African American rodeo rider Milton Blanks grows his brand with wild horses

Name: Milton BlanksIMG_6881
Club: Lazy T. Trailriders
Occupation: Welder and Professional Rodeo RiderWhat got you interested in being a rodeo rider?I’ve been [riding in the rodeo] since I was 2-years-old. When you do it from a kid and you are raised up on it, then you begin to crave it. My uncle got me started riding wild horses and by the time I hit 18-years-old, I was a well-known rodeo bucking horse rider. Houston had great rodeos but I knew that there were bigger rodeos out there so I started to travel to make more money.

What has been the hardest part of being a black rodeo rider?

The hardest part is trying to go to the pro rodeos and get in them. You are on the road a lot and it can be a strain on your home life.  I went to the CPRA national finals in 1998 under the Texas Rodeo Association, which was a huge turning point in my career. Texas riders are very aggressive but black cowboys don’t get the support that they need due to stereotypes from old western movies and images in the media that depict black cowboys as the dumb field wrangler. In actuality, African American cowboys are the hardest riders that you will ever meet; we just don’t get the funding and sponsorship like the Caucasian riders.

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George Fletcher (Cowboy)

George Fletcher was born in 1890 in St. Mary’s, Kansas. Fletcher came west on the old Oregon Trail from Missouri with his family at the turn of the 20th century, nearly 30 years after the last pioneers used the Oregon Trail.

The Fletcher family settled in a small western town of Pendleton, Oregon. George FletcherFletcher built friendships and relationships among the local American Indians on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Eastern Oregon. The tribes adopted Fletcher as one of their own. He learned about the tribes’ culture and language, and most importantly their horsemanship, all of which the federal government did not want the Indians to practice on the reservation, because the government believed the Indians should be farmers and Christians to survive in today’s world.

Fletcher entered his first rodeo event at a Fourth of July Celebration in Pendleton, Oregon, which he placed second in the bronco busting contest. This was to be the initial beginnings of what would become the Pendleton Round-Up in 1910.

Read more about George Fletcher here.
Source: National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum

The Disputed Champion

The Pendleton Round-Up is the home to the rodeo world’s longest running controversy – the riding judges’ decision during the 1911 bronc riding contest. It was a controversy steeped in racism, and the locals still argue about the incident nearly a century later. George Fletcher, one of the few black cowboys in the Pacific Northwest, rode three of the rodeo’s toughest broncs in a single afternoon.

Despite Fletcher’s phenomenal showing that day the judges awarded the championship instead to a white cowboy. The overwhelmingly white crowd of spectators who had been rooting for Fletcher nearly rioted over the judges’ blatantly racist ruling. One creative rodeo official maintained the peace when he took up a collection that benefited the black cowboy with more money than he would have won in the regular competition.

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Source: Rodeo Soul

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Bill Pickett (Cowboy)

PICKETT, WILLIAM (1870?-1932)

Bill Pickett

The originator of rodeo steer wrestling, or bulldogging, 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 acquiring 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, competing 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.

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Oklahoma Historical Society

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Bill Pickett

“Bulldogging” Bill Pickett biting a cow’s lip

William (Will, Bill) Pickett was a legendary cowboy from Taylor, Texas of black and Indian descent who invented the sport of “Bulldogging.”  He was born on December 5, 1870 at the Jenks-Branch Community on the Travis County line. He died April 2, 1932, near Ponca City, Oklahoma.

From 1905 to 1931, the Millerbrothers’ 101 Ranch Wild West Show was one of the great shows in the tradition begun by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in

1883. 101 Ranch Show introduced bulldogging (steer wrestling), an exciting rodeo event invented by Bill Pickett, one of the show’s stars.

Riding his horse, Spradley, Pickett came alongside a Longhorn steer, dropped to the steer’s head,

Biting another cow’s lip!

twisted its head toward the sky, and bit its upper lip to get full control. Cowdogs of the Bulldog breed were known to bite the lips of cattle to subdue them. That’s how Pickett’s technique got the name “bulldogging.” As the event became more popular among rodeo cowboys, the lip biting became increasingly less popular until it disappeared from steer wrestling altogether. Bill Pickett, however, became an immortal rodeo cowboy, and his fame has grown since his death.

