Bill Pickett Historical Marker, Taylor, Texas

Bill Pickett, the Cowboy

Historical Marker

Little is publicly known about the many African-Americans who have made valuable contributions to Williamson County communities. Their stories, uncovered, reveal a wealth of history. Bill Pickett of Taylor represents one of the more colorful and dynamic of these individuals.

Pickett was born to former slaves, Thomas Jefferson and Mary Virginia Elizabeth (Gilbert) Pickett, in 1870. The second of thirteen children, he completed the fifth grade and became a cowboy. Bill remains most famous for inventing “bulldogging”, or the biting of the upper lip of steers to subdue them. Pickett discovered this act while watching herding dogs subdue cattle in this manner. He took his talents on the road as the “Dusky Deamon” performing in numerous rodeos across the country and in Canada, Mexico, and England as well. As an African-American, Pickett could not compete against whites in rodeo competitions. Therefore, he would often be billed as Indian or remain unidentified to enable him to compete. After years of traveling and performing, Pickett finally settled in with his family at the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma. In 1932, Pickett died when a horse kicked him in the head. Bill Pickett is honored in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and in the Pro-rodeo Hall of fame and Museum of the American Cowboy at Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Bill Pickett represents just one of many accomplished and dynamic individuals in Williamson County’s African-American community. These individuals are responsible for the creating of churches, and groups to assist and benefit the African-American community. To learn more about these amazing individuals, visit the African-American photograph exhibit on display at the museum February 7 – 25.

Marker Text

(ca. December 1870-March 25, 1932) The son of a former slave, Willie M. (Bill) Pickett grew up in Taylor. Working as a cowboy in central Texas, he pioneered the art of "bulldogging," in which a cowboy jumps from his horse to twist a steer's horns to force it to the ground. One of the few black cowboys on the rodeo circuit, Pickett became a sensation, performing in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Europe. He retired in Oklahoma in 1930 and died two years later from injuries sustained in a riding accident. In 1971 he became the first African American cowboy inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. (1991)

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GPS coordinates
Latitude:30.5711, Longitude:-97.4096

(In 2019, the city of Taylor completed a significant park redevelopment project for Heritage Square. 
The 3 historical markers in the park were moved slightly to different locations within the park as part of the redevelopment. )

Bill Pickett, The First Bulldogger Historical Narrative by Mrs. Bobbie Hannan

The story of Bill Pickett began in October 1854, when a group of emigrants left South Carolina for Texas. There were 100 persons in the well-equipped group, 48 white people, and the other slaves. They crossed the Mississippi River at Natchez in a steamboat. After crossing the Red River and the Sabine River and entering Texas, Alex Barton suggested, "Everyone get a pipe, and we will smoke the pipe of peace and celebrate the landing on Texas soil." [1]

The Bartons in the group were headed by Wilborn Barton, a country doctor, and his brother, Colonel Alexander Barton.

Most of the 52 slaves belonged to these families, some named Barton, but two families named Pickett. The Texas Census of 1880 shows Bill Pickett's father, 26 years old at that time, had been born as the wagons headed west in some unknown place in Louisiana. The Bartons settled along the San Gabriel River about three miles from the Travis County line and received their mail at Liberty Hill. [2]

After the Civil War, most of the Barton and Pickett slaves stayed around the Jenks-Branch community.

In 1870 in Travis County, Thomas Jefferson Pickett married Mary Virginia Elizabeth Gilbert, said to be of Negro, Mexican, Caucasian, and Indian extraction.

There were 13 children born between 1870 and 1890 in Travis and Williamson Counties. [4] Family members say Mary Gilbert was a Choctaw Indian. [5]

Family records show that Willie M. Pickett was born at Jenks- Branch on December 5, 1877.

However, the Travis County Census of 1880 lists his age as eight. As he grew up, he was known as Bill. [6]

It is not known where Bill attended school when the family moved to or near Austin. [7]

In the late 1880's the family moved to Taylor; and on October 18, 1888, Thomas Jefferson Pickett bought Lots 1 and 2, Block 17, from John S. Borues et al. This was at 811 East Second Street, where the family lived for many years and members of the family, including Mrs. Willie B. Royal, live today. [8]

Bill Pickett worked for several years on ranches around Taylor, George¬town, Round Rock, and Rockdale.

