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The Myth That The West Was White

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A History Of Black Cowboys And The Myth That The West Was White

 

An exhibition on view at The Studio Museum in Harlem hopes to retire the persistent myth equating cowboys with whiteness.

Brad Trent, "Ellis 'Mountain Man' Harris from 'The Federation of Black Cowboys'" series for The Village Voice, 2016 ink

Brad Trent, “Ellis ‘Mountain Man’ Harris from ‘The Federation of Black Cowboys’” series for The Village Voice, 2016 ink jet print, 22 × 30 in., courtesy the artist

 

 

Quote

 

A quick internet search of “American cowboy” yields a predictable crop of images. Husky men with weathered expressions can be seen galloping on horseback. They’re often dressed in denim or plaid, with a bandana tied ‘round their neck and a cowboy hat perched atop their head. Lassos are likely being swung overhead. And yes, they’re all white. 

 

Contrary to what the homogenous imagery depicted by Hollywood and history books would lead you to believe, cowboys of color have had a substantial presence on the Western frontier since the 1500s. In fact, the word “cowboy” is believed by some to have emerged as a derogatory term used to describe Black cowhands.

 

An ongoing photography exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem celebrates the legacy of the “Black Cowboy” while chronicling the unlikely places around the country where cowboy culture thrives today. Through their photographs, artists like Brad Trent, Deanna Lawson and Ron Tarver work to retire the persistent myth that equates cowboys with whiteness. 

 

In the 1870s and ’80s, the Village Voice reports, approximately 25 percent of the 35,000 cowboys on the Western Frontier were black. And yet the majority of their legacy has been whitewashed and written over. 

 

One notable example of this erasure manifests in the story of Bass Reeves, a slave in Arkansas in the 19th century who later became a deputy U.S. marshal, known for his ace detective skills and bombastic style. (He often disguised himself in costume to fool felons and passed out silver dollars as a calling card.) Some have speculated that Reeves was the inspiration for the fictional Lone Ranger character.

Most people remain unaware of the black cowboy’s storied, and fundamentally patriotic, past. “When I moved to the East Coast, I was amazed that people had never heard of or didn’t know there were black cowboys,” photographer Ron Tarver said in an interview with The Duncan Banner. “It was a story I wanted to tell for a long time.” 

 

In 2013 Tarver set out to document black cowboy culture, in part as a tribute to his grandfather, a cowboy in Oklahoma in the 1940s. “He worked on a ranch and drove cattle from near Braggs to Catoosa.” Another artist, Brad Trent, shot striking black-and-white portraits of members of the Federation of Black Cowboys in Queens, New York, an organization devoted to telling the true story of black cowboys’ heritage while providing educational opportunities for local youth to learn from the values and traditions of cowboy life.

 

Kesha Morse, the FBC president, described their mission as using “the uniqueness of horses as a way to reach inner-city children and expose them to more than what they are exposed to in their communities.”

 

Trent’s images capture how much has changed for black cowboys, who now dwell not only on the Western Front but on the city streets of New York and in rodeos held in state prisons. Yet certain values of cowboy culture remain intact. For Morse, it’s the importance of patience, kindness and tolerance.

We would add: and a very cool hat. 

 

 “Black Cowboy” runs until March 5, 2017, at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

 

 

 

Too bad this isn't a traveling exhibit.

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I read they were mostly newly freed ex-slaves with little or no education and few ties to their former life.

My friend, The Lone Paladin, of the Wild Turkey Posse, is one who perpetuates their memory, here in Canada.

30.jpg

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I've been told that about 1 in 6 was Mexican, too.

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Some of ours were indians (native Americans).

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https://blackcowboys.com/black-cowboys/bill-pickett-invented-the-sport-of-bulldogging/

 

 

He would bite the lips of the steer to inflict pain and bring 'em down!!

Edited by Rye Miles #13621
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And the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer...
The actual Old West was a far cry from the Hollywood version.

 

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1 hour ago, bgavin said:

And the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer...
The actual Old West was a far cry from the Hollywood version.

 

The actual old west is also a  far cry from the crap on the internet as well.

 

When you do a  search of "Cowboys of the Old West" half the crap that comes up is about criminals of the old west. 

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=cowboys+of+the+old+west&rlz=1C1CHBD_enUS839US839&oq=cowboys+of+the+old+west&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l7.5483j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

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1 hour ago, bgavin said:

And the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer...
The actual Old West was a far cry from the Hollywood version.

