SOME MORE BLACK COWBOY’S
Hollywood and popular fiction has in the most part ignored the roll of blacks in the settelment of the west. The entertainment media has for years been geared to the white pocketbook, so most of the attention has been centered on the roles of the white individuals. Fact be known, depending on who you are reading, one in every three cowboys were black, some say three out of five, but that is so near the same there is no need to fight over the numbers. In the days of the trail drives, the cowboy was an underpaid, over worked young man. By the time of the big herds so many slaves had been freed and were seeking employment that this cheap labor pool was readily available.
While we are in this area let me again explain that the term “Cowboy” was one the trail hands felt to be an insult. The people who worked at the loading pens at the end of the drives were not the men who drove the cattle up from Texas or wherever. The work at the pens was below the drovers, although the movies depict them as what we view as cowboys today. Once the herd was sold, it was out of the Cowhand’s hands. For the most part the loaders were blacks, as the pay was poor and hard, and in those days a black worker was commonly called a boy, hence “cowboy.”
In the same slang a “cowpuncher” was a man who stood over the loading chutes on a platform and prodded the cattle up the ramps with long poles. Thus also a insult to a cowhand.
All that said, let’s look at a few noted black hands.
Nate Love was another born slave who headed west after gaining his freedom. Nate soon found a Texas outfit which had delivered its herd and was ready to return to Texas. There were several good black cowboys in the outfit. After hearing some of their stories , Nate asked the boss for a job. After some recommendations from the other cowboys the boss said he could have a job – IF he could break the worst horse in the string. Bronco Jim, another black cowboy, gave Nate some pointers. Nate rode the horse and claimed later in life that it was the worst ride he ever made. He got the job.
The work was very hard. Nate rode hailstorms only strong men could stand them. The first time he met hostile Indians, he stood his ground – because he later admitted he was to scared to run. After a few such drives he learned the ways of the cattle country and became a top hand.
Nate had a forty-five and took every opportunity to practice with it, eventually became very good with it. There came the time when could out shoot most of his friends.
Nate left the Texas Panhandle for Arizona where got a job working on the Gila River. He had ridden many trails in the southwest and believed he was a capable cowboy. Working with Mexican vaqueros, he polished his talent even more and learned to speak Spanish like a native. He could soon read any brand on the range.
In the spring the outfit Nate rode for took a contract to drive a herd of three thousand steers to Deadwood City in the Dakota territory. They arrived in July just in time for the forth of July celebration. The gamblers and miners had goten together a $200 purse for a contest. Out of the dozen or so men entered in the contest six were black. They had to rope, bridle, saddle and ride a mustang to the finish line in the shortest time. Nate accomplished his in exactly nine minutes, the next closest time, also from a black man, was twelve. Only the meanest horses available were used in this event.
In the rifle shooting event at 100 and 250 yards, Nate shot all his targets in the bulls eye and wih the pistol he shot 10 of 12 in the black, winning both events.
Nate was declared the winner and earned the title of “Deadwood Dick”.
Nate “Deadwood Dick” Love loved to stretch and spin a tall tale, “mostly about himself”.
Sam claimed he could ride anything with hair – I don’t know if this included caterpillars and skunks or not. His crew had just completed a drive to Cheyenne, and they thought to test his skill. They roped the biggest longhorn in the herd, slapped a saddle on it, and dared Sam to ride it though the streets of Cheyenne. Sam immediately liked the idea. Heading down the main street of town with the crew whooping and hollering and swinging knotted ropes to drive the bucking steer along.
Sam’s mount was frantic. It was a frightened, wild-eyed steer pitching and bawling. Suddenly it saw itself reflected in the glass window of the clothing store, it stopped and pawed the ground, then charged right through the window, down the aisles over the counters, through shelves. Clerks and coustmers alike were diving for any cover they could find, while the steer continued to reek havoc to the clothing racks. Finally the enraged animal charged out the same way it had entered.
