Fort Worth’s Black Cowboys and Cowgirls
There’s a huge part of the story missing from classic western movies. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, and Will Rogers are all household names. But what about real Texas cowboys like Bill Picket, Nat Love, Jim Perry, and Daniel “80 John” Wallace? Let’s talk about black cowboys and cowgirls.
African American cowboys’ rich culture and legacy have been majorly underrepresented in most of Texas history. Black cowboys have been prominent in the Fort Worth area since the 18th century, when they made up a fourth of the total cowboy population. However, because of slavery and racism, they did not get the same notoriety and recognition as their white counterparts. The lives and legacies of these African American cowboys paint a story of talent, skill, and grit as they had to survive discrimination, racism, bigotry and intolerance, all while carrying Texas’s cattle industry on their backs. So how can we celebrate them today? I’m going to show you all the places, events, and ways in which we can truly honor and celebrate black excellence in the cowboy and rodeo world.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo
Named after the man who invented bulldogging, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo comes to Fort Worth’s Cowtown Coliseum on Saturday, February 18th and is a must-see extravaganza. The rodeo honors black cowboys and cowgirls and their major historical contributions to the Old West. The event features historical re-enactments, Western adventures, and highlights that celebrate black excellence in rodeoing. Tickets are already on sale, so get yours today!
The National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum
Formerly known as the Cowboys of Color Museum, the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum has a simple mission: to educate the public on the complete, untold history of the Old West. The museum pays homage to the contributions of not only black cowboys and cowgirls, but also those of Latino, Native, and Asian descent. The museum changed its name in 2008 to embrace the full diversity of cowboys, and it features exhibits exploring the Tuskegee Airmen, Native American Chiefs, Buffalo Soldiers, and the Vaqueros. The museum is located 2029 N Main Street, near Fort Worth’s famous Stockyards District.
Black Cowboys: An American Story
If you don’t mind the traffic-filled, headache-inducing drive to Dallas, then don’t miss the African American Museum of Dallas’s exhibit “Black Cowboys: An American Story.” This exhibit tells the story of the “contributions made by Black cowboys during the time before the Civil War and through the turn of the 20th century,” according to Marvin Dulaney, Ph.D., Deputy Director and Chief Operations Officer. Dr. Dulaney stresses the cultural impact and significance that these men and women of color had on the Old West. “Black Cowboys: An American Story,” is located in the African American Museum of Dallas at Fair Park at 3536 Grand Ave., Dallas. It runs through April 15 and is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
You can even experience the legacy of black cowboys and cowgirls from the comfort of home, all while watching a real cowboy in action. Try out the film The Bulldogger, featuring Bill Pickett himself. Without the amazing contributions of black men and women like Bill Pickett, Fort Worth’s cowboy culture would not be what it is today. Cheers!
Written by Annie, a local expert guide for Fort Worth Crawling. After living in NYC for three years, this Fort Worth native is excited to return to her roots in Panther City. She enjoys traveling and the great outdoors and is passionate about the arts, community, tacos, and (of course) Texas beer. Join Annie for history and beer on Fort Worth Crawling’s Cowboy Pub Crawl!