He died in 1932 as a result of injuries received from working horses at the 101 Ranch. His grave is on what is left of the 101 Ranch property near Ponca City, Oklahoma. Pickett was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1972 for his contribution to the sport.

Bill Pickett was the second of thirteen children born to Thomas Jefferson and Mary Virginia Elizabeth (Gilbert) Pickett, both of whom were former slaves. He began his career as a cowboy after completing the fifth grade. Bill soon began giving exhibitions of his roping, riding and bulldogging skills, passing a hat for donations.

By 1888, his family had moved to Taylor, Texas, and Bill performed in the town’s first fair that year. He and his brothers started a horse-breaking business in Taylor, and Bill was a member of the national guard and a deacon of the Baptist church. In December 1890, Bill married Maggie Turner.

Known by the nicknames “The Dusky Demon” and “The Bull-Dogger,” Pickett gave exhibitions in Texas and throughout the West. His performance in 1904 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days (America’s best-known rodeo) was considered extraordinary and spectacular. He signed on with the 101 Ranch show in 1905, becoming a full-time ranch employee in 1907. The next year, he moved his wife and children to Oklahoma.

He later performed in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, and England, and became the first black cowboy movie star. Had he not been banned from competing with white rodeo contestants, Pickett might have become one of the greatest record-setters in his sport. He was often identified as an Indian, or some other ethnic background other than black, to be allowed to compete.

Bill Pickett died April 2, 1932, after being kicked in the head by a horse. Famed humorist Will Rogers announced the funeral of his friend on his radio show. In 1989, years after being honored by the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, Pickett was inducted into the Prorodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy at Colorado Springs, Colorado. A 1994 U.S. postage stamp meant to honor Pickett accidentally showed one of his brothers.

Bill Pickett on a U.S. Postage StampBill Pickett on a U.S. Postage Stamp


Old Bill Pickett’s gone away,
Over the great divide,
To the place where all the preachers say,
Both saint and sinner abide.

If they check his brand like I think they will
It’s a runnin’ hoss they’ll give to Bill.
Some good wild steers ’till he gets his fill,
And a great big crowd to watch him ride.

Old Bill Pickett’s a long time gone,
Left me here to sing this song.
Old Bill Pickett’s a long time gone,
Left me here to sing this song.

Old Bill Pickett was a mighty black man,
And he rode for the One-O-One.
Way down yonder in the Cherokee Land,
Around when the West was won.

He’d jump a steer from a runnin’ hoss
And throw him down with a mighty toss
He worked for many, but he had no boss
He’s the last of the great cowhands

Way down south in Mexico
He took a great big dare
To try and hold a fightin’ bull
To see how he would fare

He grabbed Old Toro by the horns
Grabbed the bull’s nose in his jaws
That crowd never seen such a thing before
For an hour and a half they cheered

With the great Will Rogers and Wild Tom Mix
He rode in the rodeo
For all who paid their fifty cents
They gave a great big show

For all who paid to come and see
Bill wrestled steers with his teeth
We’ve never seen such a mighty feat
‘Cause he left us long ago

Way down on the Miller ranch
In the year of thirty two
Bill Pickett roped a sorrel stud
To see what he could do

That sorrel stomped and jumped and bucked,
And tromped Bill’s body in the dust.
At seventy-three, Bill was out of luck.
He took eleven days to die.

They laid him down in a six-by-three,
Beneath the land he knew.
And they left a cross for the world to see,
said, “Of his kind we’ve seen few.”

That night for Bill they drank some wine,
And old Zack Miller wrote these lines:
And left ‘em here for me to find,
To put to music and sing to you.


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African-American Bull Riding Trailblazers

Bill Pickett: Pickett, who was born near Taylor, Tx., in 1870, was later called the “Greatest Cowboy” of his day, and the world’s “Colored Champion of Bull-Dogging.” He left school in the 5th grade to become a ranch hand, and soon he began to ride horses and watch the long horn steers of his native Texas.

