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What do our textbooks and popular media tell us about the roles of Native Americans, Black Indians, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Women in the "Old West"? Exploring this often ignored history can make excellent Side Trips!


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
There was nothin' they could do

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

Lyrics and text from The Mudcat Cafe

Note: The Bull Dogger

In many ways, the exciting saga of Bill Pickett tells us what happened to Black Indians as the last frontier entered the twentieth century. Pickett was born in 1870, the second of thirteen children, to Black Cherokees in Oklahoma.

Pickett had a wife and eventually nine children. To provide for his family, he landed a job with the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma run by the Zack Miller as a ranch and rodeo. His men won so many prizes they were soon barred from local cowboy competition. Miller took his rodeo on the road. Everywhere their featured act was Bill Pickett's bulldogging. Billed as the "Dusky Demon" or the "Wonderful Colored Cowboy" Pickett's daring act drew the applause and admiration of young and old, cowboy or city slicker. Pickett's five foot six, 145-pound frame swept through his bulldogging feat with the agility of a ballet dancer. He never appeared to get scratched. His other ranching talents were such that Zack Miller called Pickett "The greatest sweat and dirt cowboy that ever lived, bar none."

... With his masterful skills, Pickett won fame and a decent living. But he never achieved in his lifetime the renown and riches of his two assistants, Tom Mix and Will Rogers. He made a journey from rural to urban life, and counted on a white world for his livelihood. It offered even Bill Pickett limited opportunities.

"If you believe people have no history worth mentioning it is easy to believe they have no humanity worth defending"

William Loren Katz
historian and author of almost 40 books on African American History

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Last Updated: 12/24/12