US Black Heritage: Black Cowboys

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Black Cowboys existed from the beginning

"Black cowboys in the American West accounted for up to 25 percent of workers in the range-cattle industry from the 1860s to 1880s... Though the industry generally treated black men equally to white men in terms of pay and responsibilities, discrimination persisted, though to a lesser extent than in other industries of the time."[1] However, during the "golden age" of Westerns in cinema and television, portrayal of black cowboys were scant at best. This has made many oblivious to the existence of black cowboys in the Old West.[2]

10 African-American cowboys who shaped the old west. (from

Link between Cowboys and Rodeo

Many rodeo events were based on real life tasks required by cattle ranching. However, there would probably be no steer wrestling at all in American rodeo were it not for a black cowboy from Texas named Bill Pickett who devised his own unique method of bulldogging steers.[3] All participants in rodeo today refer to themselves as "cowboys" or "cowgirls."

Regarding the development of rodeo after World War II:

"The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association benefited primarily white males, as the diverse groups who had once competed in rodeo were largely absent from the arena. Native Americans now have their own rodeo organization, and have shown little interest in PRCA activities. Records give no indication of institutional racism on the part of the PRCA, although anecdotal evidence suggests that individual rodeo committees sometimes did discriminate against African Americans and Hispanics in the fifties and sixties."[3]

This lead some black communities to start their own Black Rodeos, such as:

  • The Okmulgee Invitational Black Rodeo,[4] in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, which claims to be the oldest continuously running Black Rodeo.
  • The Boley Rodeo & BBQ Festival[5] in the historically black town of Boley, Oklahoma, which is reportedly the biggest Black Rodeo.

Today, while discrimination is less of a problem than it has been in the past, and more cowboys of color are winning competitions, black rodeos are still popular, and the focus now is more about educating the public about the existence and the role of black cowboys.


  3. 3.0 3.1 Wikipedia: History of rodeo

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