Black Cowboy History

Category: Culture & Society

Black cowboys were usually ex-slaves who drove herds of cattle over hundreds of miles of rough and dangerous terrain and through cattle market towns that were wide open and lawless.


  • Many slaves brought into the United States came from African countries such as Ghana and Gambia, which were known for herding cattle. Therefore, slave owners in the Southern U.S. were very much interested in these skilled herders.


  • In South Carolina and other sections of the Deep South, slaves used their skills on cattle plantations. A few were mounted, but most used dogs, bullwhips and salt to manage cattle. After the Civil War, ex-slaves became mounted cowboys moving cattle along trails or cowhands on cattle ranches.

Time Frame

  • From 1886 to 1896, millions of cattle were driven down the cattle trails by approximately 35,000 cowboys of which 5,000 to 8,000 were black. This is a little less than one fourth of the total number of cowboys known to have worked these trails.


  • Black cowboys rode out of Texas along the Chisholm, Western, Goodnight-Loving and other trails in cattle drives to Kansas, the Dakotas, Colorado and Wyoming, usually taking approximately three months to reach their destination.


  • Black cowboys brought many skills to the table as herders and contributed much to the cattle industry and the settling of the West.


  • Black, white, brown and red cowboys lived, ate and slept together when herding cattle. Due to the dangers and hardships experienced in their lifestyles, they trusted and depended on each other to get the job done.

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