By Tiffany Coulson, Mattawa Library
Popular Hollywood images of cowboys in the days of the wild west don’t often include Black men roping a steer or Black women driving stagecoaches, but that was a reality in the American West of the late 1800’s. In fact, historians estimate anywhere from 25 – 50% of all cowboys were Black men. From the famous U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, to one of the first female mail carriers in the country, tough-as-nails Mary Fields, Black voices were a significant part of the rich fabric of the American West.
Black History Month is a national celebration that pays tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. However, the voices of Black cowboys in the American West do not only lie waiting in the pages of books and blogs, they are also alive in contemporary western culture as well. The Black cowboys of today look to the past, acknowledging their continuing struggle with racism as they share their stories face to face.
Read the 1907 autobiography of cowboy Nat Love, learn more about the formidable 6-foot-tall Stagecoach Mary or the “Exodusters” of the Black Migration from one of the library’s many online databases – available with your library card!
These books about Black men and women of the American West are written by Black authors!
Children’s Picture Books
Bad News For Outlaws : The Remarkable Life Of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshalby Vaunda Micheaux Nelson ; illustrations by R. Gregory Christie. Also available as an eBook
Black Heroes Of The Wild West by James Otis Smith, introduction by Kadir Nelson ; [editorial director and books designer, Françoise Mouly ; colors by Frank Reynoso].
Let ‘er Buck! : George Fletcher, The People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson ; illustrated by Gordon C. James. Also available as an eBook.
Black Gun, Silver Star : The Life And Legend Of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves by Art Burton
Best shot in the West : The Adventures of Nat Love by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr. ; illustrated by Randy DuBurke.
For even more books and films that highlight the place of African Americans in the West, check these out!
The True West : Real Stories About Black Cowboys, Women Sharpshooters, Native American Rodeo Stars, Pioneering Vaqueros, And The Unsung Explorers, Builders, And Heroes Who Shaped The American West by Mifflin Lowe ; illustrations by Wiliam Luong.
Black Indians : A Hidden Heritage by William Loren Katz
Black Characters in Western Fiction
Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Black Indians : An American Story produced by Chip Richie, Steven R. Heape ; written by Daniel Blake Smith ; directed by Chip Richie.
Header Image: (1923) “The Bull-dogger” / Ritchey Lith. Corp. , 1923. [Ritchey Lith. Corp] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/92500459/.
Nat Love Image: Nat (1907) Nat “Deadwood Dick” Love, – , full, standing, facing front “in my fighting clothes” in cowboy attire, holding carbine. , 1907. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2006687494/