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African-American Cowboys in Texas

African-American Cowboys in Texas (Illustration) American History Biographies Nineteenth Century Life Social Studies African American History

Although their names and stories are little-known today, many of the post-Civil-War cowboys, in Texas, were African-Americans.

The Texas State Historical Association provides some facts:

Black cowboys have been part of Texas history since the early nineteenth century, when they first worked on ranches throughout the state. A good many of the first black cowboys were born into slavery but later found a better life on the open range, where they experienced less open discrimination than in the city.

After the Civil War many were employed as horsebreakers and for other tasks, but few of them became ranch foremen or managers. Some black cowboys took up careers as rodeo performers or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others ultimately owned their own farms and ranches, while a few who followed the lure of the Wild West became gunfighters and outlaws.

Significant numbers of African Americans went on the great cattle drives originating in the Southwest in the late 1800s. Black cowboys predominated in ranching sections of the Coastal Plain between the Sabine and Guadalupe rivers.

A number of them achieved enviable reputations.

Bose Ikard, a top hand and drover for rancher Charles Goodnight, also served him as his chief detective and banker. Daniel W. (“80 John”) Wallace started riding the cattle trails in his adolescence and ultimately worked for cattlemen Winfield Scott and Gus O'Keefe. He put his accumulated savings toward the purchase of a ranch near Loraine, where he acquired more than 1,200 acres and 500 to 600 cattle. He was a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association for more than thirty years.

William Pickett made his name as one of the most outstanding Wild West rodeo performers in the country and is credited with originating the modern event known as bulldogging. He was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1971.

Black Cowboys of Texas, a book edited by Sara R. Massey, provides us with the names of many other black cowboys who worked in Texas during the 19th (and 20th) centuries.

The Texas State Historical Association, and other organizations, are gathering more primary-source information about this significant part of American history.  

This image, for example, reportedly depicts African-American cowboys in Bonham, Texas, during the 1890s.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 26, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016


Media Credits

Image, reportedly depicting African-American cowboys in Bonham, Texas, during the 1890s, online via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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