Thursday, October 31, 2013

Black Cowboys of Tangipahoa and St. Helena Parish, Louisiana

Photo Credit: Walter C. Black, Sr.
It wasn't until this past summer,  I learned something about the Black Cowboys Associations in Tangipahoa & St. Helena. This summer I had the pleasure of  joining one of the trail rides in Clinton, Louisiana. Many of the men and women have been riding horses since they were toddlers. It often reminds me of the documentary " Forgotten Cowboys."

Little is known about the history of black cowboys in Tangipahoa and St. Helena Parishes. Before the trans-atlantic slave trade many former slaves where cattle herders. Before being sold into slavery in America and other European Nations, African men where men who owned cattle, camels, goats, sheep and horses.  They weren't called cowboys in Africa, they were called herders. Herders can be found in every country in Africa. I had the opportunity to visit Niger, West Africa, there I saw the cattle herdsmen.

After I interviewed several men and women who attend the trail ride that weekend, learned that riding horses is in their blood.  Some of them had their wives, children and grandchildren riding with them.  Caring for and taking care of horses is what they do. Listen to music from the blues to zydeco and the smell of barbecue that leaves your mouth watering. Calf roping is also known as die down roping is a rodeo event. The while the cowboy rides his horse try and catch the calf while throwing a rope from a lariat around its neck. He dismount from the horse, run to the calf, and restrain it by tying three legs together in as short  a time as possible. The origin derives from the duties of actual workings cowboys, which sometimes required catching and restraining calves for branding or medical treatment.

The riders were young and old they started to saddle up the horses, over a hundred people were on horses and the others followed on flatbed, wagon and buggies listened to music, dancing and having a cold beer. Riding club wore their shirts proudly and hand out promotional flyers to promote their upcoming trail ride. Fancy hats and fancy boots was the order of the day.

Photo Credit: Walter C. Black, Sr.
This past summer I went to a cow roping in St. Helena Parish at the arena owned by Richard  Johnson. The black cowboys pulled up with their horses and rope to lasso calves and cows. It was my first time ever attending a cattle roping event. Some of the cowboys came from far as Arkansas to rope cows. The history is not taught in schools, or at least I wasn't  taught the history of the black cowboy.

Most of the black men and women who ride grew up on a farm. According to 2011 NBC News report on black cowboys, it's estimated that up to 25 precent  of the cowboys in the  West were black. And some of them are famous. I searched the internet high and low and couldn't find anything about the black cowboys in Tangipahoa & St. Helena Parishes, Louisiana. I met over one hundred men and many women who rode and rope calves.My brothers use to play cowboys and indians as little boys. Growing up they watched Roy Rogers and Bonanza. The only role a black man played in those movie where-- saddling, caring for and shoeing the horses as slaves are hired help. Not only did black cowboys not make the movie screen but they never made the history books either.

African-Americans were cowboys, ranchers, gold miners, stagecoach drivers, hunters, trappers, lawmen, as well as explorers.  African-Americans played a major and vital role the way the West was won. The largest black rodeo is the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, named after a Louisiana-born black cowboy, son of a former slave, who around the turn of the century invented steer-wresting, better
Photo Credit: Walter C. Black, Sr.
known as bull-dogging.

Although I haven't traced my root back to any cowboys or cow-girls yet, I know the history is very important. My eyes and knowledge where open to learn more about the untold story of the black cowboys. There is so much of our history that need to be researched, documented and recorded.

Links to more information about "Black Cowboys"