Paintings > The Black Cowboys

In 2004, I wrote a story about a childhood friend who was very interested in African American history and had later became a genealogist. He and his friends were known for appearing in public wearing full western attire looking like Swashbucklers. They even owned horses and talked about their vacations to dude ranches. Many of them also seemed to have bigger than life personalities. I poked at my friend for wearing chaps and he gave me a little background about how he fell in love with and had adopted this persona.

Tracing members of his family back to Kansas, he visited, and discovered a part of himself that he never knew. Stories unsurfaced about his great-grandparents, who were African and Native Americans, other family members who were ranchers and uncles who had moved further west to California. He shared the history of Black cowboys and their roles in the settlement of our country. He included things like their relationships with Native Americans, the hidden contributions to our wars and the economics of ranching. He was so enthusiastic while telling me all of these things that I became more interested. Everything he talked about was fascinating and seemed so important to know.

When I got home I couldn't stop thinking about my new education. It inspired me to create a series of collages about he and his friends. They were all working professionals by day, but in their spare time, they would wear western outfits, work on their twangs, and cultivate ranching skills. With their attire, not unlike wearing a kente cloth dashiki, they celebrate their heritage and the contributions that African Americans made in the West and to the building of this country. They were showing us all a little known part of Americana so I saluted them with the series called “Black Cowboys”.

Donna W. Radcliffe