 

The Marlboro man was no reflection on Hollywood, it was a marketing scheme!

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How about the bull lip biting rodeo performer?   :P

 

Everyone smoked into the 1960s!  :angry:

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Italians too!! John Martin was with Custer, Giovanni Martini!! ( he Americanized his name) Luckily he wasn’t with him at the Battle if Little Bighorn .

Edited by Rye Miles #13621
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C'mon now guys... next you'll be telling me 'Wild Bill' Hickock and Billy the Kid never owned any Winchester 92s. :huh:

 

I'm sure most historians would agree that if we were to take a time machine back to the Old West most of us would find it pretty dull. Not much going on except people trying find a new place to settle down, survive the wrath of Mother Nature each year and find work wherever they could. The stories of outlaws and hostile Indians roaming around were greatly exaggerated except for a few known bad areas.

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Sons of the San Joaquin....

 

 

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I met a relative of Nat Love in Nashville several years ago. Nat Love was born in Davidson County(now nashville) in 1854.

 

Imis both interesting guys

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1 minute ago, Sedalia Dave said:

The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys

One in four cowboys was black. So why aren’t they more present in popular culture?

 

Quite obviously the bigotry present in early 1900s stage and film, continuing into late 20th Century Hollywood had a lot to do with that. In modern times we still haven't seen blacks represented well in Westerns, with the few films out there mostly being revisionist garbage like Django Unchained.

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4 hours ago, Smuteye John SASS#24774 said:

There were Jewish folk out West, too.

 

Ever hear of Jim Levy?

His parents were supposedly from Ireland! (Not all Irishmen and women were Christian.  The late Lord Mayor of Dublin, Bobby Briscoe was Jewish.)  Jim Levy was described as a "pistoliferous gambler", as deadly or deadlier than Wild Bill!  He supposedly left Deadwood after killing a man.  He was later killed down in Arizona by someone who shot him with a shotgun, apparently afraid to face him with a sixgun.

 

Hyman Levinson, alias Charles Goldman, ran away from home and enlisted in the 7th Cavalry, one of "Custer's Avengers".  He later transferred to the 5th Cav., and during the S-A War was employed as a civilian teamster, with a recommendation for employment by Gen. Nelson Miles!

 

And Sig Schlesenger was at the Battle of Beecher Island.  Maj. Sandy Forsyth wrote a poem about him:  "When the foe charged on the breastworks with the madness of despair, And the bravest of souls was tested, the little Jew was there." 

 

Otto Mears built wagon toll roads and railroads in Colorado.  Ute chief Ouray would talk only to him because Mears took the trouble to learn the Ute language!

Bunch more, but not enough bandwidth.

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2 hours ago, Trailrider #896 said:

His parents were supposedly from Ireland! (Not all Irishmen and women were Christian.  The late Lord Mayor of Dublin, Bobby Briscoe was Jewish.)  Jim Levy was described as a "pistoliferous gambler", as deadly or deadlier than Wild Bill!  He supposedly left Deadwood after killing a man.  He was later killed down in Arizona by someone who shot him with a shotgun, apparently afraid to face him with a sixgun.

 

Hyman Levinson, alias Charles Goldman, ran away from home and enlisted in the 7th Cavalry, one of "Custer's Avengers".  He later transferred to the 5th Cav., and during the S-A War was employed as a civilian teamster, with a recommendation for employment by Gen. Nelson Miles!

 

And Sig Schlesenger was at the Battle of Beecher Island.  Maj. Sandy Forsyth wrote a poem about him:  "When the foe charged on the breastworks with the madness of despair, And the bravest of souls was tested, the little Jew was there." 

 

Otto Mears built wagon toll roads and railroads in Colorado.  Ute chief Ouray would talk only to him because Mears took the trouble to learn the Ute language!

Bunch more, but not enough bandwidth.

Mr Levy had arranged a duel with a certain John Murphy of Tuscon.  Mr Murphy, upon hearing of Mr Levy's previous pistoliferous (that is such a cool term) exploits, gathered together a few friends and ambushed him.  All three were captured, escaped from the Pima County Jail, were recaptured and tried for the murder.  Murphy and one co-conspirator were found not guilty while the 3rd was found guilty and spent several years in the Yuma State Prison before being pardoned.

