The image of the 1800’s American cowboy isn’t typically thought of having an African American ethnic background. Recently I stumbled across a few tidbits of historical information on black cowboys and the important role these men played in the Wild West. I was bothered by the lack of images of these men in our history books, movies, and lack of attention placed on this part of our American story.
Black cowboys worked on ranches, handled cattle, tamed horses, and encountered outlaws. There were approximately 5,000 to 8,000 black cowboys in the Wild West that were part of the legendary cattle drives of the 1800’s.
Many were born into slavery and after emancipation continued to work on ranches. Thousands rode the cattle trails heading to the north.
They had to face bigotry, however, some found that they experienced less discrimination on the open range. Cowboys depended on each other regardless of their ethnic background.
I listed some of the famous African-American men who made a name for themselves as cowboys in the 1800’s.
Bill Pickett – Born in 1870 near Taylor, Pickett was one of 13 children. He worked as a ranch hand at a young age and went on to be a successful cowboy. He invented “bulldogging,” and became a star at Wild West shows. Pickett died in 1932. In 1971, he became the first African American inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Nat Love – Born a slave on a Tennessee plantation in 1854, Love eventually became a cowboy in Dodge City and the Texas Panhandle. He possessed excellent horse riding and shooting skills. In 1876, after winning several contests at a rodeo in Deadwood, South Dakota, he was given the nickname “Deadwood Dick.” In 1907, he wrote an autobiography titled, “Life and Adventures of Nat Love.” He died in 1921.
Bose Ikard – Born a slave in Mississippi in 1847, Ikard was brought to Texas when he was five. Growing up, he learned to rope and ride. He later rode with well-known cattlemen like Charles Goodnight and John Chisum. Ikard inspired the character portrayed by Danny Glover in Lonesome Dove. He died in 1829.
Addison Jones – Uncertainty surrounds Jones’ exact birthplace and birth date, but he was born around 1845 in Gonzales or Hays County. An experienced range boss, he was skilled at roping and breaking horses, and was described as “the most noted Negro cowboy that ever ‘topped off’ a horse.” He died in 1926.
Today, black cowboys and cowgirls continue the western tradition as ranch owners and workers, preserving a way of life in American history. This is only the tip of a long, rich tapestry of history, so I encourage you to find more information on this seldom talked of part of history.
Note: I was unable to find a picture of Addison Jones.
Lianna loves spending time writing, reading, drinking coffee, and hanging out with her family and friends.