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The history of Texas cowboys

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 Americanswent 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.

Portrait of Daniel W. (80 John) Wallace
Portrait of Daniel W. (80 John) Wallace. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

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.

John Brown Cowhand
Photograph of John Brown, Cowhand. Image courtesy of Texas Coastal Bend Collection. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Mollie Stevenson
Photo of Mollie Stevenson, who established the American Cowboy Museum. Image available on the Internetand included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Black cowboys have continued to work in the ranching industry throughout the twentieth century, and African Americans who inherited family-owned ranches have attempted to bring public recognition to the contributions of their ancestors. Mollie Stevenson, a fourth-generation owner of the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch near Houston, founded the American Cowboy Museum to honor black, Indian, and Mexican-American cowboys. Weekend rodeos featuring black cowboys began in the late 1940s and continue to be popular. These contests owe their existence to the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association, formed in 1947 by a group of East Texas black businessmen-ranchers and cowboys.

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