Cowboys, the faces of the frontier, depicted in movies as fast riding, gun slinging pioneers. But when it comes to scenes from the Wild West, one character is often left out…the black cowboy.
Though rarely seen in movies or even history books, it’s estimated that up to 25 percent of cowboys were African-American. Today, you’ll find many of them here.
At the all-black Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, dubbed the greatest show on dirt, more than a hundred modern day cowboys, big and small, compete in a number of events. The chase down steers, race around barrels and rope calves.
Stephanie Haynes is one of the most decorated female rodeo champions in the country. You could say it’s in her blood.
“My dad rodeo-d. He calf roped and it was kind of passed onto me,” Haynes said.
Now it’s become a part of her family too. Stephanie’s daughter Kenesha also competes. Her husband Sedgewick, from a rough neighborhood in Houston, started riding as a teen and says rodeo helped him get on the right path in life.
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“Half the kids I grew up with, they’re either on drugs or in jail or got killed,” Sedgewick said.
At their home in Hempstead, Texas, the Haynes’ haves 11 horses and a practice arena in their backyard. They also have a room full of prizes to show for it.
“Everyone of them is rodeo trophies,” Sedgewick said.
History buff Paul Stewart has a few prized possessions of his own. The 85-year old has spent the last 58 years collecting historic artifacts. In 1971 he founded the Black America West Museum, the only one of it’s kind dedicated to telling the stories of the nation’s black cowboys, men like Bill Pickett and Deadwood Dick.
“When the United States was settled the slaves were the ones that broke the horses, plowed the mules. So who better able to herd the cattle across the country than a man who was born into it,” Stewart said.
While Stewart shares oral history, the Haynes’ take a more hands-on approach, teaching others the way of the west…like calf roping and barrel racing. The Haynes’ are just one family passing along often forgotten African-American traditions, before riding off into the sunset.
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