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Blacks of the Old West

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  • BGen (USA) Charles Young (1864 - 1922)
    photograph taken of Colonel Charles Young in 1919. He was the third African American graduate of West Point, the first black U.S. National Park Service superintendent, the first African American milita...
  • Lucy Eldine Parsons (c.1853 - 1942)
    Lucy (or Lucia) Eldine Gonzalez was born around 1853 in Texas, likely as a slave, to parents of Native American, Black American and Mexican ancestry. Died: March 7, 1942 in a house fire; she couldn't e...
  • Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (c.1750 - 1818)
    Feb. 27, 2016_Additional comment by William Arthur Allen: Versions of Wikipedia in three diferent languages provide slightly different information about Point du Sable and his marriage to Kitahawa, a P...
  • Bass Reeves (1838 - 1910)
    Bass Reeves was born into slavery in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas.[1][2] Reeves was named after his grandfather, Basse Washington. Bass Reeves and his family were slaves of Arkansas state legislat...
  • George Washington Bush (1779 - 1863)
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia George Washington Bush (1779 –April 5, 1863) was an American pioneer and one of the first multiracial (Irish and African-American[1]) non-Amerindian settlers in wh...

This is a sub-project for the Afro-, Africans throughout the Americas Master Project and the U.S. Westward Expansion/Wild West project.

This project is about Blacks of the Old West (outside of the original 13 colonies/states). It not only looks at the Black cowboys, which covers mostly the late 19th century, but the early explorers, scouts, drivers, traders, runaways, fugitives, translators, innkeepers, tavernkeepers, doctors and caregivers. They also made their mark as trappers, ranchers, farmers, gold miners, stagecoach drivers, cavalrymen, outlaws, lawmen, schoolteachers, saloonkeepers, soldiers, cowboys and farm hands, bartenders, cooks, and just about everything else a person could be in the "Wild West" of the late 18th (1700s) and early, mid- to late-1800s (19th century).

The American Old West, or the Wild West, comprises the history, geography, people, folklore, and cultural expression of life in the Western United States, most often referring to the latter half of the 19th century, between the California Gold Rush of 1849 and the end of the century. After the 18th century and the push beyond the Appalachian Mountains, the term is generally applied to anywhere west of the Mississippi River in earlier periods and westward from the frontier strip toward the later part of the 19th century. Thus, the Midwest and American South, though not considered part of the Western United States today, have Western heritage along with the modern western states. More broadly, the period stretches from the early 19th century to the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920.

Through treaties with foreign nations and native peoples, political compromise, technological innovation, military conquest, establishment of law and order, and the great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast (Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean), fulfilling advocates' belief in Manifest Destiny. In securing and managing the West, the U.S. federal government greatly expanded its powers, as the nation evolved from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation. First promoting settlement and exploitation of the land, by the end of the 19th century the federal government assumed stewardship of the remaining open spaces. As the American Old West passed into history, the myths of the West took firm hold in the imagination of Americans and foreigners alike.


  • please edit link to direct to the geni profile when added to the project. Let someone know through "Project Discussions" if you have trouble adding them to the project or linking here. And feel free to add to the list!

