Black Cowboys of Rodeo

Unsung Heroes from Harlem to Hollywood and the American West

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Pub Date 01 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 30 Nov 2021

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Description

They ride horses, rope calves, buck broncos, ride and fight bulls, and even wrestle steers. They are Black cowboys, and the legacies of their pursuits intersect with those of America’s struggle for racial equality, human rights, and social justice.
Keith Ryan Cartwright brings to life the stories of such pioneers as Cleo Hearn, the first Black cowboy to professionally rope in the Rodeo Cowboy Association; Myrtis Dightman, who became known as the Jackie Robinson of Rodeo after being the first Black cowboy to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo; and Tex Williams, the first Black cowboy to become a state high school rodeo champion in Texas.

Black Cowboys of Rodeo is a collection of one hundred years of stories, told by these revolutionary Black pioneers themselves and set against the backdrop of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, the civil rights movement, and eventually the integration of a racially divided country.
 

They ride horses, rope calves, buck broncos, ride and fight bulls, and even wrestle steers. They are Black cowboys, and the legacies of their pursuits intersect with those of America’s struggle for...


Advance Praise

“Keith Ryan Cartwright’s book is an essential corrective to the lily-white history of the cowboy and the American West that has been promoted by motion pictures and white supremacists for centuries. It works as both a sweeping look at the cowboy ethos and profiles of scores of [those] whose greatness made America.”—Nelson George, author, filmmaker, music and culture critic

“Can I get a yee-haw? Black Cowboys of Rodeo is a marvel of a book—built with muscular research and smooth writing, resurrecting larger-than-life characters who will amaze and inspire readers. Cowboys have long been symbols of American grit and self-reliance. Black cowboys are that and more. Thank goodness their stories are finally being told—and told so beautifully.”—Jonathan Eig, best-selling author of Ali: A Life

“Hollywood has not always been on the right side of history when it comes to portraying Black cowboys, but a thoroughly researched book like Black Cowboys of Rodeo finally amends that narrative.”—Blair Underwood, actor, producer, and director

“Keith Ryan Cartwright’s book is an essential corrective to the lily-white history of the cowboy and the American West that has been promoted by motion pictures and white supremacists for centuries...


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ISBN 9781496226105
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Featured Reviews

Very interesting. I am interested in Rodeo but had almost no idea that there were many Black cowboys. Highly recommend this book, even if rodeo is not your thing.

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This book is amazing. The combination of the myths surrounding cowboys and the real life stories is completely enthralling.

This is a overhaul of the beliefs that many Americans hold to this day, of the whitewashed stories of cowboys and the wild west. Black cowboys truly are the embodiment of everything we are taught in schools. American grit, self reliance, and working nonstop rain or shine to get stronger and better.

The stories are rich and beautiful. Every single cowboy in here deserves so much recognition. This book is an unearthing of a hidden history, one that everyone should read and start digging for more. These cowboys shouldn’t have been erased in the first place, I’m glad that someone took the time to help keep their stories alive.

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You may have seen Lil Nas X highlighting Black cowboy culture in his Old Town Road music video, but Black cowboys have been largely ignored in media representation and history books. Actor Danny L. Glover does a great job of summing up the importance of this book in his introduction:

"At its core, Black Cowboys of Rodeo seeks to capture the stories of Black cowboys as they endured and resisted racism, violence, and discrimination as the United States grappled with its congenital contradictions about race throughout the twentieth century."

This book is primarily about Black cowboys who competed for belts, big bucks and respect in rodeos. The author, Keith Ryan Cartwright, has written another book about rodeo and his expertise is evident, to the point where this book could be challenging for a reader with no rodeo knowledge. I learned a lot through context cues, but I would have appreciated more hand-holding.

I commend Cartwright for investing what appears to have been A LOT of time interviewing these cowboys for firsthand accounts of rodeo history. And where that wasn't possible, he interviewed loved ones and close contacts. There was also a bit of difficulty pinning down details that comes from interviewing people about events that happened decades ago. I can only imagine this was a tough book to pull together and edit down.

While I appreciate that the book is organized into sections dedicated to individual Black cowboys and their stories, the format lent itself to repetition due to the overlapping nature of people's lives and work. And because of the restricted format, some people's stories started to read like a laundry list of names in a family story featuring a bunch of relatives you just can't keep track of. Clearly, each of these people could have entire books written about them. I'm sure this book will prove to be an important reference for anyone looking to learn more about any of these individuals, and I hope it inspires more people to shine a light on Black cowboys, past, present and future.

For those willing to dig into this compendium, there are real treasures. The pictures alone, are worth buying this book for. So many of the rodeo fashions would have been right at home on the red carpet of the 2021 Met Gala.

As much as these stories center around rodeo competition, being a cowboy is a way of life. One of my favorite stories is about Bailey's Prarie Kid (aka Taylor Hall Jr.), whose father "packed his firstborn son in the saddle with him, tucked a warm milk bottle in his chaps, and rode out into the pasture."

"With his son's little legs sticking out to either side, he would push him in tight under the front of the saddle horn, so Taylor Jr. was facing the back of the horse. If he started to lean too far backward, the horse's neck was there to hold him upright. His daddy's ol' horse took care of him from the time he was a baby until he was able to handle a horse of his own, as young as four or five."

I voluntarily obtained a digital advanced reader copy of this book free from Netgalley and University of Nebraska Press in exchange for an honest review.

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Black Cowboys of Rodeo is a collection of one hundred years of stories, told by these revolutionary Black pioneers themselves and set against the backdrop of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, and the civil rights movement. The legacies of their pursuits intersect with those of America’s struggle for racial equality, human rights, and social justice. Keith Ryan Cartwright brings to life the stories of such pioneers as Cleo Hearn, the first Black cowboy to rope professionally in the Rodeo Cowboy Association; Myrtis Dightman, who became known as the Jackie Robinson of Rodeo after being the first Black cowboy to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo; and Tex Williams, the first Black cowboy to become a state high school rodeo champion in Texas.
I really enjoyed this book. I had not heard these stories before and appreciated the perspective. I also appreciated the timeline at the beginning of the book.
The proof I read had missing info and letters, which made it hard to read. A corrected proof is an asset for any library.

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I loved this book so, so much! I love history, and I love rodeo/cowboy culture (especially the 101) and this was a wonderful blend of the two. It taught me a lot and gave me a few more things to add to my bucket list, specifically making a trip to see The Black Cowboy Museum in Rosenberg, TX.

I liked how the writing flowed from story to story, though it did get to be a bit much throughout the entire book with switching from one person to the next consistently; though that might just be me! I had a bit of trouble with the kindle version- it erased the letters F and I, and the chapters ran together. That was my only issue with the book, honestly. Other than that I really enjoyed it!

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A great introduction for me to the history of black cowboys in rodeo. The history was amazing and the stories of the cowboys were very interesting. So glad to see that the stories have been captured and are being shared so that we all understand the impact of each of the cowboys to the rich history of the West and the Rodeo.

My only issue was that it did get to be a bit much throughout the entire book with switching from one person to the next consistently; though that might just be me! I had a bit of trouble with the kindle version- it erased the letters F and I, and the chapters ran together.

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