Myrtis Dightman's Bull Riding Rope and Bells

Rodeo equipment of groundbreaking bull rider

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Crockett native Myrtis Dightman (b. 1935) made rodeo history in 1964 when he became the first African American to compete in the National Finals Rodeo (NFR). Between 1964 and 1972, he competed six more times at the NFR. His best finish came in 1967 when he ended the year in third place.

When he started in rodeo, Dightman was the only African American competing full-time and race was a constant stumbling block in rodeos across the Jim Crow South. Subjected to segregation and racism at every turn, Dightman went out of his way to prove he was the best bull rider in the country. He held his free hand farther from his body to avoid being fouled out by a crooked judge. And he oftentimes rode longer than the required 8 seconds. The 1967 season made him a rodeo star, and it became increasingly difficult for racist judges to score him unfairly.

In the 1970s, Dightman began mentoring the next generation of black rodeo cowboys from the Diamond L Ranch rodeo arena in Houston. He also began appearing in ads for Marlboro Man and Tony Lama boots, breaking ground again as the first African American cowboy to earn sponsorships. In 1982, his protégé Charles Sampson became the first African American to win at the NFR. For Dightman, it was almost like winning it himself.

Dightman has been inducted into seven halls of fame, including the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (1997), the PBR Ring of Honor (2003), the ProRodeo Hall of Fame (2016), and the Bull Riding Hall of Fame (2016). Today, he hosts the Myrtis Dightman Hall of Fame Rodeo in his hometown of Crockett – an annual event since 1988.

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Myrtis Dightman's Bull Riding Rope and Bells Artifact from Crockett
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