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The Black Cowboy

After the Civil War, a Black man being a Cowboy was one of the few jobs available. One in four cowboys w black. Freed blacks skilled in herding cattle found themselves in even greater demand when ranchers began selling their livestock in northern states, where beef was ten times more valuable than it was in cattle-inundated Texas. The lack of significant railroads in the state meant that enormous herds of cattle needed to be physically moved to shipping points in Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri. Rounding up herds on horseback, cowboys traversed unforgiving trails fraught with harsh environmental conditions and attacks from Native Americans defending their lands.

The Black Cowboy and woman significantly realized the ideal that is the American Dream - One of the most unsung, but necessary men and women in history that led to help settle the west. White cowboys were called cowhands, and African Americans were negatively referred to as “cowboys.” African American men being called “boy” regardless of their age stems from slavery and the plantation era in the South. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Of the 35,000 or so cowboys of the era, about 6,000 to 9,000 were Black. They worked as ropers, trail cooks, wranglers, and bronco busters.


According to INSP.com, "U.S. Marshals were instrumental in maintaining law and order in the Old West. Bass Reeves was the first African American Deputy U.S. Marshal to patrol the lawless Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Born into slavery, Reeves fled north from Texas during the Civil War and lived among the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole tribes, learning their ways and their languages.


In 1875 word reached U.S. Marshal James Fagan that Reeves was adept at speaking several Indian languages, and soon Reeves hung up the overalls and pinned on a badge. He served 32 years as a federal peace officer in Indian Territory and at retirement claimed to have arrested more than 3,000 felons."


According to Black Past, the earliest evidence of African Americans as cattle herders (cowboys) in North America can be traced back to colonial South Carolina, where stock grazers from what is now Senegal in West Africa were specifically brought to that colony because of their unique skills. They were brought to Spanish American colonies from Mexico to Argentina for similar reasons.






Enslaved Africans, who were Cowboys, migrated across the South and reached Texas by the 1850s. With one-third of the state’s population comprising enslaved workers, African Americans had the highest number of cowboys in Texas in the early 1850s. The range cattle industry expanded out of Texas after the Civil War, Black cowboys moved across the West along with it, working in every state and territory in the region with the largest numbers in Arizona Territory, California, Nevada, and New Mexico Territory.

They caught and tended wild cattle in the Gulf Coast brush country. Working with vaqueros who migrated north from Mexico, these herders often drove long trains of steers led by oxen.


After the Civil War, a Black man being a Cowboy was one of the few jobs available. One in four cowboys were black. Freed blacks skilled in herding cattle found themselves in even greater demand when ranchers began selling their livestock in northern states, where beef was ten times more valuable than it was in cattle-inundated Texas. The lack of significant railroads in the state meant that enormous herds of cattle needed to be physically moved to shipping points in Kansas, Colorado, and Missouri. Rounding up herds on horseback, cowboys traversed unforgiving trails fraught with harsh environmental conditions and attacks from Native Americans defending their lands.


African American cowboys faced discrimination in the towns they passed through—they were barred from eating at certain restaurants or staying in certain hotels, for example—but within their crews, they found respect and a level of equality unknown to other African Americans of the era.

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