Although the most famous cowboys of the old west were white men like Roy Rogers and Billy the Kid, one in four of America’s cowboys were African-American. Many of the slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries were familiar with cattle herding from their homelands of West Africa. This brings historians the question of the name “Cowboy” and whether or not it was made from slave cow herders.

The life of the black cowboy was tougher than most. It was the black cowboy who broke the horses and herded the cattle across the rivers.  Though they took on the toughest jobs, it was better to be a black cowboy on the ranch than a slave on the plantation picking cotton.

The life and legacy of black cowboys is still alive through the Federation of Black Cowboys. The organization takes inner city kids off the street and teaches them life on horseback. The fundamental tools they learn at Cedar Lane give them hope for bright futures – something many of them may not have had in their crime-ridden and drug-infested surroundings. Each child learns responsibility before being given the privilege to ride. They must learn to completely care for their stables. The Federation of Black Cowboys ranch is located near Queens, New York, with only a white fence separating them from the busy city streets.

Little to no attention was given to the black cowboys who made their mark in western history by Hollywood. Riders like William “Bill” Pickett, Stagecoach Mary, Nat Love and Bass Reeves were among the most famous.

Documentary filmmakers John Ferguson and Gregg MacDonald have created “The Forgotten Cowboys,” in which they follow the contemporary black cowboys of today, like Jason Griffin, who is a four-time world champion bareback bucking horse rider, while also reflecting on the black riders in the past.


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27 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: Black Cowboys

  1. Billy the Kid was an outlaw, basically a criminal, not a cowboy who made his living from working cattle. And Roy Rogers was a TV personality and singer who did own a ranch as his residence. Yes they were both white but neither of them were cowboys. Your article brings some good information to light but starting off with having two factual errors is not the best journalism. A little more research can greatly improve the value and credibility of this article (some journalistic feedback).

  2. people of African descent outnumbered Europeans in this hemisphere hundreds two one. for centuries! some even had land white and indentured servants and their own African slaves so why is it so hard to believe that they were black cowboys . these people literally built this country Brick by Brick! a

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    • There were some famous black cowboys, but as usual, black people only become interested in knowing their history when the white counterpart is mentioned. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Mary Fields, aka Stagecoach Mary, a fascinating woman and one of my idols, or Jason Griffin, just to name a couple. If it’s not hip hop, rap or BET reality reality tv, it’s not important. That’s the reason a lot of us don’t know these very interesting people. Pity.

      • Historian on said:

        its not the issue and i blame the black community for hundreds of years the blacks has tried their best before and after slavery to keep black history alive but when you don’t take the time out to teach your kids or you are just to stupid yourself to history they want know and yes its a shame that that when comes to it people only know what their parents know example people think Rosa Parks started the movement on the bus but in the fact of the matter is the NAACP pick her because she was light skinned woman there was four women before Rosa Parks. Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith but people don’t know about them.

    • Arnica on said:

      God, are you seriously that stupid? Do you really think that the white textbook authors saw fit to include any minority viewpoints? Just because you personally haven’t heard of it, doesn’t make it untrue. Expand your tiny, tiny world.

    • Historian on said:

      Its was a lot of them just white history lets it be that it was never to be told how do you think the name ever existed they use it after it became famous the first black president was of Mexico lots of people do not know that neither the black history has been stolen and changed they told you in school that Hitler just killed a bunch of white people and they never said why but the truth of the matter he knew that white Jews wasn’t Jews at all that they started wars and kidnapped and rapped children and most admitted to it white Jews control all main stream America banks tv station radio stations so as you can see that’s a lot you may not hear if you don’t read

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  18. msveenie on said:

    This is a great start, most people don’t know there were black cowboys at all. However, where are the black women of the west? More research needed.

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