Mini Unit

Famous Person: Bill Pickett
Related Topics: Old West
Ranch Life
Rodeo History
Grade Level: 4th/5th

Author: Cameron C. Forbush

Background, Objectives, Procedures, and Assessment

Bill Pickett is known world wide for his contributions to the sport of Rodeo as well as the cattle industry. In 1971 Bill Pickett was finally inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. At the time, he was the only African American in the Hall of Fame. There is now a bronze statue of Bill, bulldogging a steer in the Fort Worth Cowtown Coliseum. These awards were given to Bill, not only for his Rodeo skills, but also for the fact that he was a great example of what the west was all about and the people who settled it.

Bill Pickett was not the first black cowboy or the only black cowboy, however, he is for sure one of the most famous. During the early 1900's Bill worked on the 101 ranch in the Oklahoma territory. His boss and friend Colonel Zack Miller once said of Pickett, "He is the greatest sweat and dirt cowhand that ever lived bar none." Bill not only had the ability to do anything there was to do on a ranch, he also had the will. Bill Pickett could out work almost anyone and loved doing his job.

Bill gained his fame when he took his bulldogging act on the road with one of the famous wild west shows of the time. His story, however, started much earlier than that. One day when Bill was working on a roundup, he was chasing a steer that just would not give up. Bill remembered seeing a bulldog pull a steer to the ground by biting the steers upper lip and dragging it down. He really needed to catch this steer so he rode up next to it on his horse, jumped from the horses back, on to the running steer. He then wrapped his arms around the steer's horns, twisted his head around and bit the steers upper lip, and finally dragged the steer to the ground. Bill's fellow cowhands could not believe what they saw and asked him to do it again, so he did. Soon they all wanted to learn how to do it. Not many could do it. It took much strength and courage to accomplish this feat.

There are many stories of Bill Pickett who was also billed as the "Dusky Demon," but one of the best is the real account of Bill riding his horse right into the stands after a loco steer. During one of the shows Bill and a partner were chasing a steer. The steer jumped the fence around the arena and headed right for the crowd. People were running everywhere to get out of the way. Bill and his partner, who we now know was Will Rogers, another American West hero, jumped their horses over the fence and chased the steer to the third tier of the grand stand. They then proceeded to drag the steer back into the arena without anyone getting injured.

Bill Pickett is one of the greatest cowboys that ever lived. He broke through the barriers of prejudice that surrounded him at the time and set a great example of courage, honesty and hard work to all people. Bill Pickett died in 1932 when he was kicked in the head by a wild horse. His friend Colonel Zack, summed it up best when he wrote, "Like many men in the old-time West, On any job he did his best. He left a blank that is hard to fill. For there will never be another Bill." (Hancock, p.61, 1977)

Hancock, Sibyl. (1977). Bill Pickett First Black Rodeo Star. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

McDowell, Bart. (1972). The American Cowboy In Life and Legend. Washington D.C.: The National Geographic Society.

Schlissel, Lilian. (1995). Black Frontiers. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

1. Students will be able to describe and explain where some of the games they play at school come from.
2. Students will be able to identify and tell about the contributions of Bill Pickett.
3. Students will understand and describe how work and play can mix in an effective way.
4. Students will be able to locate and plan out specific routes using a map.
5. Students will be able to describe and explain many things that happen at a working farm or ranch.

Time Allotment: Approximately two weeks or eight class periods.

Resources Needed:
Guest Speaker
Site for field trip
Map of the United States and South America
Transportation for the field trip

1. Jigsaw. To start this unit off you want to get the students interest up, as well as, build classroom unity. For these reasons, start with a jigsaw learning experience. Break the class into small groups of four students per group (Teaching Group). Give each student a common game that they play at school (e.g., basketball, baseball, soccer, and football). Then give them time to go to the library and find information on their topic. You will need to guide them in this search. It would be a good idea to have the school media specialist get out some books in advance if possible. After the students have gathered their information, put them into expert groups (according to what sport or game that they have) and let them share their information. This gives them the opportunity to find out if they have the correct information. Now you will want to put them back into their teaching groups and let them explain what they have learned to each other. Make up a short quiz from a list of the resources the students used and give it to the whole class.

2. Guest speaker. Bring in an expert in the sport of rodeo, specifically the event of Bulldogging. Introduce the guest speaker and tell the student tat the guest speaker is going to explain a sport that has a great deal to do with the focus of the unit, Bill Pickett. Have the guest explain where this event originated and why it came about. This will be a great introduction to our famous person Bill Pickett. Let the students go back to the sporting events that they are familiar with and give them some options to share more information with others about their sport (a collage, oral report or maybe a demonstration).

3. Mini-Lecture. After you have discussed the lighter side of Bill Pickett, through the guest speaker and the activities on sports, now would be an appropriate time to give the students a little more background on Bill. This can be done by lecture and discussion.

4. Map Project. Let the students find a place on the map where Bill Pickett spent a significant amount of time (e.g. Taylor Texas Bills birth place, Oklahoma, Mexico city, and England). Then let them pair up and plan a trip to the destination they found on the map. Plot out which route they would take from their home town, to the destination of their choice, what form of transportation they would use, and how much would it cost to get there.

5. Think-Pair-Share. Individually have the students think of different chores that they have to do around their own homes. In pairs have them share the chores they have to do. Then have them share their chores with the class to form a list. Let the students come up with their own games for the work they have to do. Remind them that this is how the sport of "Bulldogging" came about. Bill Pickett made something fun out of his work.

7. Take a Field Trip. Take a field trip to a farm or working cattle ranch. You would be surprised at how many there are in the Utah area. Let the students see first hand what kind of work and fun goes into this type of lifestyle. If you are lucky you might even get them to demonstrate the famous bulldogging technique.

8. Daily Log. Each day of this mini-unit have the students write down the things that they found to be the most interesting.

1. A quiz will be given to assess the Jigsaw activity.
2. A discussion will take place after the guest speaker to determine what was learned
3. An expense list and travel log will be review for the Map Project.
4. The list that is formulated in the Think-Pair-Share activity will be sufficient for evaluation in this area.
5. The students will turn in a set of rules for the game that they create. The teacher will try them to see if they make sense and work.
6. An informal overview of the daily logs will be done just to make sure that the students understood and reflected on the mini-unit content.