He first worked the J. M. Kuykendall ranch, then on the Governor E. Sparks ranch southeast of Taylor on Brushy Creek. He also worked at the Stells 0. Sorrow ranch, the Hickest ranch, Lee Moore's ranch near Rockdale, the Garrett E. King ranch, Turkey Creek ranch, and the Back Wells ranch. [9]

On December 2, 1890, Bill married Maggie Turner of Palestine, Texas. They lived in Taylor and had nine children, seven girls of whom lived to adulthood. [10]

Bill Pickett was 16 years old when he first tried bulldogging a steer.

Prate Barker, Morgan Lewis, Jim Lucas, Riley Smith, and Bill Brown were in a group trying to round up steers near Austin. When the steers began to run into the brush, Pickett said he could catch them and hold them with his teeth. Bill Brown told him to try it, and Pickett caught and threw three steers to the ground. Soon after, Pickett agreed to go to Nashville, Tennessee, to the Confederate Soldiers' Reunion to ride and bulldog with a wild west show. The crowd was amazed that he bulldogged the steers with his teeth. [11]

Bulldogging involves riding after a steer and jumping from the saddle to grab a horn in each hand.

The cowboy would twist the steer's head and nose up to throw the steer to the ground. Bill Pickett sank his teeth into the steer's upper lip, raising his hands in the air. Palling to one side, Pickett would force the steer to the ground. [12]

In the 1890s Bill and his brothers organized the Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association. The handbill guaranteed "perfect satisfaction. " [13]

Lee Moore, who had a ranch near Rockdale and had employed Pickett off and on for years, decided to take Pickett to fairs and gatherings of a cattleman to bulldog steers with his teeth.

They traveled around Texas; and in 1900 Pickett appeared with his brothers at the Arkansas Valley Fair in Rocky Ford, Colorado, where he gave the first exhibition of bulldogging
in the state. During the next two years, he traveled through Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and other states. [14]

The Moore-Pickett team lasted only two years.

In 1903 Pickett joined Dave McClure who booked him at rodeos all over the country. McClure was known to rodeo people as Mr. Cowboy, and he was largely responsible for establishing Pickett as a major western attraction, billing him as the most daring cowboy alive, the Dusky Demon. He never identified Pickett as a Negro because Negroes were barred from competition. Pickett became a big success and was the only professional bulldogger in the world.15 He was in his prime in the summer of 1904. [16]

In 1905 Guy (Cheyenne Bill) Weadick joined Pickett as manager and traveling companion.

Weadick probably did more than any other promoter in developing the modern rodeo. After their appearance on the program of the Ft. Worth Fat Stock Show, Zack Miller asked them to appear with the 101 Ranch for an editors convention. On June 11, 1905, 30 regular and special trains carried 65,000 people to the 110,000 acres 101 Ranch in the Oklahoma Territory. [17]

The 101 Wild West Show had traveled all over the United States, Europe, and Mexico. [18] It was run by the three Miller brothers: Zack T., the rancher; Joe C., the farmer; and George L., the financier. [19]

On July 5, 6, and 7, 1905, Guy Weadick presented Pickett at the Calgary Stampede dressed in the gold-trimmed toreador pants and black silk stockings of a Spanish bullfighter. [20] Pickett gave exhibitions in 1906, reportedly bulldogging an elk at the El Paso Fair. [21]

In 1907 Bill Pickett signed a contract with the Millers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show, and they performed at the Chicago Coliseum and the Jamestown Exposition. [22]

After this season, Bill returned to Taylor to be with his family, but in 1908 the Millers persuaded him to move to the 101 Ranch. The family lived on the ranch but later moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma.

[23] The show traveled to Chicago, New York, London, and Mexico City. The first night in Madison Square Garden Pickett's steer burst from the chute and up into the crowd. He rode after the steer and bulldogged it. will Rogers, who was in the act, roped the steer by its feet and dragged it back into the arena with Pickett still hanging on.[24]

Zack Miller described Bill Pickett as "the greatest sweat and dirt cowboy that ever lived - bar none." [25]

The Miller brothers took their wild west show all over the United States and Canada in 1908 and ended the season with a tour of Mexico.

