Black Cowboys And Pioneers – An Uncovered History

I’ve never liked westerns.

The portrayal of white settlers as brave, courageous pioneers who had to defend themselves from evil, savage, Native Americans had too much whitewashing of America’s westward expansion.

Speaking of whitewashing, when I  very young and watched the rare western, I always wondered “Were there no black people living in the old west?” In western films and television series,  when you did see the rare black actor, they were usually relegated to minor roles playing maids, butlers,  or  some other menial.

But you hardly ever saw black cowboys or pioneers.

In fact, westerns have influenced many into thinking blacks didn’t play any  significant role in this pivotal period of American history. Frankly, I’m ashamed to admit during most of my formative years, I was under such an impression. Fortunately for me, my  eyes were opened several years ago during a vacation in Denver, Colorado.

It was during that trip I made a wonderful discovery:  the Black American West Museum.

Created in 1971, the museum was founded by visionary Paul W. Stewart. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and educate the world about the contributions of Black Americans in the Old West.

Visiting this enlightening and inspiring museum was life changing for me.  It should be considered a national treasure for its important revelations of the unique struggles  black cowboys and pioneers endured in the Old West.

Doctor Justina FordThe historical significance of this museum begins with the very site it is housed in, the home of  Colorado’s first (and for many years only) black female physician, Justina Ford.  Never heard of Dr. Ford?  Before my visit to the museum neither did I, and that is just criminal. Graduating from medical school in 1899 , Dr. Ford was an accomplished woman who led an extraordinary life.   For more of the fascinating details about her life,  please visit this informative article:  Dr.  Justina Ford.


When you are first admitted to the Black American West Museum,  the feeling of history in the air is almost palpable. You are made to feel as if you have traveled back in time. You can almost feel the dusty wind on your face and hear the whinnying of horses.

Your journey into the past truly begins with the start of the self-guided tour. The following  is a partial listing of the permanent exhibits on display:

  • The history of  Dearfield, Colorado.  Founded and populated entirely by black pioneers in 1910, Dearfield was a thriving township until the 1940s. It’s story is riveting
  •  An invaluable collection of cowboy paraphernalia.  A treasure trove of chaps, boots, saddles and other equipment used by black cowboys to carve out their destiny in the wild West
  •  A black military exhibit.  Featuring the civil war era Buffalo Soldiers, as well as personal effects, such as uniforms and photographs, of the Tuskegee Airmen

Besides these wonderful exhibits, there is also a bookstore on the premises with works dedicated to the lives of black  cowboys and pioneers who helped shape the destiny of the Old West.

The museum is a shining example of how important it is that we preserve our history, which is American history.  While it is not possible for everyone to personally visit the museum,  there are other valuable ways you can lend your much needed support, such as with financial donations.

However, the most important way to support the museum’s mission is to share it with everyone within your circles of influence.

One of the mottos of the Black American West Museum is “We tell it like it was.”  Indeed they do, and we need to help them continue, because  the story of black cowboys and pioneers is our story – and it deserves to be told.


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