Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo charges through Southern California

Reuben Haynes, 35, a resident of Los Angeles rides in the main arena just before he competes in the bull doggin' event.
Reuben Haynes, 35, a resident of Los Angeles rides in the main arena just before he competes in the bull doggin' event. C. J. Dablo

During a usual week, Steve Green manages dental clinics in his hometown of Austin, but the African- American Texas resident can be a little amused by the number of people who are surprised he can rope a calf and tie it down in seconds.

People are astonished to see black cowboys.

“I get that a lot,” Green said. “So it’s a shock to some people ... when you come [to] California and different places like that where they don’t have a whole lot of rodeos.”

Since 1996, the 32-year-old has been calf-roping with the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, an annual event where black cowboys and cowgirls show off their riding and cattle-wrestling skills and connect with an audience who may not know the history of African-Americans who helped settle the west.

Organizers named the rodeo after Bill Pickett, a black cowboy who lived in the 19th century. Pickett has been credited with inventing the art of bull-dogging, where cowboys leap from their horses to wrestle a steer to the ground.

Last Sunday, the rodeo just completed the California leg of the tour with a final stop in the city of Industry, east of Los Angeles.

“I’ve always loved this way of life,” Green said.

“I love the rush,” he said, wearing a white stetson just after his calf-roping competition. “It’s hard to explain. It’s the greatest feeling I ever had.” Winning wasn’t too bad either.

“It’s something to go back home on,” he said with a mild grin.

Linda Love of Woodland Hills shares this love for the outdoors. The Woodland resident has been riding horses for more than 30 years. She was in line at one of the rodeo's food booths on a hot Sunday afternoon.

“I’m a cowgirl at heart, just not in this competition,” Love said, laughing next to Aleiyah McGlown, her 12-year-old niece. It was important for Love to share this experience with McGlown, who wanted to see people on horses.

“I think that we don’t look back into our history,” Love said, nodding towards her niece.

“I’ve been bringing her since she was nine so that she can understand and know about her black culture and [the] important role black cowboys played. ... We played a major role in development of the western culture, but a lot of our people don’t know it.”

Jeff Douvel who coordinates the rodeo agrees. Angelos get ecstatic about the event, he said. Even if people know there are black cowboys, they never see them in person, he added.

“From a cultural side, it’s a great thing for people to come and see," Douvel said. "People leave out of here feeling proud.”

Before hundreds of cheering fans who filled the grandstands at the Industry Hills Expo Center, cowboys held onto wild broncos or leaped from their horses to wrestle steer to the ground.

Not all of the participants work full-time on a ranch, but they compete with the same intensity of any professional. Prize money ranges from $600 to $2,100. Winners go on from the tour to compete on a national level.

Lu Vason, the president and co-founder of the rodeo, said more people are getting accustomed to seeing the number of black men and women on the tour’s circuit.

“It was more important for me to start it to expose the myth there were no black cowboys in the west,” Vason said. “If you notice back in the '50s and '40s, all the movies, they didn’t have any black cowboys. In the history books, you don’t read about any black cowboys,” he said.

Now there is a growing number of participants from California, Vason said.

The touring company has become its own community. Even entire families have made the tour a special tradition.

For 35-year-old Reuben Haynes of Los Angeles, the tour is an opportunity to reconnect with his relatives who still live in Texas.

His brothers and sisters all compete in the rodeo. Haynes was raised to be a cowboy.

“I’ve been in it all my life. My whole family rodeos,” the Houston native said. “They taught me.”

He says he can leap from his horse to tie a steer down in 2.9 seconds. He’s teaching his cowboy skills to his 5-year-old son.

"You know, it’s just... generation after generation. We’ve been doing it as long as I’ve been breathing.”

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