Black Cowboys of the Old West, Tricia Martineau Wagner. A ‘Twodot’ book from Globe Pequot Press, 2011, 978-0-7627-6071-8
Terrance Carroll posted about this book on Facebook. I bought a (used) copy, since we try to have as large and varied collection of regional history as we can make room for at our bookshop. As the title suggests, it is a collection of ten biographies of black cowboys who were so notable in their careers that the media of the time were compelled to report on it (while totally ignoring even the existence of thousands of other non-white ranch hands, estimated by some historians to be as much as 25% of the total workforce).
There’s good variation in the men chosen: rodeo champions Jesse Stahl and Bill Pickett, and part-time outlaw Isom Dart, as well as working cowboys whose lives cover a multitude of different locales and specialties. For example, Charley Willis’s musical inclinations led him to write the iconic song, “Goodbye, Old Paint”. George McJunkin spent years trying to interest the scientists of the day in the “Bone Pit” he discovered after the 1908 flood near Folsom, New Mexico. It took almost 20 years for archeologists to get around to inspecting the site that eventually cemented the concept of “Folsom Man” co-existing with and hunting bison 10,000 years earlier. It took more than 60 years for McJunkin to get official credit for his discovery.
The biography I liked best was of Bose Ikard, who was for all practical purposes Charles Goodnight’s partner, as well as a close lifelong friend. This could be because I know a bit of that history, but also because I consider the “Goodnight-Loving Trail” the best trail name in the history of the world.
What I liked least about the book was the author’s writing style. If I am interpreting the info page about her correctly, much of her experience is in young adult education. I think this is why the writing comes across as research notes that have been homogenized to minimize the risk of giving offense, then punched up to keep readers with a short attention span on the hook. Not that I mean to imply the writing is bad — it’s not. Just not the style I favor when I am reading history.
I do highly recommend this book for the content, especially as a starting place to learn more about blacks in Western History. (The bibliography is 14 pages!) After you read it, you can donate it to a middle school or high school library, where it could really do some good!