The Forgotten Cowboys

CompanyJohn Ferguson Photography
PhotographerPhotography: John Ferguson
PrizePortraiture / Culture
Entry Description

As a ten-year-old boy playing cowboys with friends at school in England, I was never allowed to be a cowboy; I could only be a Native American Indian. I was told: "Black boys were never cowboys" or "Have you ever seen a black cowboy?" I had to admit that I had never seen a single black cowboy. The only cowboys we ever saw were your white archetypal squared-jawed American gunslinging heroes. Think of our screen legends;The Lone Ranger, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers, Clint Eastwood, right up to The Marlboro Man. The list is endless, but, not one black cowboy amongst them. Indeed Hollywood played a big part in keeping the cowboy myth alive. How many black cowboys have you seen on Tv? In fact where American history and identity has been projected by Hollywood and the mass media, the non-white settlers have largely been left out of the story. Thirty years later and enjoying watching those same legends with my own children, I have only just learnt the truth;many of the first cowboys were black. I have been both surprised and excited to find a thriving African American cowboy community. There are many reasons why the history books fail to mention the contribution of the black cowboys. Oral tradition had preserved stories in the past, but illiteracy played a major role in their exclusion from America's written history. Those who were literate wrote their history, those who could not simply disappeared.The original term 'cowboy' was a derogatory slight against the black man often born into slavery. The terms house boy, field boy, kitchen boy and 'cow boy' were commonly used. As well as the physically hard lifestyle, African American cowboys, often had to endure discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice, to counter this they learnt to excel at their work.