Meet the Black Cowboys of the Old West

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1853
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It is estimated that 1/3 of all cowboys were either of Hispanic or African-American heritage. Following the Civil War, freed slaves left their masters and plantations to make a new life for themselves. Many African Americans moved out to the west in hopes of buying land and settling down, and some even set up all-black communities such as Allensworth, California, Nicodemus, Kansas, and Dearfield Colorado.

Many also found work as riders, farm hands, ranch hands, and cooks, and when the time came to round up and move the herds up the cattle trails from southern Texas to shipping points and other important trading centers of the cattle industry. However difficult and financially unrewarding it was to be a cowhand, for the former slaves it meant something entirely different.

There, men could build up a sense of self, earn wages to support their families, and realize their full potential as free men. As one would imagine, some of the ranchers who employed African-Americans did not pay them as much as they paid white workers, and it is also obvious who the worst chores went to. However, no amount of racial discrimination could discourage these men from earning the respect they deserved, whether it be because of their skills, or their courage.

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Black cowboys perhaps knew greater acceptance than other frontier blacks. Nat Love said that, in town, he and other black cowboys were treated pretty much the same as whites “as long as our money lasted.” Out on the open range, the same usually held true as long as a black man had proven his skills in roping, riding, and shooting and was never made foreman or trail boss over white men. The most famous of the many thousand Black Cowboys was Nat Love. pronounced as Nate Love, also known as Deadwood Dick (1854–1921), was an African-American cowboy following theAmerican Civil War.

In 1907, Love wrote his autobiography, Life and Adventures of Nat Love, in which he explains that his father was a slave foreman in the fields, and his mother managed the kitchen. Nat Love was also very adventurous. He won the rope, throw, tie, bridle, saddle and bronco riding contests.

It was at this contest that the fans gave him the nickname “Deadwood Dick”

His quote: “If a man can’t go out in the blaze of glory, he can at least go with dignity. #UIHistorian

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PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.



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