New High Desert Museum photo exhibit celebrates America’s only touring black rodeo

High Desert Museum has a new exhibit celebrating black rodeo culture and history. Learn more here.

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Black cowboys have long been an integral part of the American West. Thousands of Black cowboys, for instance, rode in the Western cattle drives of the 1860s. Their stories are largely untold in popular narratives, but modern-day Black rodeos keep their traditions alive. A new, original High Desert Museum exhibit celebrates this thriving culture.

In the Arena: Photographs from America’s Only Touring Black Rodeo opens at the Museum on Saturday, Nov. 19.

Through the lens of San Francisco Bay Area photographer Gabriela Hasbun, this exhibit documents the exhilarating atmosphere of the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo—the only touring Black rodeo in the country—and the show-stopping style and skill of the Black cowboys and cowgirls who compete in it year after year.

“We are proud to bring the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo culture to the gallery walls of the High Desert Museum,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “Hasbun’s vibrant images reveal the rich heritage and pride of Black cowboys and cowgirls, who are not often represented in popular culture.”

One of the most enduring symbols of the American West, the cowboy evokes self-reliance, strength and determination—qualities found at the Black rodeos held each year across the United States. Historians estimate that in the latter half of the 19th century, one in four cowboys were Black. They often faced discrimination when passing through towns, barred from restaurants and hotels. But their skills were in high demand.