In the 1990s, the Moroccan government commissioned four busts of Estevanico by sculptor John Sherrill Houser.
In Mexico, Africans initially came with Hernán Cortés, whose forces included the free black conquistador Juan Garrido. In this illustration from a sixteenth-century manuscript, Cortés is depicted meeting the Indians of the Tlaxcala region. Illustrated here Garrido with a saddled horse in-tow.
Almost 300 (285) years prior to President Thomas Jefferson commissioning the famous Lewis & Clark expedition* (May 1804 to September 1806) Juan Garrido, an African conquistador who was born in the Kingdom of Kongo, had already reached the American Southwest. By 1519 Garrido participated in the expedition led by Marqués del Valle Hernán Cortés to invade Mexico, where they lay siege to Tenochtitlan of the Three Allies (formerly known as the Aztec.). This early African presence of Juan Garrido wouldn’t be the last time a African explorer reached the American Southwest. Around 8yrs after Juan Garrido reached Mexico, an African born explorer by the name of Estevanico (little Esteban) accompanied some 600 Spanish explorers in the Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition (1527) to colonize Florida and the Gulf Coast. In his quest to locate the Seven Cities of Cibola, Estevanico traveled through present-day Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
*York (1770 – before 1832 was an African-American explorer best known for his participation with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Enslaved by William Clark's father and passed down through a will to William Clark, he performed hard manual labor without pay, but participated as a full member of the expedition. Like many other expedition members, his ultimate fate is unclear. There is evidence that after the expedition's return, Clark had difficulty compelling York to resume his former status, and York may have later escaped or been freed, but nothing is entirely clear on this.
African American Cattlemen (Cowboys) impact on American Cowboy Culture
Jesse Stahl pictured flamboyantly riding a horse named Grave Digger, around 1916. Jesse Stahl is most famous for his performance at the Salinas Rodeo in California in 1912. Before more than 4,000 fans, Stahl stole the show in the rodeo’s classic event of saddle bronc riding on the bronco named Glass Eye. The horse would buck, twist his body 180-degrees midair, and land in the exact opposite direction
One in every five American cowboys was black in the 1880s, and much of what we think of as "cowboy culture" is rooted in African cattle herding. Fulani accustomed to cattle raising in the Futa Jallon area of their home-land "oversaw the rapid expansion of the colonial cattle herd from a total of 500 in 1731 to 6,784 thirty years later." These Fulani, expert cattlemen (cowboys), were responsible for introducing the husbandry patterns of open grazing practiced in the American cattle industry today.
This African innovation allowed efficient use of abundant land and a limited labor force. The Europeans' initial attempts at raising livestock in North America had followed their custom of raising small herds confined to pastures. While settlers felt uneasy about open grazing at first, numerous Africans coming into South Carolina had witnessed and understood the success of this practice from their African experience. Peter Wood believes that from this early relation between cattle and Africans the word cowboy originated in the same way that a slave who worked in the house became known as a houseboy. So, we should not be surprised to find African words as part of our cowboy culture. The word bronco (probably of Efik/Ibibio and Spanish origins) was used by the Spanish and by enslaved Africans to indicate the horses rode in herding cattle. Buckra, comes from mbakara, the Efik/Ibibio word for "white man," and buckaroo, also coming from mbakara These words described a class of whites who worked as "broncobusters” in the American Southwest. (Joseph E. Holloway, Ph.D. California State University Northridge African Diaspora Cultural Institute)
Bass Reeves was the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He worked mostly in Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory. During his long career, he was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons. He shot and killed 14 people in self-defense.
African American Notables, Explorers, Pioneers and Founders
- William Leidesdorff was born in the Virgin Islands in 1810 to a Danish planter and his African slave wife. His financing and advice as the first African American diplomat helped the U.S. win their victory against Mexico.
- William H. Hall made enough of a fortune to pay for his lavish wedding in New York and went on to deliver a lucrative lecture series called The Hopes and Prospects of Colored People in California.
- Alvin A. Coffey become the first African American member of the California Pioneers’ Association.
- Daniel Rogers. When he went to buy his freedom from his Arkansas master with a thousand dollars worth of gold dust, his master pocketed the cash. Outraged and incensed by the master’s deceit and dishonor, White residents in Arkansas raised enough cash to provide Daniel Rogers his freedom.
- Moses Rodgers purchased mines in Mariposa County and he married one of the daughters of Emmanuel Quivers who forced the desegregation of schools in the region.
- Barney Ford and Henry O. Waggoner. When Ford and his team struck gold in 1860, White vigilantes drove them off the land to seize their gold. But they never found any and they began the rumor that Ford had outwitted them and buried the gold on the mountainside, which became known as Nigger Hill. Many attempts were made to find Ford’s gold, but no one ever struck gold.
- Nona Marshall, late 1800s, Arizona territory.
- Isom Dart, Ned Huddleston (also known as Isom Dart) was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1849. His reputation as a rider, roper and bronco-buster earned him the nicknames of the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy.” He was also a notorious Wyoming Territory outlaw.
- Biddy Mason, Bridget “Biddy” Mason, born a slave in Mississippi in 1818, achieved financial success that enabled her to support her extended family for generations despite the fact that she was illiterate. In a landmark case she sued her master for their freedom, saved her earnings, invested in real estate, and became a well-known philanthropist in Los Angeles, California.
- Bill Pickett, Bill Pickett, “the Dusky Demon,” was of Indian/Black descent, Texas-born and seemingly destined for the saddle. At birth, he was just another cowboy. By the time of his death, Pickett was the most famous black cowboy entertainer in American history.
- Amos Harris and Wife, Amos Harris, more affectionatly known as"Big Amos" or "Nigger Amos", is said to have been Nebraska's first negro cowboy. He was reported to weigh between 250 pounds and 300 pounds, and was 6 foot 3 inches tall. He spoke 5 languages and it was reported that he was born south of Galveston, Texas, on the Brazos River, the son of freed slave parents.
- Ben Hodges, Ben Hodges (not Ben Hodge) was never a black deputy to Wyatt Earp; he was a black Mexican cowboy, who trailed cattle north from Texas and settled in Dodge City, where he became a clever, apparently well-liked swindler and lived to a ripe old age.
- Bose Ikards, Bose was born into slavery in Tennessee. When Bose was a young boy, the slave holder took him to Texas still in bondage to work on a cattle Ranch. It was in Texas where Bose learned to ride, rope and right. Bose got his freedom from slavery and became his own man, He hired out his service to Oliver Loving, Loving was killed fighting against the Comanches. Bose then hired out his service to Charles Goodnight. Loving and Goodnight are the namesakes for the "Goodnight Loving Cattle Trail."https://www.geni.com/projects/Blacks-of-the-Old-West/10853
Marne L. Campbell, Black Cowboys in the American West: On the Range, on the Stage, behind the Badge, Journal of American History, Volume 105, Issue 1, June 2018, Page 127,https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jay013
Gardner, E. (2016). African American literature and the early West. In S. Frye (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the American West (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 199-213). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781316155097.016
Taylor, Q. (2000). African American Men in the American West, 1528-1990. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 569(1), 102–119. https://doi.org/10.1177/000271620056900108
Holloway, Joseph E., ed. Africanisms in American culture. Indiana University Press, 2005.