By: Dr. Leroy Vaughn, MD, MBA
I had originally planned on this going out on Memorial Day but for a computer glitch it didn't. Please take time to read this and surely pass it along. Information like this will never get taught in public schools because they don't want it taught. You need to take it upon yourself to pass history instead of his-story on to the next generation. But if you don't know it how can you pass it along.
The deaths of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry saddened us all because many of us grew up watching these fictional cowboys help tame the old west. However, what’s even sadder is that virtually none of us can name a single Black cowboy either real or fictional. The very word “cowboy” was initially only applied to Black men who took care of cows. Similarly, Black men who worked in the house were called “house boys.” Nevertheless, once cowboys became the heroes of western novels and later television, Black people totally disappeared from the Old West.
Joseph G. McCoy created the need for “cowboys” when he established a market and railroad-shipping center at Abilene, Kansas. Before McCoy was able to convince the Union Pacific Railroad to extend its tracks into Abilene, ranchers in Texas had no way to get their cattle to beef hungry Eastern and Midwestern markets. Most of the cattle were merely slaughtered for their hides. It was estimated that over 4 million cattle grazed in Texas at the end of the Civil War. Once the marketplace for buyers and sellers of cattle was created, cattlemen had only to get their herds from Texas into the Abilene, Kansas cattle trains. The best known trail for delivering these cattle was called the Chisholm Trail. Its main stem ran from the Rio Grand through Austin, Waco, and Fort Worth, Texas before entering Oklahoma and finally Kansas.
A cattle crew of eleven men, the trail boss, eight cowboys, a wrangler and a cook, usually managed an average herd of 2,500 cattle. Approximately two to four Black cowboys were present on most cattle drives because among them were many of the best riders and ropers in the Midwest. Ironically enough, all cowhands - whether White or Black - soon became known as cowboys which White Texans strongly resented. The eight cowboys usually rode in pairs with two in the front and rear and two on each side of the herd. Moreover, the cook was usually a retired Black cowboy and the wrangler was frequently a Black teenager who took care of the horses.
Ab Blocker, one of the most famous of the trail bosses, said he intentionally hired large numbers of Black cowboys because of their outstanding performances during the two to three month long arduous and dangerous trail drives. One Black cowboy actually saved his life. All the real cowboys - Black, Brown, Red, and White - shared the same jobs and dangers. They ate the same food and slept in the same area. Cowboys had to be willing to work almost day and night to the point of exhaustion and under the most strenuous conditions. They continuously risked death through drowning (at river crossings) and attacks from wild animals including wolves and snakes. They also faced illness produced by high winds and freezing thunderstorms.
This constant threat of danger developed an extreme comradery among cowboys on the trail. In fact, when a Black cowboy became the first person imprisoned in the new Abilene jail, his Black and White cowboy crew immediately broke him out and ran the sheriff out of town. At the end of their long cattle drives, a few Black cowboys remained on northern ranges to become horse breakers, ranch hands and even sheriffs or outlaws, but most of them drew their pay and rode back to Texas for yet another cattle drive.
Despite the legendary performances of great lawmen like Wyatt Earp and Batt Masterson, Black soldiers, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, were primarily responsible for keeping law and order in the Old West. Their peace keeping missions between cattlemen and farmers (who fought to keep cattle off of their crops) was primarily responsible for making expansion of the cattle empire possible. The Buffalo Soldiers were also the primary force that helped stop Indian attacks on cattlemen moving up the Chisholm Trail. The Congressional Act of July 28, 1866 established two Black infantry regiments and two Calvary regiments. All four saw continuous service in the West during the three decades following the Civil War. The Black Calvary fought in almost every part of the West from Mexico to Montana. Both General Miles and General Merritt praised their black troops as “courageous, skilled, intelligent, and brave in battle.”
It should not be surprising that Black men were among the best horse riders in the Old West because they were traditionally responsible for the care and maintenance of horses while working as stable boys, trainers, and jockeys. In fact, thirteen of the fourteen jockeys who participated in the first running of the Kentucky Derby were Black. Moreover, from 1875 until 1902 Black jockeys won eleven Kentucky Derby titles. Isaac Murphy, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1884, 1890, and 1891, was recognized as America’s finest rider during the last two decades of the 19th century. Forty years passed before Earl Sande tied his record of three Kentucky Derby titles. Black jockeys continued their outstanding performances until racism barred them from the racetracks and replaced them with White jockeys.
In July 1876, the booming new town of Deadwood, South Dakota, decided to have a roping contest to settle once and for all who was the best roping cowboy. Contestants came from miles around to win the $200 prize. A Black cowboy named Nat Love, who subsequently wrote his autobiography, was several minutes faster than his nearest competition. With the roping contest completed, a dispute soon arose over who was the best marksman. Nat Love also won the subsequent shooting contest by placing all fourteen of his rifle shots in the bull’s eye target at 150 yards. In addition to the prize money, Nat Love was given the title “Deadwood Dick” which he carried with “honor” ever after.
Bill Pickett is credited with having originated the sport of “bulldogging.” Bulldogging is defined as “throwing a steer by seizing the horns and twisting the neck.” According to Bill Pickett’s boss, Zack Miller who owned the 101 Ranch, “Bill Pickett was the greatest sweat and dirt cowhand that ever lived - bar none.” The Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch later became famous for putting on one of the finest rodeos in the world and played in such places as Chicago, New York, London, and Mexico City. One of their greatest attractions was Bill Pickett who would actually bring down steers with only his teeth.
As the agricultural frontier moved west, the open range was transformed into farms with barbed-wire boundaries, which significantly reduced the public domain for cattle trails. The long cattle drives also gradually declined as the railroads built branch lines into large Texas cities. By 1890, the legendary era of the cowboy was over, except in fictional novels where Black cowboys completely vanished from their role as self-reliant and masterful heroes of the Old West.
For more information you probably never knew, click on the following link. Better yet, click on the link with your kids, nephews, grandchildren, etc. Don't let TRUE history be wiped away or distorted by HIS-STORY.
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