Myrtis Dightman has been called “the Jackie Robinson of Rodeo” because he broke one of the major color barriers in rodeo. Dightman was born in Crockett, Texas on May 7, 1935, to Odie Dightman and Ada Lee Polk.
He began competing in rodeo as a bullfighter and clown, but he wanted to compete like his traveling partner and friend James Francies. According to the Grand Prairie Daily News, Dightman began riding when he was 23 years old.
Dightman began competing in bronc riding and steer wrestling, then he moved into bull riding. He broke the color barrier at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in 1964 becoming the first African American man to compete at this level. He would make it to the NFR an additional six times during his career.
In the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s, he was a top competitor in bull riding being nationally ranked in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972 respectively. Dightman attributes his success in bull riding to mentors like Freddie Gordon, Willie Thomas and James Thomas who were African American bull riders.
Additionally, he won the bull riding title at the Calgary Stampede in 1971 and tied for the Cheyenne Frontier Days bull riding title in 1972.
In 1971, he started appearing in films as a stuntman. He is known for playing himself in the film, “J.W. Coop” (1971). He also had a minor role in Sam Peckinpah’s “Junior Bonner” starring Steve McQueen.
In 1970, he began mentoring Charles Sampson who in 1982 won the bull riding title at the NFR. Dightman continued mentoring other young African American rodeo performers and worked with youth groups.
Dightman won the Old Timers Championship four years in a row in the early 1990s. He retired from active competition. Dightman hosts the Myrtis Dightman Rodeo every Labor Day weekend in Crockett, Texas.
Myrtis Dightman was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1997, the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Ring of Honor in 2003 and the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2011.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the life of Myrtis Dightman! You can see his rodeo rig in the Museum’s American Cowboy Gallery!
Visit the new exhibition at The Cowboy, “Black Cowboys: An American Story,” to learn more stories about African Americans in the West. This exhibition will run through January 2, 2024.*
We hope you’ll join us further down the trail as we continue uncovering the stories of the American West.
*Black Cowboys: An American Story was developed by the Witte Museum, San Antonio (WitteMuseum.org). The exhibition is presented by Bank of America and generously supported by the John L. Santikos Charitable Fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation, H-E-B and Ed Rachal Foundation.”
Interested in learning more about African American history in the West? Check out these books from Persimmon Hill store at The Cowboy!
“Bull rider prefers truck,” Grand Prairie Daily News (Grand Prairie, Texas), August 4, 1970.
“Modern-Day Cowboys,” The Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), January 29, 1972.
“Rodeo: Six added to Hall of Fame,” Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas), October 21, 1997.
Myrtis Dightman, 1964, DeVere Helfrich Rodeo Photographs, Dickinson Research Center, 81.023.24829-04.
Myrtis Dightman, 1969, DeVere Helfrich Rodeo Photographs, Dickinson Research Center, 81.023.29291.
Myrtis Dightman, 1937, DeVere Helfrich Rodeo Photographs, Dickinson Research Center, 81.023.29124-05.
Myrtis Dightman on #201B, 1964, DeVere Helfrich Rodeo Photographs, Dickinson Research Center, 81.023.24920.
Myrtis Dightman on Bull #112, 1969, Bern Gregory Rodeo Photographs, Dickinson Research Center, 1999.025.2974.12.
28755 Myrtis Dightman on #211 (LB) 7th Go NFR Oklahoma City ’66, 1966, PRCA Rodeo Sports News Photographs, Dickinson Research Center, 1998.008.2510.
Myrtis Dightman on #162, Burwell, NEB ’67, 1967, PRCA Rodeo Sports News Photographs, Dickinson Research Center, 1998.008.0937.