Black Cowboys in America

Black cowboy with horse (cir. 1890),
Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library

The black cowboy redefined the perception of what it means to be an American-born cowboy. For the black cowboy, being a cowboy became more of a way of independent family farm living that centered around family, outdoors cooking (lots of smoke outs and bar-b-ques on these farms), and maintaining a stable of horses alongside other farm raised animals.

Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick (b. 1854 – d. 1921), born into slavery in Tennessee, became a cowboy after the American Civil War.

Actor Steven Williams with Madison "Nat Love" Walker
at a Single Action Shooting Society meeting

Some years back in Chicago, I was privileged to watch a traveling black rodeo show and was invited to a cookout afterwards. Below are some of the pictures I took.

Black cowboys performance at a rodeo on
the South Side of Chicago circa. 1990
(Photo: V.M. Cross)

One activity especially revered by black cowboys is highly skilled horse sportsmanship that is the historical trademark of cowboy culture.

Black cowboys perform a horse show at
Chicago rodeo presentation, cir. 1990.
(Photo: by V. M. Cross)

Black cowboy at a cookout at his homestead in
southern Cook County, Illinois
(Photo: V. M. Cross)

There are a number of books in print with the historical accounts of the legacy of the black cowboy and his family. One good book is Black Cowboys of the Old West: True, Sensational, And Little-Known Stories From History by Tricia Martineau Wagner. The Black American West Museum is also a great resource for viewing original documents and things related to the history of blacks in the western United States. The museum is located in Denver, Colorado. Established in 1971 by Paul W. Stewart, it is a storehouse of photos, letters, prints, and other historical records and items left behind by blacks from the early American west. This includes records of cowboys, ranchers, homesteaders, miners, and much more.

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