Cattle herding has been a fixture of black culture in both Africa and America, although it is often excluded from the history books. Black historian Bennie McRae, Jr discusses this rich history in his book Lest We Forget;
“Almost totally missing from the traditional history of the American West is the role of the Black cowboy as well as other Black pioneers who traveled through and settled during the nineteenth century in the vast territory west of the Mississippi River that extended from the Rio Grande along the Mexico border northward to the Canadian border. Why was the Black cowboy overlooked? The answer is obvious. A deliberate exclusion by the historians, writers, artists, and photographers who apparently felt that certain ethnic groups were unworthy of being recorded in the history books despite their participation and contribution. The exclusion was extended into the twentieth century by the Hollywood producers (documentary and movies) who not only excluded them, but slanted and twisted the facts regarding the overall western scene…
The history of the Black cowboys began long before the establishment of large ranches with cattle grazing in the late nineteenth century. Gambia and some other African countries were known to be lands of large cattle herds with the natives possessing innate skills in controlling and managing the movement of the animals. They were not called cowboys at that time, but merely herders.
Throughout the slave trade, ranchers and farmers (slaveowners) with large herds of cattle in the lower south were attracted to this particular groups that had been captured in those African countries…
Of the estimated 35,000 cowboys that worked the ranches and rode the trails, between five and nine thousand or more was said to have been Black. They participated in almost all of the drives northward, and was assigned to every job except that of trail boss. One historian noted that there had been a few cattle drives where the entire crews were black except for the trail boss.”
Four black women are reclaiming this heritage with one of the country’s only all-black-woman rodeo teams. In a sport dominated by white men the Cowgirls of Color, consisting of Selina “Pennie” Brown, Sandra “Pinky” Dorsey, Kisha “KB” Bowles and Brittaney Logan, compete primarily on the African American rodeo circuit, with hopes of breaking into larger scale competitions. Formed just two years ago, the team competes in events including the barrel relay and steer undecorating, but most of the members are entirely new to the sport. Dorsey is the only member to have competed in rodeo events as a girl. Still the women are set on winning events and the prize money that comes with it.
Incredible. You can read the full feature on the Cowgirls of Color here.