Black Cowboys

Black Cowboys

Black Cowboys of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo

More than 8,000 Black cowboys rode in the great Western cattle drives of the late 1860’s.  Black cowboys were renowned for their ability to ride the nastiest horses that white men wouldn’t ride. The legendary Bill Pickett, was the first black athlete to be honored in the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1971 in Oklahoma, City. The Miller Bros recognized his talent in 1905 and hired Pickett to travel with them from Texas to Oklahoma, performing on their 101 Ranch Wild West Show. The show featured the likes of Buffalo Bill, Cowboy Bill, Will Rogers, Tom Mix, and Bee Ho Gray among others. In 1921, Bill starred in a movie called The Bull-Dogger, produced by Norman Film. His image was on the poster for the movie in which he was called, ‘the world’s colored champion in death defying feats of courage and skills’.

In 2008, I attended my first rodeo, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Oakland, California founded by Lu Vason in 1984. The Bill Pickett Rodeo is the only touring black rodeo in America, named after the “Greatest Cowboy” of the late 19th century and early 20th. Lou licensed the name Bill Pickett from the family in order to retain the legendary name and to help educate people from all over the world about the story of African American cowboys and cowgirls and to highlight black people’s contributions to the rodeo culture.

All of the images in this series were shot on medium format film. The feel of the images are a lot more quiet than the typical rodeo pictures we see in the media.  I’m not particularly interested in what happens inside the arena. The objects of my curiosity are the spectators who attend the rodeo and the participants who put their life at risk when they compete. My goal is to document the conservation of tradition and culture that goes on behind the scenes. 

My hope is to continue documenting black cowboys in the West and to raise further awareness of their importance in African American History and their contributions to the rodeo culture.

Thank you for looking.