Thursday, September 4, 2014

Published 9:30 AM by with 2 comments

Heroes that we don’t talk about: Black cowboys

I was talking to my son about heroes that aren’t seen in every book. I try to buy him books that are factual and that also show that there were people that looked like me in different eras in this country’s history that made major contributions.

As a father I try to instill a sense of pride and self-worth into my children. My oldest isn’t lacking in either of those things. It behooves us to remember that the world doesn’t often portray the images that we would consider beneficial to cultivating a positive self-image.

It falls to us to supplement the imagery that the world shares. The good thing about the internet is that it make makes research a little easier, but the written page also holds some sway.

When the latest Lone Ranger movie was released recently, I told my son that that the character of the Lone was at least partially based on a Black man who was a literally a Lone Ranger. I also told him that there are many characters in the Old West that looked like him and were famous (in certain circles).

A few heroes you may not have heard of

Bass Reeves


Bass Reeves 

Was a former slave who was born in Arkansas in 1838. His family's owner moved to Texas before the Civil War. During the war Bass escaped and lived among the Creek, Seminole & Cherokee until the end of the Civil War. When Isaac (the Hanging Judge) Parker was appointed a Federal Judge over the Indian Territory, Bass was one of the 200 Marshall's that were appointed because he was fluent in several languages. He served for 32 years, was never wounded and arrested 1000’s of felons including his own son. He was an expert marksman, and was famous for putting the reins of horse in his mouth while shooting with both hands (John Wayne recreated the scene in True Grit) He died in 1910 in Muskogee Oklahoma. See: Bass Reeves (Wikipedia)

Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick

Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick

Was Born in Tennessee in 1854, His father and mother were slaves. His father taught him how to read. After the Civil War he farmed for several years.  He eventually headed to Dodge City Kansas to work as a cowboy. He won a Rodeo in Deadwood, South Dakota which is how he picked up his nickname. He was known for his fighting and shooting ability. He wrote about his adventures in 1907 “The Life and Adventures of Nat Love”. He later worked on the railroad. He died in 1921. See:  Nat Love (Wikipedia)

Stagecoach Mary

Mary Fields aka Stagecoach Mary

She was born a Slave in Tennessee in 1832. She is famous for being one of the only female mail delivery drivers and for her fighting and shooting ability. Mary stood 6ft tall and weighed 200 pounds. The fact that she was in her 60’s when she was hired proved how formidable she was. Mary held several jobs including laundress. When a customer refused to pay his bill she knocked him out, she was 72! See: Mary Fields (Black Cowboys)

Handbill from Bill Pickett's rodeo

Bill Pickett

Was Born in Texas in 1870. He is famous for his rodeo ability; he invented Bulldogging. He would actually jump off a horse's back onto the back of a steer, bite the steer on the lip, pull back and flip the steer. His roping ability was incredible and he created his own touring company with his brothers. He toured with Buffalo Bill, Will Rodgers & Tom Mix. After retiring from touring he died when he was kicked in the head by a horse in 1932. See: Bill Pickett (Wikipedia)

We are American History too

Sometimes you have to remind children that history did not happen in a vacuum. Despite what they may see or believe, we were and are a part of this country and its development. My son was not only surprised, he wanted to know more. So we continued to research little known historical tidbits.

We owe it to our ancestors to tell their collective stories instead of relying on having the stories told for us by people that may have no positive relationship to us.

*Dr. Headley*

Further reading:| America's black cowboys fight for their place in history


  1. Tell me how it turns out Bro. I watched just enough to determine that there's nothing of any real value there for me. Pimp and Hoe television,but I did get a big laugh off that brother trying to snatch that gas money out that girls hand though. Probably had every pimp in America just shaking his head with disgust. To me it's just sad to see persons given to so much talent and intellect reduced to such. But you know how I feel I like to see something portraying persons like yourself. I seen enough people flying into drama, show me those folks that know how rise to the challenge.

  2. Really great article Headley. I love learning more about parts of my history I'm not familiar with. The legacy of the cowboy in America seems unfairly diluted. Hopefully more stories about these amazing people come forward.