Bill Pickett was born to Thomas Jefferson and Mary Gilbert Pickett in Jenks-Branch, Williamson County, Texas in 1870, one of 13 children. His heritage was African-American and Cherokee. He is credited for having invented the method of steer wrestling commonly called “bulldogging.” For this, his showmanship and his other skills he became the first person of African-American descent to be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, among his other honors.
The Texas Prison Rodeo (earlier known as the Huntsville Prison Rodeo) was an event that Texans looked forward to for many years. It began in 1931 when Marshall Lee Simmons, then serving as general manager of the Texas Prison System, conceived of it as a means for the prisoners to have recreation and as entertainment for the prison employees and their families but it quickly grew to a ticketed event that would play to a full grandstand of 14,000 to 15,000 people per performance. The event covered costs and raised money for an inmate treatment, education and recreation fund for the prisoners. Eventually the performances were held each Sunday in October and would total as many as 100,000 attendees per season. In its later years, it would not be unusual for the prison rodeo to earn $450,000 in a season for the inmate fund.