By 1972, Myrtis Deitman was, by rodeo standards, past his prime. He was 37, the age at which most cowboys hung up their spurs, or at least thought so wisely. But the East Texas city rider Crockett was still in the thick of things, having just qualified for his seventh and final national final rodeo.
Daytman’s first Super Bowl Rodeo ride eight years earlier was historic: it was the first time a black cowboy competed in the NFR. But the man nicknamed Jackie Robinson of Rodeo never won an NFR gold buckle—not during his first six trips there, nor during his last appearance, when he finished seventh. At a younger age, he would almost certainly have become a world champion if blatant racism had not hindered his efforts.
However, Deitman’s legacy far surpassed the import of any trophies in later years. He ended his career in 1988 at the first Mirtis Deitman Hall of Fame rodeo; became the first living African American inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame; and is the subject of a new documentary, Driving change. A feature film about his life starring fellow Texan Jonathan Majors is in development. But Daytman doesn’t act like a celebrity or survivor of a terrible injustice. On most days, you can find him sitting on the porch at Crockett or dining at Cattleman’s Country Cafe. He does not dwell on resentment and tends to brush off praise. He’ll tell you, “I’m just a cowboy.”
This article first appeared in the February 2023 issue of the journal. Texas Monthly with the title “Jackie Robinson of Rodeo”. Subscribe today.