Black Cowboys Busting One of America's Defining Myths

Emily Raboteau

The New Yorker

2017, JAN 22

According to scholars, one in four cowboys working in Texas during the golden age of westward expansion was black; many others were Mexican, mestizo, or Native American—a far more diverse group than Hollywood stereotypes of the cowboy would suggest. Bass Reeves, a black lawman who had a Native American sidekick, is thought to have served as a model for the Lone Ranger. Britt Johnson, a black cowboy whose wife and children were captured by Comanches, in 1865, partly inspired John Ford’s classic film “The Searchers,” almost a century later. In the wake of the Civil War, the African-American Buffalo Soldiers were dispatched by Congress to protect Western settlers and federal land.

[...] “Legends,” a romantic, rebellious photo by the Oklahoma-born photographer Ron Tarver, captures a lone black rider astride his horse in an overgrown empty lot in North Philadelphia, against the backdrop of a giant Malcolm X mural. Also on display is Mohamed Bourouissa’s loving two-channel video installation “Horse Day,” which follows several young black men from a West Philadelphia neighborhood known locally as “The Bottom” as they prepare to compete at the 2014 Horse Tuning Expo, a showcase of skill for riders and their mounts. We watch as the men trick out their saddles with flashing CDs and plastic flowers, and as riders clop along the city streets, their leisurely pace at odds with the traffic around them
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