Hardaway's story on African-American rodeo performers published in Oklahoma journal

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Hardaway's story on African-American rodeo performers published in Oklahoma journal

February 17, 2012


 Dr. Roger Hardaway
Dr. Roger Hardaway

Dr. Roger Hardaway, professor of history at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, is the author of an article in a recent issue of The Chronicles of Oklahoma, which is published by the Oklahoma Historical Society.

“Oklahoma’s African-American Rodeo Performers” traces the historical contributions black Oklahomans have made to the sport of rodeo during the last century. The article also features two former Northwestern students Jeff Rector and Sam Gress.

Rector currently is working as a pick-up man for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), and Gress is a highly-regarded bull fighter who works rodeos authorized by several organizations.

“I was especially happy to be able to mention two of my former Northwestern students,” Hardaway said.

In the article, Hardaway talks about cowboys who have competed at the sport’s highest levels, as well as those (including cowgirls) who have succeeded in rodeo’s several minor-league organizations. Such a broad survey of the sport shows that African-Americans have excelled as bronc and bull riders, barrel racers, steer wrestlers and calf ropers.

“I also have been able to include some mention of African-American clowns, bull fighters, pick-up men and stock contractors,” Hardaway said.

Bill Pickett, who moved to Oklahoma from Texas during the first decade of the 20th century, invented the rodeo sport of steer wrestling. Pickett worked for Oklahoma’s famous 101 Ranch and traveled all over the world for several years performing in the ranch’s “Wild West” show.

George Hooker, another early black cowboy who also worked at the 101 Ranch, was originally from Arizona and became a star attraction in the Wild West show as a trick rider. Both Pickett and Hooker competed in rodeos, as well as performing in Wild West shows, and both also acted in early silent western movies.

“From its beginnings on western ranches and Wild West shows, rodeo has evolved into a uniquely western form of entertainment that is increasingly popular all over the United States, as well as in several foreign countries,” Hardaway said. “The contribution of African-American rodeo performers to the sport in Oklahoma has been quite significant because of the Sooner State’s sizeable black population and the large number of rodeos staged in Oklahoma every year.”

Hardaway also noted that while the article is in the summer 2011 issue of the journal, it was not actually published until recently because of the historical society’s publication schedule.

“I’m quite proud of the article,” Hardaway said. “It has allowed me to focus some of my research on Oklahoma. I have been researching and writing about African-American contributions to the history and culture of the American West for more than 20 years, but this is the first article I have published in The Chronicles of Oklahoma.”

To read a copy of “Oklahoma’s African-American Rodeo Performers,” visit Northwestern’s J.W. Martin Library or contact a local library in northwest Oklahoma.