Photo by Joe Jackson
What an amazing statistic. One in four Cowboys was Black in the early 1900’s. Although much of their lore has been lost, many of them lived like stories from Gunsmoke of the 1960’s. They frequented saloons, drove cattle from Texas to Arizona, and many lived in the Midwest plains of Kansas. Not only were Black Cowboys involved with cattle drives, but they also rode horses, drove covered wagons, roped and branded cattle, and even took on fights with Indians (Indigenous people).
Many cowboys weren’t from the “Wild West” so many lived in areas from Kentucky to Georgia, but many Black Cowboys were right here in Arizona. It is hard to find an African American Cowboy in any old western or even in a museum of the Wild West… but they did exist. Cowboys ended up in Texas for the most part because White settlers moved to Texas and brought their slaves with them in the early 1800’s as Texas was being settled. Texas became so heavily populated by the 1820’s that almost 25% of the population were slaves.
Texas was a confederate state and when the Civil War was at hand, slaves began learning to rope and brand cattle, ride horses, take care of the land, and become seasoned cowboys and farmers making the Black Cowboy so valuable that trading slaves in Texas was common. Once the war ended Free Black Men and Women had learned to ride and train horses, take care of cattle, and run a farm. Their skills allowed them to find employment other than working on a train or washing dishes in a restaurant owned by Whites.
These valuable Black Cowboys knew how to move herds of cattle across country and take their cattle to markets where they made good money. However, don’t be fooled, this was not an easy cross country trip. As Black Cowboys traveled across country they faced discrimination, torture, fighting with the Indians, and often death. They had to learn to sleep under the stars and weather cold winter storms, as they were not welcome in hotels. They had to eat from the land, often eating vermin or killing their cattle, because they would not be served food in many states. However, according to many stories, Black Cowboys were welcomed by many other Cowboys on the open range, because they were weathering the elements together.
Black Cowboys could be rustlers, hustlers, and handle a stampede, if needed. A few Black Cowboys are “Deadwood Dick” Nat Love a former slave and railroad porter, Bill Picket, famous for inventing bull- dogging or steer wrestling, and Cleo Hearn to name a few.
Photo by Joe Jackson
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