Richmond celebrates nation’s lone African-American rodeo

The Richmond community represented, as they do every year, at the annual Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo on Saturday and Sunday, July 13-14, at the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Grounds in Castro Valley. (Photos by Rafael Lima)

By Rafael Lima

The Richmond community was well represented at this year’s famous Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, which galloped into the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Grounds in Castro Valley over the weekend.

The nation’s lone African-American rodeo is celebrating 35 years of touring the country annually, showcasing the talents of black cowboys and cowgirls. Thousands of fans from throughout the state came to watch two days of family fun over the weekend, including many from Richmond, including regular attendee Richmond Councilmember Nat Bates.

“This is a lovely event that helps bring to light the history of black cowboys who have had a significant impact,” Bates said. “Most people don’t know this rich history and this is a reminder.”

Chevron Richmond has been an annual rodeo sponsor for many years, providing  hundreds of tickets to Richmond residents and youth organizations each year so they can experience a fun event that celebrates and preserves an important and oft-forgotten part of African American history.

“It’s a great event that really brings the community together and celebrates the Bill Pickett Rodeo’s rich heritage, and we’re proud to be a part of that,” said Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager for Chevron Richmond.

The rodeo as founded by the late Lu Vason (1934-2015), who was a multi-talented entrepreneur and entertainment promoter. It was named after the late Bill Pickett (1870-1932), a famous black cowboy credited, among other accomplishments, for inventing the technique of bulldogging, which involves the skill of springing from one’s horse, grabbing cattle by the horns and wrestling them to the ground. The tactic had practical application in reining in stray steer, and is one of the events featured at the rodeo named after him. Pickett’s pioneering skills would lead him to becoming a colorful character in the history of Wild West Shows and rodeos, and in 1971 he became the first black rodeo athlete to be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

For more information about Vason, Pickett and the Bill Pickett Rodeo, visit the rodeo’s website here.

For more photos from this year’s event, visit here.