Black Western heritage showcased at Chevron-sponsored rodeo

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By Kathy Chouteau

When the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo rode into the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Grounds in Castro Valley this past weekend, a Richmond contingent was there to catch the show.

The rodeo, which is the only African-American one in the U.S., is marking 38 years of touring nationwide this year, including its stop in the East Bay before a crowd of thousands. But the rodeo’s impact expands far beyond its inherent lassos and bucking broncos to impart greater cultural meaning by spotlighting the talents of its black cowgirls and cowboys and the significance of black Western heritage.

Chevron Richmond has sponsored the rodeo for a number of years, support that also sees the company giving complimentary tickets to Richmond organizations and community members so they can not only enjoy the show, but also the surrounding cultural celebration that includes various vendors, and this year, The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo Traveling Museum. Together, all of these components help preserve an important and often overlooked facet of African American history—that of black cowboy culture.

Richmond Councilmember Nat Bates, a longtime attendee who missed this year’s show but sent family members in his stead, noted the rodeo’s historical significance and said that it’s “ bringing back a lot of memories and appreciation for what this country represents.” He said that, as a live event that’s available to Richmond citizens and in the East Bay, “it’s just fantastic…it gives me goosebumps.”

Councilmember Bates also remarked that Chevron Richmond does “an outstanding job of contributing to many programs within the Greater Richmond community,” citing its work with organizations such as the West Contra Costa Salesian Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA and more—as well as its efforts sharing cultural opportunities with community members—such as last weekend’s rodeo.

“I could just go on in terms of their contributions and they don’t broadcast it; they just do it quietly and don’t even ask for any credit or recognition,” said Councilmember Bates.

Founded by Lu Vason (1934-2015), the rodeo is named after famed black cowboy Bill Pickett (1870-1932), the first black rodeo athlete to be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and who worked for the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, per the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo. Pickett is also known for inventing bulldogging, a skill that involves jumping from a horse, grabbing cattle by the horns and then wrestling them to the ground—an event featured in the rodeo that now bears his name.

Learn more about the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo here.