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Bill Pickett Rodeo


Article & photos by Tommy Brannon

The Bill Pickett Rodeo, which bills itself as “The Greatest Show on Dirt: Four Generations of Black Cowboys and Cowgirls,” came to the Show Place Arena in Memphis, TN on Friday April 5 and Saturday April 6, 2019. This rodeo, now in its 35th year, was founded by the late promoter, Lu Vason.  Vason’s wife Valeria Howard-Cunningham and a dedicated staff have kept the rodeo going with performances touring throughout the country.

Bill Pickett (1870-1932), the namesake of the Rodeo, was an old west cowboy in Texas and Oklahoma who was the son of emancipated slaves. He is credited with inventing the technique of Bull Dogging, now known as Steer Wrestling, and was posthumously inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1971 and the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1989. In addition to being a famous cowboy in rodeos and Wild West shows, Pickett acted in and was a consultant for Hollywood westerns.

Many school children in the mid-south had an opportunity to see their “first rodeo” at Friday morning’s performance. Barbara Love, an avid horse enthusiast, whom everyone knows as “Miss Kitty,” is the Memphis coordinator for the Bill Picket Rodeo. She is a retired school teacher and wanted school children in the mid-south to learn about the black cowboys of the old west as part of black history. She invited and arranged for 50 schools and organizations to send children to the rodeo.

Part of the spectacle also included a re-enactment depiction of the “Buffalo Solders,” i.e., 10th U.S. Cavalry that was formed in 1866 as part of the segregated army of the time. This regiment was stationed in Kansas, Texas, and Arizona, as well as other outposts, and participated in many military campaigns throughout the old west, including the Spanish American War.

Competition at the Rodeo included barrel racing, Jr. barrel racing (ages 3-12), breakaway roping, calf roping, steer
wrestling, bull riding and a calf scramble. The crowd was entertained by rodeo clown “Spanky,” aka Avery Ford.
Read more about the Bill Pickett Rodeo at: Find more information about the Buffalo Soldiers at: 

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