For three decades, the annual Bill Pickett rodeo has stretched its presence across the country educating and entertaining the story of the African American cowboy to those longing to keep it alive. From motion pictures to media, the history of minority cowboys has long been downplayed. Many have long forgotten while others simply choose to ignore the huge role Black, Mexican, and Native American cowboys once played in the American west of the 1800s. Bill Pickett and other men and women of color traversed many of the same plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and others as their white counterparts, yet little is known of them. That’s where the Bill Pickett Rodeo comes in.
I FINALLY made its attendance and was grateful for having the opportunity to capture a few shots of this phenomenal show. It’s not often you get to witness pure raw talent combined with the likes of skilled ranchers in a competitive of brawn, brains, and undoubtedly balls. From calf roping to the braising bull ride each competitor held his own in this thrilling line-up.
As the sun set on Conyers and all saddles were up, it was truly an honorable day to me for so many reasons. I’m not ashamed to admit, yes, I too, am now a fan of the good ol’ Rodeo…Yeeehaw!! My Stetson and boots are on order for next year for sure.
Born to former slaves Thomas Jefferson Pickett and Mary “Janie” Gilbert in 1870, Bill grew up in the small community of Travis near Taylor, Texas. Coining the technique of bulldogging, the practice of grappling with steer barehanded by biting its lip and falling to the ground, Bill went on to become one of the most notable and skilled cowboys of his era.
Today, his spirit still lives on amongst the men competing in the bouts of steer wrestling, a term that was once called bulldogging, coined by Pickett himself.
As I was told, the spirit of a cowboy sees no color…only dedication.
This year’s event was held at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, approximately 30 miles east of Atlanta. Next stop, Washington D.C.
“As a kid I didn’t see black cowboys on the screen. What that said to me was that there were things I couldn’t do or be because of my color. What we see others like us do gives us permission to expand our own horizons.”
~ Walter Dean Myers