The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is the longest-running Black rodeo in the United States. This year marks 40 years of showcasing the talent and grit of its cowboys and rodeo stars. Founded in 1984 by Lu Vason, it was born out of a need to give Black cowboys a platform to keep their traditions alive. It continues to develop the next generation of rodeo stars and brings the sport of rodeo to a new generation of fans. 


Who was Bill Pickett?  


Willie M. Pickett was born on December 5, 1870 in Williamson County, Texas, the area around present-day Georgetown and Taylor, TX. Born of African American and Cherokee descent, Pickett revolutionized the rodeo world with his innovative “bulldogging,” a method where he would wrestle steers to the ground by biting onto their lips, a technique inspired by observing dogs managing cattle. This daring and unique skill made him a legendary figure in rodeo history. Pickett performed with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, which gained him international fame and allowed him to showcase his skills around the world, including Madison Square Garden in New York City. 


Despite the racial barriers of his time, Pickett’s remarkable talents broke through racial divides, earning him posthumous induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1989. His legacy endures not only in rodeo sports but also in the broader narrative of the American West, symbolizing the diverse heritage and enduring spirit of cowboy culture. He is remembered as an iconic American cowboy, rodeo performer, actor and pioneer in the sport and culture of rodeo.  


What is the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo?  


Established in 1984 by Lu Vason, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR) is a celebrated cultural event that honors Bill Pickett’s legacy and recognizes the significant contributions of people of color to the development of the American West. Lu Vason wanted to entertain and educate rodeo fans about the significant influence of Black cowboys in western culture. BPIR is a competitive event as well as an educational and cultural experience, showcasing the ongoing involvement in rodeo of Black cowboys and cowgirls. 


The event travels across the United States, providing a platform for African American rodeo athletes to demonstrate their skills in traditional rodeo events such as Bill Pickett’s signature event, bull dogging, bare back and ranch bronc riding, ladies’ breakaway, calf roping, barrel racing and so much more. Attracting thousands of spectators and participants, BPIR plays a crucial role in preserving and promoting the heritage of Black cowboys and celebrating the role of African Americans in the broader narrative of American history and culture. 


How can I see this incredible rodeo event and competition?  


Cowtown Coliseum in the Stockyards hosts BPIR several times each year, always to the delight of visitors and participants. For its 40th year celebration, BPIR will host a Legacy Tour, stopping in cities across the nation to showcase the skill of rodeo athletes of color. 


The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo will continue its strong partnership with Cowtown Coliseum at the Texas Connection Series on February 17, May 18, June 15 and August 17. This is your chance to experience this entertaining and educational event in the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards. 


Get your tickets now!