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Myrtis Dightman

Admired cowboy and pioneer in bull riding, Myrtis Dightman was born on May 7, 1935, in Crockett, Texas. Dightman grew up on a ranch with his siblings. As he grew older, he left school to work on the ranch. His first introduction to the Prairie View Trailride was in 1957 and in 1958-1960, he worked as a bullfighter. It was not until 1960 that Dightman began bull riding for the first time with the help of James Francis, Jr. Francis and Dightman founded the Prairie View Trailride Assocation in 1957 with an emphasis on the well-being and development of agriculture.

In 1966, Dightman became the first black cowboy to qualify for the Professional Rodeo Association National Finals. He went on to qualify six more times, missing just once between 1966 and 1972. Dightman finished third in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Standings in 1967 and 1968. He also won the Calgary Stampede in 1971 before appearing in the movie J.W. Coop with Cliff Robertson as himself. The following year, Dightman won the bull riding competition at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo and competed in his last Pro Rodeo Association National Finals, placing seventh overall. He also had a small role as himself in Junior Bonner starring Steve McQueen. In 1987, Dightman began working at the American Hat Company which manufactured and sold “Myrtis Dightman signature” hat designs.

After retiring from bull riding, Dightman was inducted into several Hall of Fames including the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame as its first living African American, and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2001, Dightman was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame and in 2003, he entered the National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame. On top of these inductions, in 2003, he was also inducted into the Professional Bull Rider’s Ring of Honor. In tribute to his accomplishments, a bronze statue of Dightman is being erected in the PorthAgricultural Indoor Arena in Crockett, Texas, where they hold an annual rodeo named after him.

Myrtis Dightman was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 10, 2010.

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Crockett High School

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East Texas

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Pinto Beans, Rice

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Bull rider and Myrtis Dightman (1935 - ) was a seven-time qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo and the third African American inductee to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.


American Hat Company

Professional Bull Rider

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Black, Brown

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Myrtis Dightman's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Myrtis Dightman lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Myrtis Dightman describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Myrtis Dightman describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Myrtis Dightman describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Myrtis Dightman talks about his early activities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Myrtis Dightman describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Myrtis Dightman recalls his experiences at Crockett High School in Crockett, Texas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Myrtis Dightman describes his home in Crockett, Texas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Myrtis Dightman recalls his early aspirations to be a cowboy and ranch owner</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Myrtis Dightman describes his early employment in Houston, Texas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Myrtis Dightman recalls his start as a bullfighter</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Myrtis Dightman remembers founding the Prairie View Trail Ride Association, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Myrtis Dightman remembers founding the Prairie View Trail Ride Association, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Myrtis Dightman recalls the start his career as a bull rider</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Myrtis Dightman describes his experiences of racial discrimination, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Myrtis Dightman describes his experiences of racial discrimination, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Myrtis Dightman talks about his experiences at the National Finals Rodeo</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Myrtis Dightman recalls appearing in the film 'J.W. Coop'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Myrtis Dightman describes the rules of bull riding</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Myrtis Dightman describes the Prairie View Trail Ride Association</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Myrtis Dightman talks about his professional awards</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Myrtis Dightman reflects upon his experiences as a bull rider</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Myrtis Dightman talks about his activities during retirement</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Myrtis Dightman describes his family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Myrtis Dightman shares a message to future generations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Myrtis Dightman reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Myrtis Dightman reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Myrtis Dightman narrates his photographs</a>







