It’s a Good Day to Talk About Bill Pickett

photos courtesy of Gerald Anderson

For Gerald Anderson, pioneering runs in the family. As Executive Director of the Bill Pickett Educational Foundation, he is proud to continue the enduring legacy of his great uncle, Bill Pickett. Bill was born near Liberty Hill and became his generation’s most famous African-American cowboy and rodeo star. In addition to his amazing rodeo career, he was an inventor, entertainer, and movie star. 

Mr. Pickett was born in the Jenks-Branch community in 1870. His parents were former slaves, and, legend has it, he earned the title “cowboy” in the 5th grade. As he grew, his cowboy skills were unmatched and he even invented a style of steer wrangling called “Bulldogging.” His prowess and popularity grew to the point that he toured the nation with the “101 Ranch Wild West Show” and appeared in several movies. See page 32 for more on Mr. Pickett. 

Gerald and his daughter at “The First Bulldogger” statue at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

The Foundation

For Gerald, it wasn’t enough just to hear stories of one of Texas’ most famous cowboys. When his grandmother passed in 2000, he found her collection of photos and articles and resolved to continue her work. “It was history that needed to be told. I felt like no one was talking about him any more, so I picked up where she left off.” He has taken it upon himself to give presentations and speak to audiences far and wide. With exhibits and family stories, he visits libraries, schools, and is a regular presenter at Juneteenth and Black History Month events.

Gerald didn’t stop there. In 2002, he created the Bill Pickett Educational Foundation, and later founded a summer camp. “It seemed a shame for a kid to have to start school in the Fall and when people ask, ‘What did you do this summer?’ they didn’t have anything to talk about.” 

Bill Pickett Summertime Fun Camp is an ‘everything’ kind of camp held one week each month while schools are out for the summer. The camp day is from 8am-1pm and does not have a particular agenda; activities are whatever the kids would like to do together. On any given day they may play kickball, do arts & crafts, fish, go on field trips, visit libraries and museums, swim, or meet police and fire fighters. “As a single parent, I heard my own daughter talk about things she missed out on, so I created this opportunity with her in mind and I want to work with kids like her.” 

Gerald partners with the Taylor Community Center and food services to provide free breakfast and lunch, and registration is open to all youth, regardless of age, residence, or financial status. He says, “I just want kids to be a part of what we do. We are all about diversity, and I love having groups of boys or girls who wouldn’t normally play together sharing lifetime experiences.” 

Campers visit the Taylor Fire Department

In addition to summer camp, during the winter holidays, the Foundation has a Toy Drive that benefits 250 children and families, and a very special trip to the city to see The Nutcracker. “It was something I knew my own daughter would enjoy, so we started a small group outing.” Always an innovator, he came up with ways to make the outing bigger and better. He found a program that provides up to 50 tickets to non-profit organizations to attend the dress rehearsal performance. “I wanted these young ladies to be able enjoy the ballet. After the show, we go to the Trail of Lights; it’s the highlight of the year.” 

Incidentally, all 419 Longhorn Steakhouse restaurants have a photo of Bill Pickett on the wall. When Gerald told him about his family connection, the manager asked if he could ever do anything for him. That December, all 50 attendees ate dinner, at no cost, served by seven regional managers, on their way to The Nutcracker. 

Gerald wasn’t able to hold summer camp this year due to pandemic restrictions, but he is working on partnerships and funding to arrange helicopter rides over Austin. His long-term dream is to build an equine therapy program to help kids with disabilities, or some who just need a friend. 

How To Help

The Foundation is based in Taylor, but encourages participation from Georgetown and all over the county. Gerald also welcomes financial support or donations of sports equipment, games or supplies, and partnerships for new and exciting experiences. The Foundation is a 501(c)3; checks may be sent to the Bill Pickett Educational Foundation, 811 E 2nd St, Taylor 76574. 

Gerald’s Foundation is the only one associated with Bill Pickett’s family, and he is available for presentations and exhibits, nearly anywhere. You can find them on Facebook or visit in person to talk about camp and other possibilities. “We promote diversity and inclusiveness and we just want to be there when kids make lifelong friendships. That’s the kind of stories you hear about kids and summer camp; I’m happy to be a part of creating new paths.” 

Meet William “Bill” Pickett

Bill Pickett was also known as “Bulldogger” and “Dusky Demon.” He was one of 13 children and worked on a ranch at a very young age. By studying the way herding dogs subdued steers, Bill developed a cowboy technique for wresting and controlling them (including biting their upper lip!), which became part of ranch and rodeo history and was called “bulldogging.” 

His abilities brought him respect and renown, and before long he was performing with the “101 Ranch Wild West Show” in Oklahoma, often receiving top billing despite Will Rogers’ participation in the shows. He toured and performed for heads of state and royalty across the United States, Canada, and Europe. 

Bill competed and performed in rodeos for more than 25 years and he was celebrated for having shaped the evolution of the American rodeo circuit. Because African-Americans were often barred from performing in rodeos, he was frequently introduced as a Mexican or Native American, which earned him the nickname “Dusky Demon”. 

His great-nephew, Gerald, says, “Being a cowboy had nothing to do with skin color. As long as you could, and would, do the work, there were no special privileges or treatment for anyone based on race.” 

Bill was the first African-American to be elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma; the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame; and the Museum of the American Cowboy in Colorado Springs. In 1993, the U.S. Postal Service honored him as part of its Legends of the West series of stamps, and Pickett Elementary in Georgetown is named after him. 

He has also been immortalized with a statue in Taylor, which became his own family’s homestead. In 2015, when the Williamson County expo center was complete, the road leading to the arena was re-named Bill Pickett Drive. As Gerald says, “The arena may change or go away, but that road will be there forever.” 

Like many men in the old time West
On any job he did his best
He left a blank that’s hard to fill
For there will never be another Bill.

Cowboy Hall of Fame

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