Black Cowboys of Texas
African American Studies - Texas History
6 x 9, 382 pp.
22 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 12/06/2004
Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University
Price:        $29.95

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2000 T.R. Fehrenbach Book Award, presented by the Texas Historical Commission

Black Cowboys of Texas

Edited by Sara R. Massey

In the early days of Texas, the work of the cowhand was essential to the newly arrived settlers building a life on the frontier. The story of the Anglo cowboys who worked the ranches of Texas is well known, but much more remains to be discovered about the African American cowhands who worked side-by-side with the vaqueros and Anglo cowboys.

The cowboy learned his craft from the vaqueros of New Spain and Texas when it was the northern territory of Mexico, as well as from the stock raisers of the south. Such a life was hardly glamorous. Poorly fed, underpaid, overworked, deprived of sleep, and prone to boredom and loneliness, cowboys choked in the dust, were cold at night, and suffered broken bones in falls and spills from horses spooked by snakes or tripped by prairie dog holes. Work centered on the fall and spring roundups, when scattered cattle were collected and driven to a place for branding, sorting for market, castrating, and in later years, dipping in vats to prevent tick fever.

African American cowboys, however, also had to survive discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice. The lives of these cowhands tell a story of skill and grit, as they did what was necessary to gain the trust and respect of those who controlled their destiny. That meant being the best—at roping, bronc busting, taming mustangs, calling the brands, controlling the remuda, or topping off horses.

From scattered courthouse records, writings, and interviews with a few of the African American cowhands who were part of the history of Texas, Sara Massey and a host of writers have retrieved the stories of a more diverse cattle industry than has been previously recorded.

Twenty-five writers here recount tales of African Americans such as Peter Martin, who hauled freight and assisted insurgents in a rebellion against the Mexican government while building a herd of cattle that allowed him to own (through a proxy) rental houses in town. Bose Ikard, a friend of Charles Goodnight, went on Goodnight’s first cattle drive opening the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Johanna July, a Black Seminole woman, had her own method of taming horses in the Rio Grande for the soldiers at Fort Duncan.

These cowhands, along with others across the state, had an important role that too long has been omitted from most history books. By telling their stories, Black Cowboys of Texas provides an important contribution to Texas, Western, and African American history.

SARA R. MASSEY is a curriculum specialist at the Institute of Texan Cultures, University of Texas at San Antonio.

What Readers Are Saying:

“. . . an important step towards uncovering that often ignored part of the cowboy past. If there can be a single thesis in a book written by so many authors about so many people, it is that African Americans played a significant role in the cowboy experience, and their place in that experience should be better known and appreciated.” --The Journal of Southern History

“... authors have carefully researched their subjects and often provide vivid, exciting first-hand accounts describing the skill and grit of these extraordinary men. This is an interesting and important book that belongs in our libraries, for it uncovers some long neglected history.” --New York Daily Challenge

“This is one of those rare books that truly push the boundaries of the extant primary source material. . . . chapters successfully weave the scant information available about individuals into short, engaging profiles. . . . The collection’s main strength—its structure and thoughtful content—enables readers to differentiate between the larger dynamics of cowboys’ lives and the idiosyncratic details and personal circumstances which make for much enjoyable reading. Overall, the collection presents a more complete picture of cowboy life than any single biography of any of its subjects could render.” --Great Plains Quarterly

“Scholars and classroom teachers will find it valuable; a general readership will discover an inspiring record of achievement.” --The Journal of Arizona History

“Because of the unusual and unknown stories they tell, the articles in this book are all readable and enjoyable. Brought together in this volume, they provide a new perspective on Texas history and the history of the West.” --The Desert Candle

“From remarkably scarce documentation and interviews with elderly people, the authors of these rich little biographies have saved their subjects from extinction.” --Silver City Daily Press,

“Sara Massey’s volume is so well done that one need be neither black nor Texan to enjoy the book. Black Cowboys of Texas has the merit of expanding the horizons of two kinds of history, that of the cowboy as well as that of the African American.” --The Bloomsbury Review

“The cowboy, and his role in the ‘winning’ of the West, remains one of our enduring national myths. Recent historians have largely dispelled much of the romanticism surrounding cowboy life, but the significant role of African American cowboys has not been widely acknowledged. Massey is a curriculum specialist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has compiled a broad, interesting anthology that covers a variety of aspects of the subject. As a result, a clear picture emerges, indicating that African Americans were deeply involved in the Texas cattle industry. Although their skill was generally admired by their white peers and their employers, it did not necessarily shield them from the effects of regional bigotry. Massey has provided valuable essays on regional history that enrich our understanding of the heritage of the West.” --Booklist

“These stories of black cowboys provide another picture of life on the Texas frontier which they helped to tame. I am proud to recommend this book. It has a special place in my library.” --San Angelo Standard-Times


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