Myrtis Dightman recalls the start his career as a bull rider
Myrtis Dightman describes his experiences of racial discrimination, pt. 1
So the, the trail ride is a prelude to you then beginning to, to ride bulls?$$To ride bulls. Mr. Francis [James Francis, Jr.] he--the one with me started Prairie View ride [Prairie View Trail Ride Association] well in 1961 he said, "Myrtis [HistoryMaker Myrtis Dightman]," I said, "Yeah." He said, "Would you like to ride a bull?" I said, "Man I don't know." He said, well he gonna buy my card for me. So he bought my card for me. So I went back to '61 [1961], '62 [1962] then I quit and went back driving a truck because I wasn't making that much money but he would always see that my family had money enough to you know he buy groceries and stuff. He took care of that. So I quit, I quit went back to driving trucks in '64 [1964] I started back to riding bulls. Then I rode to--I rode on then, I rode every year up 'til I quit in '89 [1989]. I quit bull riding in '89 [1989].$$Okay you said he bought you a card? What does that mean?$$That's a pro royal card. It was an association. You had to buy--$$What association?$$--a pro, it was a pro association. You had to buy a membership card to ride in the rodeo and that's I got, that's how I got started. He bought my pro card for me.$$How much were the pro card (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) About fifty dollars.$$How much are they now, today?$$About five hundred dollars, five hundred dollars and I still ain't paid him his fifty dollars back yet (laughter). I still owe him (laughter).$$So, now you have your card and you start fighting bulls, I want you to tell me what it's like from the time you step into the rodeo what you have to do as a, a bull rider?$$Well you have to go and be, be prepared to ride bulls and things because when that, when that buzzer buzz and then you got to get out ain't nothing out there but you and the bull and the clown and you got to try to stay comfortable around this bull and when the whistle blow you got to try to find you a good place to get off. If you don't, he gonna throw you somewhere and I, and this--bull riding is good. I love bull riding but I just got too old to get on them (laughter). Well now it's plenty money out there and I can't get none, I can't get none (laughter). When I was, when I was riding bulls, you get top money about like four or five hundred dollars and now it's like five, six thousand dollars.$$How did you prepare for a bull ride?$$Well I get my rest and just, just, just normal you know. It's just, it's just something I wanted to do. And, and they told me well a lot of guys told me that I couldn't make the national finals [National Finals Rodeo] because they never seen a black guy riding at the finals. Me either. So I wanna know why I couldn't do it. They say, "Well the white guy would mark you so low and things you know you wouldn't be able to make enough money to get there," so I said, "Well I'm a try. One day I'm a get there," and I was lucky and in '61 [1961], nah '64 [1964] I was the first black guy went to nationals riding bulls and I went so when I went every year up until '50 [1950]. Sixty-five [1965] I didn't go, I went back to driving the truck. Then in '66 [1966], '67 [1967], '68 [1968] I went and I went and kept I went in to '72 [1972] then every year.$Now tell me about I mean there of course there was racism in every field and of course in this field as well, talk to me about the people who are in charge of the rodeos, see when I say tell me step by step what happened, is there a story about you going to a rodeo and the gateman, tell me who the gatemen is and what his responsibilities are and tell me that story about the gateman?$$Well the first thing about it you know I make a lot of rodeos and if I ride this rodeo tonight, well I might be three hundred miles tomorrow after another rodeo and I would drive to the rodeo and when I get there I couldn't get a room so what I would do I'd go up to catch some of the polices and I would ask them I asked them I tell them, "I'm on my way to the rodeo such and such a place." I said, "Would you mind if I sleep in my car here for a while and wake me up in another couple, two, three hours and I'll get on down the road?" And they said, they don't mind it. So they do it, they wait and so I slept in my car a lot of times and they wake me up and I go on down the road a little further. So I yeah I had--I, I was at a rodeo one time and a lot of times at a rodeo so the cowboys were different. The cowboy like a big family. They the only ones I know would pull up would help you beat them but it's peoples at the rodeo that didn't want you to you know that didn't want you to ride. And, and I really didn't know it because I was brought up after the rodeo a lot of nights, a lot of rodeos but I didn't know--he was never born--never dawned on me that that was the way that they drawed me up. I thought you know they just--I just guess that was the way I was drawed up to be after the rodeo.$$What do you mean drawed up?$$Well see the drawings they would put you--well pull your numbers for you wouldn't be there. You be--but I might be in Houston [Texas] and then I'm in a rodeo at San Anton, when I get to San Anton, they tell me, "Well you be you up in San Anton," said, "All right, are you at San Anton Wednesday at such and such a time." Well I go to some more rodeos, I wouldn't worry about San Anton until I get there. So when you get there, when you get to San Antonio [Texas] well then you go and see the secretary well then they give you a number and thing. Well see some peoples at the rodeo, if the rodeo had been going on for four or five days, they figure a black man ain't got to be riding no bulls, he ought to be working or, or something. He ain't got no business at the rodeo, if he did he ought to he'd have his number and thing. But I had never seen the secretary. You see you gotta see the secretary to get your number so I went to the rodeo so a guy named Mr. Woodie Cones at Little Rock, Arkansas, one day he say, "Myrtis [HistoryMaker Myrtis Dightman]." I said, "Yeah," he said, "The bull ride is going on." I said, "They won't let me in." He said, "What you mean?" I said, "Just won't let me in," because I didn't have my number and things. So they kept me out there about thirty minutes so he finally let me on down through there which the the guard did, the policeman whatever you know, so I said, "Okay." So I went on down through the chute gate and so when I went into the secretary, I paid him and they said, "Myrtis they just turn your bull out." I said, "Yes 'em." I said, "I been here." I said, "They wouldn't let me in." So Mr. Woodie Cones he come down through there and he said, "Myrtis been here a long time," said, "but the guard the guard and thing won't let him in the gate there." So they had to get my bull back to me because it wasn't my fault. So I rode the bull and win a second on him.$$Oh you won second place?$$Second place yes ma'am. See a lot of times the peoples they wanna see you ride but the stock tractor didn't wanna see you ride--didn't wanna see on they bulls. See the stock tractor would a lot of times would draw you up last because they didn't wanna see you on they bull. They figure that a black man ain't got no business riding no bull, he suppose to be working.$$So you say he's the stock?$$Stock man that furnish the stock for the rodeo.$$Okay.$$And he--I'm a black man he didn't want me on his bull so he figured that I ought to--if a black man got to be riding bulls now he ought to be working you know so they draw you up last or whatever you know 'cause I only--