The political climate at that time was unsettled, and the bullfighting fans were not impressed with a wild west show. When there were clashes between the 101 people, the Mexican press, and the matadors; Miller suggested that Pickett could meet any fighting bull and bulldog the bull barehanded and alone. Miller then bet 5,000 pesos on Pickett's success and said it took no bravery to fight a bull.

Miller's bet and remarks were printed in the papers.

The insulted people accepted the challenge and were eager to watch the bulldogger die.

The ground rules were drawn - Pickett was not to run from the bull, was to wear his customary red shirt, and was to fight the bull for a full 15 minutes unless the bull was bulldogged. Miller was to have all the gate receipts plus the 5,000 peso bet if Bill won. When notified of the challenge, Pickett only requested that he be buried at the 101 Ranch if he died.

The event was held on December 23, 1908, at four o'clock in the after¬noon.

Pickett was on Spradley, his favorite horse for many years, and was dressed in a Stetson hat, colored neckerchief, red shirt, ducking pants with a wide belt with a large silver buckle, and shop-made boots, knee length with square tops. He was greeted by boos and cheers when he entered the arena, followed by the hazer, Vester Pegg, and several other cowboys.

Pickett met the bull, Frijole Chiquita, who made a wild charge.

The hazer and cowboys tried to guide the bull for Bill to grab the horns. The bull charged at everyone and hooked Pegg's horse in the flank. Pickett left the ring to find another horse, fearing Spradley would be hurt. The crowd protested, and Miller forced Pickett and Spradley back into the ring.

Spradley was gored; and Pickett jumped onto the bull, his arms around the horns and his body in front of the bull. The bull tossed Pickett for seven and a half minutes before a thrown bottle hit Pickett, breaking three ribs and opening a long gash.

Pickett let go after 38 1/2 minutes in the ring.

When the bull charged again, a young Mexican bullfighter jumped into the ring to let Pickett escape. The crowd was furious. The 101 Ranch crew hid behind an iron gate for nearly two hours before President Diaz sent 200 mounted men to escort them back to the show grounds. The performances that night and the next three days were uneventful. [26]

Joe Miller collected his bet and the gate receipts. At that time, Pickett earned eight dollars a week and room and board. [27]

In January 1910, Pickett and his family moved into a large house east of Bliss, Oklahoma. [28]

Playbills record many of Pickett's exhibitions; First Annual Fair by the Williamson County Colored Fair Association on June 18, 19, and 20, 1913, with an ad for bronco busting; ad for the 101 Wild West Show featuring Pickett, the Dusky Demon of Oklahoma in 1913. [29] He was featured in Ponca City, Oklahoma, April 14 - May 2, 1909; Kansas City, May 3 and 4; Cincinnati, May 10; Ohio and Pennsylvania, during May; New England, June and July; Boston, April 9, 1911; the western United States and Canada, 1912; England, 1914.

When his mother died on December 11, 1928, Pickett was only able to return to Taylor days after the funeral and is remembered by family members. [30]

In March 1929, Pickett's wife died.

In 1930 he quit the road and bought a section of land near Chandler, Oklahoma. [31]

The depression closed the 101 Wild West Show, but Pickett worked with the Millers with his horse Spradley. After the closing, Pickett stayed with the ranch. [32]

On March 15, 1932, while separating horses from a herd, Pickett was kicked in the head.

He died on April 2. Over one thousand people attended the funeral on the front porch of the ranch house. The Millers and families, cowboys, ranch hands, and Indians from several tribes attended. He was buried near the White Eagle Monument, and a large stone marks the grave. [33]

On Thursday, December 9. 1971, at the evening performance of the National Finals Rodeo, Bill Pickett was inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame at Oklahoma City by western film star Joel McCrea.

Willie Wilson, Pickett's great-grandson, accepted the certificate. [34]

A bronze statue entitled The First Bulldogger by artist Lisa Perry was erected at the Ft. Worth Coliseum by the North Pt. Worth Historical Society. [35]

In 1989 the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo was presented in Austin.

Researched by:
Mrs. Bobbie Hannan