Pickett practiced a stunt by riding hard and springing from his horse and wrestling the steer to the ground. He then would bite and hold the steer’s sensitive nose and lip until the steer held still. This act coined Bill Pickett the stunt name of the “Bulldogger.”

Bill Pickett soon became known for his tricks and stunts at local country fairs. With his four brothers, he established The Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association. The name of Bill Pickett soon became synonymous with successful rodeos.

In 1932 after he retired from the wild west shows, Pickett was killed when he was kicked in the head by a wild bronco. In 1971, Pickett was inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Myrtis Dightman: A pioneer in bull riding, Dightman was born on May 7, 1935, in Crockett, Tx. His first introduction to the Prairie View Trailride was in 1957, and later he worked as a bullfighter or rodeo clown. It wasn’t until 1960 that Dightman began bull riding for the first time.

In 1966, Dightman became the first black cowboy to qualify for the Professional Rodeo Association National Finals. He went on to qualify six more times, missing just once between 1966 and 1972. Dightman finished third in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Standings in 1967-68.

He also won the Calgary Stampede in 1971, and in the following year, Dightman won the bull riding competition at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo and competed in his last Pro Rodeo Association National Finals, placing seventh overall.

After retiring from bull riding, Dightman was inducted into several Hall of Fames including the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame as its first living African American, and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2001, Dightman was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame and in 2003, he entered the National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame.

Jesse Stahl: Stahl set the standard of performance in saddle bronc riding that continues to this day. Stahl was a topnotch horseman and a cowboy who was regarded by many who saw his performances as larger than life.

Conflicting sources establish Jesse Stahl’s birthplace as Tennessee, Tx., or California sometime between 1879 and 1883. Nothing is known about his childhood other than he had a brother named Ambrose. Both brothers joined the rodeo circuit but only Jesse went on to fame.

Jesse Stahl is most famous for his performance at the Salinas Rodeo in California in 1912. Before over 4,000 fans, Stahl stole the show in the rodeo’s classic event of saddle bronc riding on the bronco named Glass Eye. The horse would buck, twist his body 180-degrees midair, and land in the exact opposite direction.

Stahl invented the rodeo technique of “hoolihanding,” literally leaping from a horse onto the back of a 2,000-pound bull, grabbing its horns, overpowering the animal, and rooting it into the ground tethered by its horns. He wowed sellout audiences with his bravery and exceptional performances until hoolihanding was outlawed.

Stahl retired in 1929 and died in Sacramento, California in 1935. He is remembered today as a peerless roughrider. He was posthumously inducted into Oklahoma City’s Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979, only the second black cowboy (after Bill Pickett) to receive that honor.

Charles Sampson: Sampson was born July 2, 1957, in Los Angeles, Calf. He rode his first bull at age 12 and won his first rodeo at age 17. He received rodeo scholarship to Central Arizona College and joined Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit in 1977. He became World Champion bull rider in 1982 and performed in 1983 at the Presidential Command Performance Rodeo.

Sampson was hired by Timex to promote the durability of their watches and he signed endorsement contract with Wrangler Jeans. He appeared ten times in national finals rodeo and earned more than $900,000 in prize money as bull rider during his 17-year career.

Breaking new ground in the rough-and-tumble world of bull riding, Sampson became the first African American to win a championship in his event in professional rodeo. He set a record for earnings in bull riding in 1982 when he became one of the best- known cowboys on the roping-and-riding circuit. Sampson is one of only two African-American cowboys to have been inducted in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame

After 17 years as a PRCA bull rider, which included ten appearances in the National Finals Rodeo, Sampson decided to retire following the completion of in 1994 Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho.
Abe Morris: Morris grew up in Woodstown, N.J., and got his start at Cowtown Rodeo riding junior bulls. After graduation from high school he attended the University of Wyoming on academic and rodeo scholarships.