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Bones Hooks was another Black Cowboy that you don't hear much about:

 

http://www.cowboysofcolor.org/profile.php?ID=64

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I had a distant relative Uncle Tiner who ran a saloon in Silver City, ID and rolled miners.
He wasn't a black guy, but he did have big ears.

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The myth comes primarily from what we all knew and loved as kids....and still do, the Hollywood western. In the early days Hollywood was completely segregated, as was most of American society. The only black actors were cast in all black films, which were marketed exclusively to all black audiences. So for decades the only cowboys sen on the silver screen were Caucasian. There were exceptions like The Cisco Kid series but most non whites were relegated to comic roles.

The movie industry has had a far reaching effect on Americans and their perceptions of history unfortunately.

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Chinese didn't just run laundries, either.  They built the Central Pacific Railroad through the Sierras! 

 

Another character of the Hebrew persuasion was one-legged Jake Harris, who ran a saloon in Landusky, Montana.  Seems he had an argument with the local sheriff on the platform of the Great Falls railroad station.  Whether he was shot in the leg and had to have it amputated or fell off the platform and was run over by a train hasn't been established, but it caused him to stump around his establishment with a crutch...except on Saturday nights, when he tucked the butt of a long-barreled shotgun under his armpit!  He was also the postmaster in Landusky.  He kept the "post office" in a cigar box.  One day a postal inspector came in and demanded to see his records.  He told the man that there was the "records", in the box and if he didn't like it, he could take the "post office" with him!  The official left, sans "post office"!  Landusky, Montana, was named after its founder, Pike Landusky, an ex-coal miner from Pennsylvania.  He got into an argument with Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry, and beat Logan so badly the Kid had to be hospitalized for a  time. (The argument was over a woman...what else?)  Anyhow, when Logan got out of the hospital, he went into Harris' establishment.  Landusky came in, saw him and pulled an automatic pistol of some kind...possibly a Luger.  He had the Kid dead-to-rights, but either the gun misfired or Pike didn't know how to turn off the safety.  Whereupon, Logan pulled a Colt's Single Action, and shot Pike dead!

It took all kinds in the Old West.  Still does! B)

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10 hours ago, Trailrider #896 said:

Chinese didn't just run laundries, either.  They built the Central Pacific Railroad through the Sierras! 

 

Another character of the Hebrew persuasion was one-legged Jake Harris, who ran a saloon in Landusky, Montana.  Seems he had an argument with the local sheriff on the platform of the Great Falls railroad station.  Whether he was shot in the leg and had to have it amputated or fell off the platform and was run over by a train hasn't been established, but it caused him to stump around his establishment with a crutch...except on Saturday nights, when he tucked the butt of a long-barreled shotgun under his armpit!  He was also the postmaster in Landusky.  He kept the "post office" in a cigar box.  One day a postal inspector came in and demanded to see his records.  He told the man that there was the "records", in the box and if he didn't like it, he could take the "post office" with him!  The official left, sans "post office"!  Landusky, Montana, was named after its founder, Pike Landusky, an ex-coal miner from Pennsylvania.  He got into an argument with Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry, and beat Logan so badly the Kid had to be hospitalized for a  time. (The argument was over a woman...what else?)  Anyhow, when Logan got out of the hospital, he went into Harris' establishment.  Landusky came in, saw him and pulled an automatic pistol of some kind...possibly a Luger.  He had the Kid dead-to-rights, but either the gun misfired or Pike didn't know how to turn off the safety.  Whereupon, Logan pulled a Colt's Single Action, and shot Pike dead!

It took all kinds in the Old West.  Still does! B)

Different accounts about the weapon Jake Harris used for a crutch. Some say a sawed-off shotgun or a long barreled shotgun or a Winchester rifle.

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Isaiah Dorman (died June 25, 1876) was a former slave and a black Sioux who served as an interpreter for the United States Army during the Indian Wars. He perished at the Battle of Little Bighorn, the only black man killed in the fight.

 

image.png.648e8c2d8d4700e013b6de8246be18ff.png

 

7. death of isaiah dorman

 

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John Ware and my Grandad worked many Brandings Together ....

 

Jabez Cowboy

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1 hour ago, Grass Range said:

Different accounts about the weapon Jake Harris used for a crutch. Some say a sawed-off shotgun or a long barreled shotgun or a Winchester rifle.

Whatever it was, it would have had to have been long enough to serve as a crutch.  And it must have been handy enough to serve as a warning to potential troublemakers! :rolleyes:

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