Sam still was in the saddle while from the steers horns fluttering in the wild breeze were pants, coats, underwear and other odds and ends of gear. The steer was still jumping and bucking as the cowboys closed in to drive it toward the herd. Sam still in the saddle shouted “I brought out a suit of clothes for everybody in the crew.”
Sam still calm and collected roped his horse and they all headed back to town. The reception they received from the store owner was cold, peppered with warmer words. An unruffled Sam inquired as to what the damages were. The shopkeeper got his books and tallied up the damages. When the shopkeeper said he thought $350 would cover it. Sam smiled and never batted an eye as he peeled off the amount and handed it over.
Sam allowed as how he figured the experience was worth the price. He later went to work for a ranch near Cheyenne, where he was afforded a respectable amount of awe.
Another Black Bronc Rider was Jesse Stall. After making an extraordinary ride in a Oregon rodeo in the early 1900’s, he was awarded second place. Everyone knew he should have been afforded first but it was clear that skin color had been a factor in the ranking. To protest the judge’s decision, Jesse requested a second ride. When the chute opened and the bronc bucked out Jesse was seated backwards on the saddle holding a suit case in his free hand.
From 1905 to 1931, He was a member of the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show. In the tradition of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Shows, the 101 Ranch Show introduced the Bulldogging Event invented by Bill Pickett. When Bill was working on a ranch he once became frustrated at the stubbornness of a steer and he jumped along side the steers head and grabbed it by the horns and began to try to twist it to the ground. Not having much success he suddenly bit the steers lower lip in the same manner as the Bulldog’s do to subdue the angry steers. Bill was able to force the animal to it’s side. This is how the sport got it’s name. As the sport took hold the biting of the lip became less popular and eventually disappeared, but the name remains to day.
Bill was the second of thirteen children born to Thomas Jefferson Pickett and Mary Elisabeth( Gilbert), both former slaves. Bill began his career as a cowboy after completing the fifth grade. Bill soon was giving exhibitions of his riding, roping and bulldogging skills and passing the hat afterwards for donations.
Bill preformed in the Cheyenne Frontier Days (Americas most celebrated rodeo). In 1904 his demonstration was considered extraordinary and spectacular. He signed on with the 101 Ranch West Show in 1905. He then moved his family, wife Mary and children, to Oklahoma.
Bill preformed in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, and England. Had he not been banned from competing against white cowboys in competition, he might have become one of the greatest rodeo cowboys in the sport. He often entered competitions as Indian or some other ethnic group other than black.
At the Madison Square Garden show, New York, Bill gave a demonstration of Bulldogging unsurpassed today. By this time a hazer was used to keep the bull running in a straight course. A hazzer rides on the right side of a bull just at it’s head to keep it running in a straight line. On this occasion the bull decided not to cooperate. It veered off to the side, ignoring the hazer and headed for the fence. Leaping the fence, it headed up the aisle – scattering the onlookers in the stands who were scrambling for saftey. Right beside it was Bill Picket and the hazer on the other side. After charging up three rows the steer turned and headed back to the arena. In pursuit and right behind came the hazer and Picket. Once in the arena Bill dropped on the steers neck and wrestled it to the ground – to the mad cheers of the gleeful crowd that had not scattered. I might mention here that the persistent hazer was a then unknown Will Rogers, who would later become Americas most beloved humorist.
Bill Pickett served in the National Guard and was a Deacon of his Baptist Church. Bill Pickett Died April 2, 1932, after being kicked in the head by a horse he was trying to break. His friend – The now famous humorist Will Rogers – announced Bill’s death on his radio show.
Bill has been inducted in to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, The Prorodeo Hall of Fame, and Museum of the American cowboy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A postage stamp has been issued in his honor.
Today there are a number of Black Cowboy competitions in the various events – Bulldogging, Calf and Steer roping, Bronc and Bull Riding. I occasionally watch the Pro Bull Riders when I can find it on TV and there are some Black riders who have worked their way into the top standings.