He was a member of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association and competed on the Wyoming rodeo team for four years. While at the University of Wyoming, he became a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and earned a degree in Business Management. He competed in the bull riding event at various rodeos throughout the United States. Soon after graduating from college Abe obtained his PRCA announcer’s card and is the only African-American to have earned this distinction.

Morris was a broadcast commentator for the telecasts of the world famous Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo for nine years with Prime Sports and FOX Sports Networks. He has been featured in several newspaper articles and television news stories as a result of his professional bull riding career. He qualified for the Mountain States Circuit Finals Rodeo eight times and the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo twice.

Outside of the rodeo arena Morris was a very successful businessman and sold life insurance and annuity products. He finished third in the nation in 1994 for MMCA the financial services company that employed him. He has also had a great deal of success since he started writing in 2002. His articles have been published in several different publications.
Willie Thomas: Thomas was born on January 30, 1930, in Richmond, Tx. Willie started working at the A.P George Ranch as a yardman and was eventually promoted taking care of the livestock, such as feeding and milking ten herds of cattle a day. At age 16 Willie was promoted with others, to taking care of approximately 500 bulls at the ranch. During feedings Willie would jump off the feed wagon onto the bull’s back and ride it without a rope.

Thomas first started rodeoing in 1948. The first rodeo in which he participated was in Hempstead, Tx. The entry fee was $3.00 in bull riding. He was bucked off and on the second day disqualified for slapping with his free hand. The second rodeo he participated in was held at the Diamond L Ranch on South Main, Houston owned by PRCA Gold cardholder Jerome Sweeney. His first win was third place in the amount of $35.00. From that day on, Willie participated in the bull riding for three consecutive years without being thrown.

His first Professional Rodeo was in 1953 when he obtained his PRCA card in San Antonio. Because he was an amateur and rookie, he would put his rope on backward from other cowboys in the professional rank.

Thomas’ second professional rodeo was in San Antonio where he rode a bull that had never been ridden. He won second in the competition. The Third bull was for all the average money. Thomas rode the bull for approximately fourteen seconds and stepped off, and then the whistle blew.

This left a bitter taste in Willie and he did not attend another PRCA show for one year. Thomas returned to the PRCA rodeo in 1958 where he rode and won in Boston, Mass., and Madison Square Garden in New York, Harrisburg, Pa., Austin and Waco, Tx. Thomas won over 20 belt buckles and saddles for bull riding, bareback riding and all-around Cowboy from 1953-1969.

Source: The patriot News

By JAMES PHILLIPS, The Patriot-News
on August 13, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Horseback Riders Promote History (Rodeo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s not every day one sees cowboys galloping on horseback through Nashville.

When the Black Heritage Riders rode into town Friday, they attracted a lot of attention.

Their mission is to educate people across the country about the roles African Americans have played in American history.

Social studies teacher Miles Dean is riding horseback across the country to educate people about African-American history.  He is an elementary school teacher in New Jersey.

A teacher for more than 20 years, Dean is also executive director of the Black Heritage Riders, a 5-year-old nonprofit educational organization.

“Sankofa and I have this spiritual connection to the ancestors which is why we’re doing this journey,” Dean said about his journey with his horse, Sankofa.

Dean will travel 6,000 miles to teach people about the roles African Americans played in the exploration, expansion, settlement and development of the United States.

Stopping to talk with a family in Goodlettsville, Dean said the trip is “a s historical look back in time.”

“I’m going to tell my grandson I saw a real cowboy today,” said one woman as she held up her cell phone to take pictures.

Each step along the way, Dean has taught a lesson and inspired some.

“Once I heard about the journey, I had to be a part of it,” said Reggie Gough, who joined Dean in Kentucky.

“It’s fulfilling,” he said. “It’s fulfilling. It’s a journey, a spiritual journey.”

Dean said the purpose of this journey is not only to inform people about the past but the present as well. He said that history is made every day and this journey is a part of that.

“I hope that they have a better sense of appreciation for African-American accomplishments,” he said.

His journey started in September with Sankofa, another horse Cody, a truck, horse trailer, driver and photographer.

Horseback Riders Promote History

Posted: Dec 08, 2007 3:01 AM GDT