Lu Vason, president and producer of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR), long-ago challenged the false perception of the absence of Blacks in the development of the West, while molding his touring rodeo into an unquestionable success. A former entertainment producer, media impresario and marketing consultant, Vason founded the BPIR in 1984. Safeway will join him to bring the high-energy rodeo back to the San Francisco Bay Area Saturday and Sunday, July 14 and 15, 2012.
To the delight of thrilled audiences and rodeo fans, some of the nation’s most skilled and entertaining Black cowboys and cowgirls will ride into the San Francisco Bay Area to compete in the nation’s only touring Black rodeo competition–the thrilling Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo (BPIR). Celebrating its 28th year, BPIR will proudly showcase its athletes performing and competing at Hayward, California’s Rowell Ranch Rodeo Arena. At 2:30 p.m. each day, dust will fly as spectators cheer for their favorite competitors during thrilling Calf Ropin’, exhilarating Bareback Ridin’, Bull Doggin, Ladies Barrel Racin’, Junior Barrel Racin’, Ladies Steer Undercoatin’, and gripping Bull Ridin.’
Riders choke dust in every toured city as fans and novice spectators throughout the country cheer for hard riding competitors as they battle to be named the best after a season of competition that begins in January with the MLK Rodeo of Champions, and concluding with the Grand Finals in September in Washington DC‘s Prince George’s Showplace Arena.
During a visit to Wyoming more than thirty years ago, Vason experienced his first rodeo–the Cheyenne Frontier Days. He found the show to be exciting, but obvious to him by their omission were rodeo competitors of color. Soon after transplanting his family from the San Francisco Bay Area to make his home in Denver, Colorado, Vason visited the Black American West Museum of History where he was introduced to the history of the best-known African American rodeo performer of all time–Bill Pickett.
Having validated there had indeed been Black cowboys and cowgirls in the Old West, Vason was inspired to look for and assemble modern day Black wrangles. He did and the Bill Pickett Invitational rodeo was established. The Black rodeo has been a powerful tool in reaching his goals of educating people on the Black West, as well as building a profitable business.
Now in its 28th year, the Bill Pickett Invitation Rodeo is more popular than ever. Annually, BPIR–the only Black touring rodeo in the country–rides into cities like Atlanta, GA; Bakersfield, CA; Denver, CO; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Memphis, TN; Phoenix, AZ; St. Louis, MO; and Washington D.C. Among the most popular competitions is the one that takes place over two days at Rowell Ranch in Hayward (Oakland), California. In Oakland is where we meet Jeff Douvel, San Francisco Bay Area Regional Coordinator for the
BPIR touring company.
Douvel, a special events and marketing professional, joined the Bill Picket Invitational Rodeo just two years after its inception. Having been involved with the popular rodeo’s brave and talented cowboys and cowgirls for 26 years (now a third generation), Bill Pickett remains one of his most cherished projects. “Over the many years, I’ve watched the new generations of African American competitors evolve,” said Douvel. “I am very proud to have experienced entire families working together as a team, and extended families of cowboys, cowgirls, and their children looking out for each other, both in and outside of the arena.”
Much like the name “Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo” suggests, it is an honor for the top-quality cowboys and cowgirls to be invited to participate in the BPIR; and for some, a dream come true.
As a policy, participants are invited to compete. Those who get an opportunity to compete elevate their respective hobbies to professional status, competing against some of the most talented athletes in each of the featured events.
“Reasons we should continue to inform and educate the African American community and general public about this part of African American history and culture is for the most part it has been omitted from history books,” commented Douvel. “We have played important roles in the evolution of the Old West. The stories of Black Western Heritage and the development of the West remain important in our nation’s history.”
Douvel stated, “I watch as each event unfolds realizing that every event could cost a participant their life or a limb in a matter of seconds. Competitor’s performances cannot be scripted or faked. They are hard-working athletes for whom I have great respect.” He continued, “Most people do not realize that most of the time it’s a cowboy or cowgirl that receives injuries, not one of the animals. All of the rough stock are well treated. Most people would be surprised to learn the rodeo stock often have more medical staff on the scene than do the competitors.
Like most special events, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo has built a following over 28 years that has generation-after-generation coming back year-after-year.
“I am extremely pleased and proud that the Bill Pickett Rodeo continues to be an annual must-attend event for thousands of fans throughout the country,” said Vason. “The BPIR family is happy to educate and entertain devoted fans and new-comers who attend the exciting family-friendly event.
Continuing this year’s tour, we’ll leave our favorite city of Oakland to compete in the Los Angeles area July 21st and 22nd at Industry Hills Expo Center in City of Industry, California. It’s no accident that our rodeo is
called “The Greatest Show on Dirt!”
ABOUT BILL PICKETT:
Known as the “Dusky Demon,” Bill Pickett (1870-1932) was the best-known African American rodeo performer of all time. He invented the rodeo sport of bulldogging – now known as steer wrestling – and entertained millions of people around the world, showcasing his bronco-and bull-riding and roping skills in Wild West shows, circuses, and world’s fairs. The professional cowboy and rodeo champion was small in stature but he was a larger-than-life Western legend in his own time. His rodeo career spanned more than 40 years. In 1989, he was inducted into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), and in 1996, Bill Pickett was the first rodeo athlete inducted into the Black Cowboy Walk of Fame in Denver, Colorado.
Retired since 1916, Pickett died in April 1932 following a roping accident. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in Oklahoma. He was buried high on a hill at White Eagle Monument, where the Cherokee Strip Cowboy Association set up a limestone marker in his memory. According to Frank Billings, Colonel Zack Miller of the 101 Ranch called him “the greatest sweat-and-dirt cowhand that ever lived.” For more detailed information about Bill Pickett, please visit billpickettrodeo.com/about.html.