Recently the film True Grit has gotten rave reviews and has even received a few Oscar wins. The admiration for the Western genre of films is nothing new. We are fascinated we culture of the Wild west and the courage and adventure of the cowboy. There have been thousands of films, comics, books, and novelas produced that tells the story of the cowboy. One of the things many do not realize or know is that 1 out of every 4 cowboys were black. The black cowboy was just as much apart of settling the frontier west just as much as anyone else. Many times the stories of the black cowboy are never told, forgotten, or adapted. For instance the classic movie “The Searchers” starring the western icon John Wayne which tells the story of a cowboy who searches for his niece kidnapped by Comanches is originally the story of a black cowboy Britton Johnson and his posse searching for his wife and children captured by the Comanche Indians.
Bill Pickett was born near Taylor, Texas in 1860. He was later called the “Greatest Cowboy” of his day. Bill Pickett was one of five boys among the Picketts’ thirteen children. Bill left school in the 5th grade to become a ranch hand, and soon he began to ride horses and watch the long horn steers of his native Texas. It was known among cattlemen that, with the help of a trained bulldog, a stray steer could be caught. The bulldog would rescue the steer by using its strong grip on that steer with its teeth perched into the steer’s sensitive nerve tender in the upper nose and lip.
Bill Pickett had seen this happen on many occasions. He also thought that if a bulldog could do this feat, so could he. Bill Pickett practiced his stunt by riding hard and springing from his horse and wrestling the steer to the ground. He then would bite and hold the steer’s sensitive nose and lip – until the steer held still. This act coined Bill Pickett the stunt name of the “Bulldogger.”
Bill Pickett soon became known for his tricks and stunts at local country fairs. With his four brothers, he established The Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association. The name of Bill Pickett soon became synonymous with successful Rodeos. He did his Bull-Dogging act, traveling about in Texas, Arizona, Wyoming and Oklahoma. In 1905 he joined the 101 Wild West Shows as they traveled across the country and in Canada, South America, and even Great Britain. In 1921, he appeared in the films, The Bull Dogger and The Crimson Skull.
In 1932, after he retired from the Wild West Shows, Bill Pickett was killed when he was kicked in the head by a wild bronco. In 1970 Bill Pickett was inducted into the National Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Bass Reeves is thought be one of the first, if not the first, African Americans to receive a commission as a Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River. Reeve was Born enslaved in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas.
Reeves became a crack shot with a pistol. Later Reeves moved to Arkansas and homesteaded near Van Buren. Once he got his farm going, he married Nellie Jennie from Texas. They began raising a family. In time, they had ten children – five boys and five girls.
Reeves and his family farmed until 1875 when Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge in Fort Smith. Parker appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. marshal. It was Fagan’s job to hire 200 deputy U.S. marshals. Fagan heard about Bass Reeves who knew Indian Territory and could speak several Indian languages. Fagan recruited Reeves as a deputy U.S. marshal.
Although he arrested some of the most dangerous criminals of the time, Reeves was never shot (despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions). He had to arrest his own son for murder. Reeves worked a total of thirty-two years as a federal peace officer. During his career he worked the Indian Territory, pre-state Oklahoma. At statehood, Reeves became a member of the Muskogee, Oklahoma, police department at the age of 68. Bass Reeves became a legend in the Indian Territory and was one of Judge Isaac C. Parker‘s, (of Fort Smith, Arkansas‘ federal court), most valued deputies. Reeves was, at one point in his career, himself charged with murdering a posse cook. At his trial, Reeves was represented by W.H.H. Clayton, the former U.S. Attorney, who had established a close friendship with Reeves while working together in law enforcement. Clayton was able to convince a jury to acquit Bass in a trial in front of Judge Parker.
Reeves was an expert with rifle and pistol. During his long career he developed superior detective skills. Before he retired from federal service in 1907, Reeves had arrested over 3,000 felons. Reeves admitted having to shoot and kill fourteen outlaws in defending his life while making arrests. Many scholars consider Reeves to be one of the most outstanding frontier heroes in United States history.Reeves’ health failed in January 1910, when he died of Bright’s disease.
You heard of Bill The Kid or Jesse James but have you heard of the black outlaw who was just as cunning as these two famous outlaws were? Cherokee Bill by the Age of 20 had terrorized the Indian Plain like no one else had ever seen.
Crawford Goldsby, an Oklahoma outlaw better known as Cherokee Bill, was born at Fort Concho, Texas, on February 8, 1876, the son of St. George and Ellen (Beck) Goldsby. At eighteen, while attending a dance at Fort Gibson, Texas, he shot Jake Lewis twice for beating up Crawford’s little brother. He then headed for the Creek and Seminole Nations (now Oklahoma) where he met Jim and Bill Cook, a couple of outlaws.
In the summer of 1894, the Cook’s and Crawford got the owner of a restaurant to go and collect some money due each of them as a payment share for some Indian land called the Cherokee Strip. The government had bought the land. She did collect the money for all three, and on her return was followed by a sheriff’s posse trying to catch up with the Cooks. There was a gunfight at one point, one killed and one wounded. The owner of the restaurant was questioned about the gunfight and was asked if Crawford was amongst the group. She replied no but that it was the Cherokee Kid. This, apparently, was where he gained his nickname.
Some of his biographers contend that he did not begin the exploits that made him infamous until the age of eighteen. Others, however, believe that he killed his first victim when he was only twelve. Biographers also are uncertain when he received the name Cherokee Bill. He murdered at least seven people and may have killed as many as thirteen. Certainly by the time he reached eighteen he had joined the Bill Cook gang in bank and train robberies. Bill later formed his own gang and also rode with such well-known outlaws as Henry Starr and Billy the Kid. With the assistance of acquaintances who hoped to receive part of a $1,500 reward, federal authorities captured Bill and transported him to the federal district court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. There he received a capital conviction for the murder of an unarmed painter who happened to witness Bill’s participation in a robbery. However, Bill’s lawyer appealed the conviction, maintaining that Bill had not received a fair trial in the court of Judge Isaac Parker, a jurist known for his disdain for lawbreakers. After an unsuccessful escape attempt in which he killed a jail guard at Fort Smith, Bill received a second murder conviction.
When the United States Supreme Court rejected his appeal of his first conviction, federal officials hanged him before hundreds of onlookers, on March 17, 1896. His last reported comment was, “I came here to die, not to make a speech.” (source)