Notables, Explorers, Pioneers and Founders

  • Matthew "Bones" Hooks was committed to establishing Black towns and wherever he was told he couldn’t go, he went anyway. Matthew "Bones" Hooks (1867–1951), an African American cowboy from Amarillo. Hooks, who was born to former slaves, was only semiliterate but had an historical consciousness. He crossed the West Texas plains, broke horses, and handled the remudas on cattle drives, later settling into life as a townsman. Hooks became a leader of the black community in Amarillo and the High Plains. He established one of the first black churches in West Texas
  • Elvira Conley. Tall, proud and impervious to the bullying of local criminals, she opened her own laundry business. Her promises of fresh, clean clothes attracted the likes of Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok. Over the years, the three forged a strong friendship in the rough railroad town.
  • Aunt Clara Brown was a deeply religious woman who was separated from her husband, son and four daughters when they were each sold to different slave owners. Later wealthy, she provided health care to the poor of all colors, she founded churches and she searched Kentucky to locate her long lost family. Her search was in vain, but she returned to Denver with 26 ex-slaves, paying for all of their travel costs.
  • Lucy Gonzales Parsons was a beautiful and passionate woman who chose to marry a White man named Albert Parsons who was personally dedicated to fighting injustice and inequality. In 1905, she delivered a well-presented speech, which proposed the idea of passive resistance and introduced the building tools for the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Among the founding families of Los Angeles were --Luis Quintero--the African grandparent(s) of Maria Rita Valdez Villa (whose 1838 land grant and owner of Rancho Rodeo de Las Aguas, known today as Beverly Hills), and Eugene Biscailuz, who served as sheriff of Los Angeles.
  • 'The success of the famous expeditions of Lewis & Clark has often been credited to Sacajawea, a very diplomatic Shoshone woman. But little of that credit has been attributed to York, William Clark’s slave since childhood.
  • Estevanico was the first explorer to reach Arizona and New Mexico. His legend and lore inspired what would become the European settlement of the southwest.
  • The founder of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, was born in 1745 in the Caribbean to a sea faring French father and an African slave mother.
  • The Bango Family Dynasty began with Jean and Jeanne Bango or Bonga, a freed slave couple, who had belonged to the British officer commanding at Mackinac Island in the 1780s. Pierre worked for the North West Company, and later for the American Fur Company. One source says he married an Ojibway woman and fathered four sons, all of whom participated in the fur trade. Jean opened the first inn on Mackinaw Island sometime around 1787. Pierre Bonga was reportedly the son of Jean and Jeanne Bonga, a freed slave couple who had belonged to the British officer commanding at Mackinac Island in the 1780s. Pierre worked for the North West Company, and later for the American Fur Company. One source says he married an Ojibway woman and fathered four sons, all of whom participated in the fur trade. George Bonga was a Cass expedition leader. When he passed away in 1885 and he was mourned in Congress and in the newspapers of New York and Chicago.
  • George Washington Bush In 1853, 23 White citizens of the state of Oregon demanded that Bush’s land claim be validated. By 1854, as an elected member of legislature, Michael T. Simmons, asked Congress to exclude the Bush family from the racially intolerant laws and be given land of their own. Both requests were granted and the Bush family received 640 Acres of land, which is known today as Bush Prairie.
  • James Beckwourth skills as an explorer, translator, warrior, hunter, and, rider earned him a great reputation and made him a legend. Among his many accomplishments was his discovery of a mountain pass through Sierra Nevada, which became known as Beckwourth Pass.
  • Edward Rose worked as a guide, interpreter and hunter for the most prominent trading companies of his time.
  • Moses Harris was also known as the “Black Squire”. He was one of the West’s most sought after and reliable guides.
  • Greenbury Logan was one of the Black Texans who fought for Texan independence against Mexico in 1835.
  • George Washington was known for his strength and kindness, which he proved to have in abundance during the Panic of 1893 when he single-handedly saved the town of Centerville, WA from starvation.
  • Pio Pico's ancestry was African, Native American and European. He went on to earn wealth and fortune, was a large landowner and businessman; and became Governor of California twice over, indeed the last governor of California under Mexican rule, and the builder of the Pico House. Among those exercising considerable political and economic power were Andrés Pico, was the younger brother of Pío Pico, who served briefly as governor of the Mexican Alta California Province; and Alcaldes Francisco Reyes (1749–1809), soldado de cuero ("leather-jacketed soldier") on the 1769 Portola expedition, alcalde (municipal magistrate) of the Pueblo de Los Angeles for three terms, and recipient of the Spanish land grant for Los Encino and later Lompoc. In 1784, Francisco Reyes received the Spanish land grant, Rancho Los Encinos, which comprised what is now the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, California. He used the land for cattle ranching. In 1795, however, the Spanish mission founders decided that Rancho Los Encinos would be a favorable location for the Mission San Fernando. Reyes returned Rancho Los Encinos to the Mission. He requested a new land grant and received land in central California in 1802, between Mission San Luis Obispo and Mission La Purísima Concepción. Reyes did not reside there. Reyes maintained an adobe house in the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Reyes became alcalde of the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1790, and 1793-1795. Francisco Reyes married María del Carmen Domínguez and their children include Antonio Reyes, Juana Reyes and José Jacinto Reyes.[1][2][3] Francisco Reyes’s brother-in-law, José María Domínguez, was the grantee of Rancho Las Virgenes. In 1845, José María Domínguez sold Rancho Las Virgenes to María Antonia Machado de Reyes; and Tiburcio Tapia (1789–1845), son of Jose Bartolome Tapia, grantee of Rancho Cucamonga, Mayor of Los Angeles 1830, 1839 and 1840. Married María Tomasa Valdéz.
  • 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."
  • Cathy Williams, (September 1844 - 1892) was an American soldier. She is the first African American female to enlist, and the only documented to serve in the United States Army posing as a man under the pseudonym, William Cathay.
  • Jessie Stahl
  • Nancy Gooch Family
  • Robert L. Fortune
  • George Glenn
  • Osborne Perry Anderson, was an African-American abolitionist and the only surviving African-American member of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, and later a soldier in the Union army of the American Civil War.
  • Charles Henry Langston, was an American abolitionist and political activist born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of a wealthy planter who provided for his education and ensured he and his brothers inherited his estate. In 1835 he and his brother Gideon were the first African Americans to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. In 1858, he was tried with a white colleague for the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, a cause célèbre in Ohio that was a catalyst for abolition. That year Langston helped found the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society and, with his younger brother John as president, led it as executive secretary. Langston worked for 30 years for equal rights, suffrage and education in Ohio and Kansas. After the American Civil War, he was appointed as general superintendent of refugees and freedmen for the Freedmen's Bureau in Kansas. In 1872 he was an early principal of the Quindaro Freedman's School (later Western University), the first black college west of the Mississippi River. He was an older brother of John Mercer Langston, an accomplished attorney and activist, who had numerous appointed posts, and in 1888 was the first black elected to the United States Congress from Virginia (and the last for nearly a century). He was the grandfather of renowned poet Langston Hughes.
  • Los Angeles Pobladores--36 of the 44 original Los Angeles settlers were Black or Indian or mixed.
  • I believe the Duarte Family were mixed. See Duarte, California On May 10, 1841, the governor of Alta California, Juan Bautista Alvarado, granted to former Mexican corporal Andrés Duarte and his wife nearly 7,000 acres (28 km2) of prime land in the central-northern San Gabriel Valley. Duarte named his new holdings "Rancho Azusa de Duarte". The name Azusa was derived from Asuksa-gna, the name of the Tongva settlement on the Foothills of California, on the western side of the alluvial fan where the San Gabriel River exits the San Gabriel Mountains; a portion of this area forms the northeastern-most corner of Duarte. That land grant now comprises portions of Arcadia, portions of Monrovia, all of Bradbury, all of Duarte, portions of Irwindale, portions of Azusa and a portion of Baldwin Park. Corporal Duarte had the local Indians build a small hut for his family and help him plant a kitchen garden and orchards near "the Indian Springs of the Asuksas" in Fish Canyon.

Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States in 1848. In 1851, the American Congress passed a bill that established a Board of Land Commissioners whose duty was to determine the validity of all grants of Alta California land by Spanish and Mexican authorities.

Corporal Duarte began incurring legal expenses and other debts, which he defrayed by selling portions of his Rancho. This first sale was a 225-acre (0.91 km2) parcel at the southern end of the Rancho to Michael Whistler and two unidentified colleagues. Whistler later bought out his colleagues and sold the entire parcel to Dr. Nehemiah Beardslee, who started the first school in Duarte (which now bears his surname) and laid out the first section of Duarte's water lines. Corporal Duarte divided much of the Rancho's remainder into 40-acre (160,000 m2) plots and sold them individually. Corporal Duarte finally won a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court for his land grant case in 1878, but by then he had sold the entire Rancho.

Many of Duarte's earliest pioneer families came to Duarte in the mid-19th century for their health, the pleasant climate, and the fertile soil. English settlers, Americans from the Midwest and Deep South, Latinos who remained from the Rancho and Japanese immigrants enabled Duarte to grow into a thriving agricultural community specializing in citrus production.

Selected Notables

Take Nat Love, for instance.


Among cowboys, Nat Love was one of the best. He rode hard, shot straight, could rope the toughest bull, and tame the roughest bronco.

Love was born a slave in 1854. His family was set free after the Civil War. When Nat was 15, he left home and followed his dreams westward to where he had heard a man could ride free. He got a job herding cattle and worked hard to perfect his cowboy skills. It didn't take him long. When Love was 22, he took part in a Fourth of July rodeo in the town of Deadwood, in Dakota Territory. He outroped and outshot other cowboys to become the "hero of Deadwood." "The assembled crowd," Love wrote, "named me 'Deadwood Dick' and proclaimed me champion roper of the Western cattle country." Love was proud of the nickname, and used it till the end of his life. (The original "Deadwood Dick" was the hero of a popular series of novels about the Old West.)

