The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #81179   Message #2553216
Posted By: Azizi
30-Jan-09 - 04:50 PM
Thread Name: African American Secular Folk Songs
Subject: RE: African American Secular Folk Songs
Ditto what Susan said about the great resource that is Mudcat.

However, for the record, while it appears that by virtue of the demands of that role, there was far less segregation for African American cowboys than there was for many other Black Americans at that time, Black cowboys and of other Black people who lived in the pioneer American West did experience some discriminatory treatment.

For more on that subject, see this excerpt from this online article:

..."The two best general works on African American cowboys, however, explode the myth that there were no (or almost no) blacks on the western ranches, ranges, and cattle trails. In 1965 two University of California at Los Angeles English professors, Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones, published a book called The Negro Cowboys. They estimated that there were at least five thousand black cowhands in the late nineteenth-century American West. Four years later, University of Oregon history professor, Kenneth Wiggins Porter, argued that the number was closer to eight thousand or nine thousand--about 25 per cent--of the 35,000 or so cowboys who worked in the frontier cattle industry. (6)

Moreover, Porter argued that the conditions black cowboys experienced on western ranches and cattle drives were--from economic and social standpoints--much better than those of blacks in the South. He wrote that "[d]uring the halcyon days of the cattle range, Negroes there frequently enjoyed greater opportunities for a dignified life than anywhere else in the United States.... The skilled and handy Negro probably had a more enjoyable, if a rougher, existence as a cowhand then [sic] he would have had as a sharecropper or laborer in the South. Certainly, however, racial discrimination occurred on the cattle frontier. Blacks could not stay in white hotels, eat in white restaurants, or patronize white prostitutes. Blacks were almost required to avoid trouble with whites because prejudice might lead to more violent confrontations than would be the case if race were not a factor. Moreover, blacks were rarely promoted to the exalted position of trail boss. .Nevertheless, wages for blacks and whites were generally equal, the two groups of cowhands shared bunkhouses, and they worked and ate side-by-side. (7)

Other authors also have maintained that there was little prejudice among cowboys because ranch and trail crews stuck together. And, certainly, it was often the case that blacks and whites worked together in the western cattle industry. White cowboys would often defend their black co-workers from other whites who tried to start trouble. Because most cattle herds rarely exceeded twenty-five hundred in number, only a few drovers were needed to get them to market. According to Durham and Jones, "an average crew contained about eleven men: the trail boss, eight cowboys, a wrangler, and a cook." The boss was almost always white, but two or three of the cowboys, the wrangler, and the cook might typically be black. A few blacks, however, did become ranch and trail bosses. Moreover, several African American cowboys--whether bosses or not--have become fairly well known to historians of the subject. (8)

African American cowboys on the western frontier
Negro History Bulletin , Jan-Dec, 2001   by Roger D. Hardaway

[Italics added by me for emphasis]


For those interested in reading more about this subject, see this online listing of books from Black Pioneers, Settlers, Cowboys and Outlaws

"During the western migration, during the period we call the "Wild West", 1 in 3 cowboys was either Black or Mexican. Hollywood seems to have left a third of the cowboy population out of its hundreds of cowboy movies. Maybe they just didn't know better.
Most of the information here is from the wonderful book, "The Black West" by William Loren Katz, published in 1987 by Ethrac Publications, Inc.

Other souces of information about Black cowboys and settlers are, "Black California, The History of African-Americans in the Golden State", by B. Gordon Wheeler, and "The Negro in American History" series by Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation.

A great book about Black cowboys is "The Negro Cowboy" by Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones. It has great stories, photographs, maps and illustrations as well as an extensive bibliography.

This is not a comprehensive listing, but represents some of the most colorful and obscure Black men and women who helped tame "The Wild West".

By the way, if you're in Colorado or planning a trip there, stop by the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver."


That website also has short biographical notes on various famous Black cowboys, settlers, pioneers, and outlaws.