly) identified as
Bill. Relatives caught the mistake once the stamp was issued. I, too, used
your image to show children who Bill Pickett was until it occurred to me
that the man in your photo was totally FINE and yet in every other picture
of Bill, he was NOT. I put the incorrect stamp next to your totally FINE
man and, well, viola. Sacre bleu. Mais oui. 

Yours sincerely,
a Bill Pickett fan from Fort Worth who owns a mini horse name Pickett,
Christine Weis

Black Heroes
by Jessie Carny Smith
Forwarded by Nikki Giovanni

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