The Forgotten Story of the African-American Cowboy

The identity of Texas is inextricably linked to cowboys because of the role they played in the state’s history, but not every cowboy looked like iconic Big-Tex. Historians estimate that as many as one in every four cowboys was African American, meaning that many cowboys probably looked more like Danny Glover’s Joshua Deets from Lonesome Dove.

By Alexandra Hart February 16, 2017 7:29 pm,

Smithsonian Magazine writer Katie Nodjimbadem says black cowboys are often overlooked in the popular narrative about the wild west.

Nodjimbaden says partly to blame for the association of cowboys as caucasian is the film industry. She compared the lack of representation of African Americans as cowboys to the lack of representation of black women in NASA, which was only recently depicted in the popular film “Hidden Figures.”

“I think you could argue that the African American cowboys are really the hidden figures of western frontier,” Nodjimbaden says.

What you’ll hear in this segment

—Where did the story of African American cowboys begin?
—Why being a cowboy was one of the better jobs an African American could have in the late 19th century.
—How modern African-American cowboys continue to preserve their cultural heritage.


Written by Morgan O’Hanlon.