Love later wrote a book called "The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as Deadwood Dick." The book is full of both tall tales and true adventures; sometimes, it is hard to tell which is which. But there is no doubt that Love lived a full life during the heyday of the Western frontier. He herded cattle, survived stampedes, had his share of card games and gunfights, encountered Indians as both friend and foe, and weathered the rain, snow, sleet, dust storms, and merciless sun of the open prairie.

In 1889, Love hung up his spurs. In 1890, he went to work on the "Iron Horse" instead as a Pullman porter on the railroads that were spreading across the West and pushing "the frontier" to the Pacific. By the time Nat Love died in 1921, the "Wild West" was no more.


Nat Love was not the only African-American to make a living as a cowboy. About one-fourth of all cowboys on the western frontier were black. Like Love, most had headed west at the end of the Civil War, seeking a better life and the kind of freedom they had never known, whether slave or free, when they lived back East.

Blacks also headed west to stake claims to farm and ranch land. They even founded all-black towns on the frontier, such as Nicodemus, Kansas; Dearfield, Colorado; Langston City and Boley, Oklahoma; and Allensworth, California. Black farmers, like their white counterparts, settled on the Great Plains, building sod houses and working the land.

African-Americans also caught "gold fever." They headed west with pickaxes to dig ore out of remote hillsides and panned for gold in wild, rushing rivers.

Life on the frontier was hard for everyone, but blacks often faced the extra burden of racism. Even if a black miner hit pay dirt, in some places he was not allowed to keep it. An 1860 Supreme Court ruling the Dred Scott decision said that blacks descended from slaves had no rights as U.S. citizens. Some whites used that ruling to confiscate (take over) stakes that black miners had worked and made pay off.

Black cowboys perhaps knew greater acceptance than other frontier blacks. Nat Love said that, in town, he and other black cowboys were treated pretty much the same as whites "as long as our money lasted." Out on the open range, the same usually held true as long as a black man had proven his skills in roping, riding, and shooting and was never made foreman or trail boss over white men.


Black women had to work just as hard as black men to make their way out West. Mary Fields, born a slave in a log cabin in Tennessee, went west in 1884, when she was 52 years old. She ended up in Cascade, Montana, with the nuns for whom she worked. Fields was a towering figure on the Western frontier. She was "six feet tall, weighed more than 200 pounds, wore men's clothes, and puffed thick black cigars." A powerful woman made strong by years of heavy slave work, Fields refused to put up with ill treatment from anyone. She lost her job with the nuns when she got into a gunfight with another hired hand. But Fields was tough enough to make her own way on the frontier. She carried the U.S. mail, ran a restaurant, and drove a stagecoach which earned her the nickname "Stagecoach Mary."

In her old age, Fields ran a laundry. Even at age 70, she could hold her own: When a man tried to skip out without paying his laundry bill, Fields followed him, tapped on his shoulder, and when he turned around socked him on the jaw. He went down and Fields went back to work, declaring, "His bill's been paid in full."


Bass Reeves also knew a thing or two about laying down the law. Reeves, a deputy U.S. marshal, was one of many black law officers, sheriffs, deputies, and judges who helped keep law and order alive in the "Wild West."

Reeves spent 30 years in the perilous job of a deputy U.S. marshal in Oklahoma's Indian Territory. A crack shot, he won 14 shoot-outs with men who all drew on him firstwithout suffering a single wound. But what made him one of the best in the West was his smarts. Reeves could not read or write, but he was a skilled detective, a master of disguise, and an expert tracker. Of all the outlaws Reeves went after in his long career, only one ever escaped his iron grasp.


In the late 1800s, one inescapable fact of life on the Great Plains was the clash between the U.S. Army and the Native Americans. Among the army units sent to serve in "Indian Country" were four all-black units: two infantry (foot soldiers) and two cavalry (horsemen).

The Civil War had been the first time in the nation's history that African-Americans had been allowed to serve in the U.S. military. After the war, many newly freed blacks joined the army. They fought the same battles as other frontier soldiers usually against Indians or Mexicans.

The courage and skill of the all-black Plains units soon won them recognition and respect. In fact, the Native Americans so respected their African-American foes that they nicknamed the black units "the Buffalo Soldiers." That was a great compliment, because the Indians held the buffalo in the highest esteem.