Black Cowboys

The cowboy, one of America’s most enduring cultural icons, has become identified with the white gunslinger in the popular imagination. However, at the height of the cattle ranching period, in the 19th century, over one-third of cowboys were African American. Black cowboy culture still thrives, and yet remains little known to the general public and is essentially unheard of outside the United States. This marginalization was primarily the result of both official and unofficial segregation in competitive rodeos, as well as Hollywood’s commercially-driven exclusion of black cowboys from mainstream Western genre films and television. Black cowboy culture calls for a reconsideration of traditional static cowboy iconography. Black cowboys have formed an evolving culture and style that blends the archetypal cowboy image, alongside the ranch hand, with hip-hop and soul influences, and outperforms the filmic stereotypes.

The term cowboy is reputed to have originated on slave plantations, where jobs had titles like “houseboy,” “fieldboy,” and “cowboy.” After abolition, the independence provided by the demanding but dignified cowboy lifestyle was preferable to sharecropping for many freed men and women. Riding techniques adapted from Native Americans were combined with knowledge of animal husbandry and cow herding skills, which many trace back to African traditions. In the world of competitive rodeos, even famous Black cowboys such as Bill Pickett — the inventor of “bull dogging,” a popular steer wrestling event — were either excluded from participating with white cowboys, or were given time to compete after the close of the main events. This segregation created the need for a separate African American rodeo culture.

Across the United States, Black riding clubs meet regularly and hold trail rides, backyard jackpot rodeo competitions, and charity events. Other activities include various Black rodeo leagues, including The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, The Real Cowboy Association, and The Cowboys of Color Invitational Rodeo. Competitions take place year round and are increasingly popular and inclusive, blurring the lines between professional cowboy and enthusiast, country and urban culture, as well as southern and northern traditions. Besides the display of horsemanship skills, an important part of the Black cowboy, or cowgirl, lifestyle involves communal fellowship and mentorship of children. These rodeo activities provide an opportunity to reunite families and introduce young people to their cultural history as well as the land that was left behind after the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South, in the early 20th century.

Andrea Robbins and Max Becher 2008-2016

End of Trail Ride, Cleveland, TX
Woman Rider, Bynes Trail Ride, Swainboro, GA
Young Smoking Man, McKnight Trail Ride, Beaumont, TX
Young Man in White T-shirt, Swainsboro, GA
Young Man with Head Scarf, McKnight Trail Ride, Beaumont, TX
Woman Rider, McKnight Trail Ride, Beaumont, TX
Young Man and Boy, McKnight Trail Ride, Beaumont, TX
Young Man with Du-Rag, Bynes Trail Ride, Swainsboro, GA
Man with Brown Shirt and White Hat, Good Ol' Boyz Trailride, Arnaudville, LA
Two Men with Cowboy Hat and Baseball Cap, Good Ol' Boyz Trailride, Arnaudville, LA
Tamara Lewis & Sylvester Keith, Bynes Trail Ride, Swainsboro, GA
Cowboy, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Los Angeles, CA
Circle 44 Wagon, Houston, TX
Allen Johnson Trail Boss, OTC Riding Club, Houston, TX
Cowboy, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Los Angeles
Moment of Prayer in Red Wagon, Bynes Trail Ride, Swainsboro, GA
Rider, Peewee LeBlanc Jackpot, Okmulgee, OK
Florida Cowboy, Little Pig Foot Rodeo, Williston, FL
Fred Whitfield, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Phoenix, AZ
Tuffy Perry, Little Pig Foot Rodeo, Williston, FL
Dismounting Horse, Laday’s Arena, Lovelady, TX
Relay Rider, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Washington, DC
Farshot, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Los Angeles, CA
Fabrice Lane, Clarence Leblanc Jackpot, Okmulgee, OK
Paul Wallace, Little Pig Foot Rodeo, Williston, FL
Chase Crane, Clarence Leblanc Jackpot, Okmulgee, OK
Rider I, Laday’s Arena, Lovelady, TX
Donal Goodman, Clarence Leblanc Jackpot, Okmulgee, OK
Dexter Goodman, Clarence Leblanc Jackpot, Okmulgee, OK
Chase Crane II, Clarence Leblanc Jackpot, Okmulgee, OK
Steer Wrestling, Clarence Leblanc Jackpot, Okmulgee, OK
Rider III, Laday’s Arena, Lovelady, TX
Rider II, Laday’s Arena, Lovelady, TX
Rider IV, Laday’s Arena, Lovelady, TX
Trampled Rider, Fort Worth Stock Show – Cowboys of Color-Rodeo, Fort Worth, TX
Jonny Allen, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Oakland, CA
Sadaria Owens & Greg Lanier, Swainsboro, GA
Billy Ray Thunder & Thad Heard, Oakland, CA
Glynn Turman, Grand Marshall of Bill Pickett Rodeo, Los Angeles, CA
Cowboy, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Los Angeles, CA
Blacksmith, Bruno’s Triangle, Houston, TX
Relaxing Man, Juneteenth Trail Ride, Lil Henry’s Place, Beaumont, TX
Mr. Wallace owner/organizer of Little Pig Foot Rodeo, Williston, FL
Ellis “Mountain Man” Harris, New York Federation of Black Cowboys, Queens, NY
Four Horsemen Riding Club, Shelby, NC
Ebony Horsemen, Shelby, NC
Georgia Boyz Saddle Club, Shelby, NC
Brotherhood of Riders, Los Angeles, CA
Family Group, Swainsboro, GA
Four Cowgirls in Black, Janetta Blanding, Jeanette Bellinger (twins), Sharia Na’en and mother, Ciandra-Na’en, Swainsboro, GA
Three Men on Horses, Good Ol' Boyz Trailride, Arnaudville, LA
Two Riders Along Highway, Bounce Back Trail Ride, Welsh, LA, 2015
Two Boys, Good Ol' Boyz Trailride, Arnaudville, LA
Couple, Swainsboro, GA
Clifford Salter, Los Angles, CA
Older Man with Yellow Riding Glove, Circle 44 Trail Ride, Houston, TX
Kareem, Harlem, NY
Ebony Horseman, Shelby, NC
Alabama Cowboy, Williston, FL
Sylvester Miller, Brotherhood of Riders, Los Angeles, CA
Lee Allen, Ebony Horseman Trail Ride, Shelby, NC
Man with Sunglasses, Laday’s Arena, Lovelady, TX
Older Couple, McKnight Roping Jackpot, Beaumont, TX
“Uncle” Ben “Tex” Miller and Jesse Wise, Federation of Black Cowboys, Queens, NY
Cowgirl Relay Racers, Bill Pickett Rodeo, Los Angeles, CA
Joe Coleman, Bounty Hunter’s Club, Ebony Horseman Trail Ride, Shelby, NC
Injured Bull Rider, Jimmy Patterson, Bill Picket LA Finals, Los Angeles, CA
Black Native American Cowboy, McKnight Trail Ride, Beaumont, TX
Joel Russian, Ebony Horseman Trail Ride, Shelby, NC

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