Addison was one of the cowboys who rode the Goodnight Loving Trail in New Mexico. He managed to stay out of the range feuds. Add usually was a range boss for the LFD outfit, and he most often had a crew of south Texas black cowboys.
Howard Thorp a cowboy songwriter and collector of ballads said “Add was one of the best cowhands on the Pecos River.” Cowmen from Tozah, Texas, to Las Vegas, New Mexico knew him and had worked roundups with him amany times.
Add’s experience as a range boss had made him an expert. And he became famous among the cattlemen of the southwest and eventually he became the subject of a song. Thorp said, ” the song concerns a critter found on one round up and claimed by no one.” Addison was a walking dictionary on earmarks and brands. However, he was puzzled by this one and he read the tally of brands: She’s got OBlock an’ Lightin’ Rod, Nine Forty-Six an’ A Bar Eleven, Rafter Cross An’ dedouble prod, Terrapinn an’ Ninety_Seven; Half Circle A an’ Three PZ; BWL, Barxvv, Bar N Cross an’ AlC. Since none of the punchers claimed the critter, Add said, “I’ll just add my oun brand, cause one more brand more or less won’t do no harm.”
Mr. Add told a Friend he was going to get married on Christmas Day and the news spread like a praire fire. All the ranchers knew and liked Add so each decided to send a present. And all were piratical people, it seems like all decided on the same gift. When Mr. Add and his new bride rode to the Roswell Freight Depot on their wedding day they found 19 cook stoves waiting for them.
An ex-slave from Texas, John Ware followed the expansion of the Cattle ranching industry into the west. In 1882 he found his way to the foothills of Alberta, after driving 300 head of cattle for the North-West Cattle Company. He had earned a reputation as a cowman who drove himself as hard as the cattle. His remarkable horsemanship was such that his friends claimed no horse could throw John Ware.
His talent for ranching enabled him to build up a sizable cattle operation of his own. He became one of the best loved and respected frontier pioneers, and one of the most famous cowboys in Canadian history. Before his death he saw his beloved prarie change from a wilderness to more than 30,000 homesteads in the newly created providence of Alberta.
In September of 1905 John Ware was killed when his horse stumbled and fell on him killing him instantly.
Bose was another cowboy born into slavery in Tennessee. While still a child, the slave holder took the youth to Texas to work on his ranch. There Bose learned to ride, rope and work cattle. When he obtained his freedom he hired out to Oliver Loving. When Loving was killed fighting Comanchies, Bose hired out to Loving’s partner and friend Charles Goodnight.
Goodnight said of Bose, “Bose surpasses any man I had in endurance and stamina. There was a dignity, a cleanness and reliability about him that was wonderful. His behavior was very good in a fight and he was probably the most devoted man to me that I ever knew. He was my banker, my detective, and everything else in Colorado, New Mexico and the other wild country. The nearest and only bank was in Denver, and when we carried money, I gave it to Bose, for a thief would never think of robbing him.”
It is stated the character Joshua Deets – portrayed by Danny Glover in the Lonesome Dove – is based on Bose Ikard. The Lonesome Dove Trail drive is loosely biased on the lives of Goodnight and Loving, (According to one author I researched, I don’t know what Larry McMurtry has to say about that).
“Bose Ikard served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me many stampede’s, participated in three engagements with Comanches, splendid behavior.”
A similar reading is done in Lonesome Dove over Deets grave when he is buried.
Bose Ikard died in 1929 at the age of 85 . Goodnight had a granite marker erected at his grave. Bose is buried in the Weatherford Cemetery in Wetherford, Texas.
This ends my foray into the history of the black cowboy. I hope I have shown that there is more to “old west” history than the entertainment media has shown. There were many all-black towns established across the west, although few of the survived. Several good movies have been produced with mostly all-black cast in principal leads notable “Posse” and “Buck and The Preacher”
The history of the Wild West we love so much is not just written in black and white
there is a lot of color in it like the painted desert
black, white, red, brown and yellow.
And it is not just cows and buffalo – It’s timber, grain, mines and steam, to name some.
Let’s keep rambling – so long for now.