Rodeo Draws on Rich Black Cowboy Past & Traditions; Ropes Dollars for Young Scholars Future
By: Darwin Campbell
“Well it’s bulls and blood
It’s dust and mud
It’s the roar of a Sunday crowd
It’s the white in his knuckles
The gold in the buckle
He’ll win the next go ’round
It’s boots and chaps
It’s cowboy hats
It’s spurs and latigo
It’s the ropes and the reins
And the joy and the pain
And they call the thing rodeo”
HUMBLE – Black Cowboys are legendary African American figures who drove great cattle herds across the early west.
They serve as great American icons representing courage, hardiness, and independence.
In just short of two decades, the Black Professional Cowboys and Cowgirls Association Inc. (BPCCA) is having a powerful impact on Houston-Harris County African-American community and the positive education of its youth.
Using the drawing power of three major annual events and the use of rich African-American traditions surrounding Black Cowboy and Cowgirl history and culture, the handful of volunteers has helped revive a mostly ignored part of Black history and brought to light the contributions made to building the West and the American economy.
It truly highlights the rich culture and traditions of the African-American Cowboys & Cowgirls.
“People appreciate these events for the fun and its link to our past,” BPCCA Founder Dwight Judge said. “This has important historical value to the community and shines a bright light on our rich history and contributions to the West.”
However, its main mission lies with education.
In its 18th year, the Black Rodeo event that has provided a total of 154 educational scholarships for deserving Houston areas youth and raised over $150,000 to help fund the education of students.
The next scholarship awards will be handed out in June.
“Its a big deal and the reason we do what we do,” he said. “Our goal is not only to help kids get an education, but also help them be successful pursuing their dreams in life.”
Black Heritage Day
It is the main event of the three and provides a day of entertainment like no other in the Greater Houston metropolitan area.
“Heritage Day” theme is centered on the importance of remembering cultural heritage and to strengthen family traditions and celebrating the rich culture and traditions of African-American families.
Judge said support and attendance for the event held at the Humble Civic Center has been on the increasing for the past four years.
“Attendance has been at capacity and this year is no different,” he said. “It ready, set and go for affordable family fun each year. People come and always get a full day of complete entertainment and great time of fellowship between family and friends.”
Over 200 riders perform and demonstrate Western and ranch skills that go back to days on the open prairie. Some of the popular staple events include Zydeco music and special rodeo events that include Bull Riding, Bronco Riding, Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling, Women Barrel Race, a Mutt-busting competition and kids cash scramble.
Featured each celebration is the exposition with a huge Kid Zone, lots of games, rides, arts & crafts, and original, delicious Southern Cuisine.
According to Judge, many skilled men and women travel and have to Humble from all over Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi to showcase their athleticism and present their best skills from the Old West rodeo culture.
He also added that it is a wonderful place to learn about the Black connection to the Old West.
Black Cowboys History
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Black cowboys have been part of Texas history since the early nineteenth century, when they first worked on ranches throughout the state.
The word cowboy refers to the men who drove herds of cattle from ranchland in Texas over hundreds of miles of rough and dangerous terrain to the stockyards in the north.
Many Black Cowboys have been idealized in motion pictures, television, and books, but the Black Heritage Day Celebration goes a step further.
“Black Heritage Day showcases the rodeo skills and talents of our African-American Cowboys and Cowgirls,” Judge said. “History has been unkind to the African-American Cowboy with White Cowboys getting all the attention and acclaim. This is the other side of the hat.”
The TSHA reports that many of the first black cowboys were born into slavery, but later found a better life on the open range, where they experienced less open discrimination than in the city.
After the Civil War, many were employed as horse breakers and for other tasks, but few of them became ranch foremen or managers.
Some black cowboys took up careers as rodeo performers or were hired as federal peace officers in Indian Territory. Others ultimately owned their own farms and ranches, while a few who followed the lure of the Wild West became gunfighters and outlaws.
A number of them reached enviable reputations.
For example, Bose Ikard, a top hand and drover for rancher Charles Goodnight, also served him as his chief detective and banker. Also, Daniel W. (80John) Wallace started riding the cattle trails in his adolescence and ultimately worked for cattlemen Winfield Scott and Gus O’Keefe.
Mollie Stevenson, a fourth-generation owner of the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch near Houston, founded the American Cowboy Museum to honor black, Indian, and Mexican-American cowboys.
According to historical accounts, a typical crew consisted of one trail chief, eight cowboys, a wrangler to take care of the horses, and a cook.
One historian has estimated that an average crew would have included two or three black cowboys. By the time the huge cattle drives of cowboy legend ended, at least 5,000 black men worked as cowboys.
Black cowboys have continued to work in the ranching industry throughout the twentieth century, and African Americans who inherited family-owned ranches have attempted to bring public recognition to the contributions of their ancestors.
“It provides an up close and personal experience and is something to be proud of,” Judge said. “It demonstrates part of history not taught in schools or known to many of our kids.”
On Boots and Diamonds
BPCCA Fabulous Boots & Diamonds Dance is another annual tradition supporting the cause where family and friends gather together in celebration and fun.
The dance is held annually during the month of February.
It serves as the kick-off to the New Year with dancing, food and surprises. This year featured the renowned work of DJ Jamming J.
According to Judge, this year’s event is the official kick off leading up to the 2017 Black Heritage Day.
“It was a fabulous turnout,” he said. “For the second consecutive year, it was a complete sellout.”
One of the main missions of the BPCCA is the supporting of education and that is evident with its annual scholarship awards.
Scholarships are awarded to high school graduates attending a four year accredited university.
In 2016, Scholarship Recipients awarded by the BPCCA included:
Lauren Adegoke — University of North Texas
Zahria Bush — Grambling State
Andrea Graves — Texas Christian University
Mykah Guy — Texas A&M-College Station
Corneisja Harrison – Dillard University
Shane Hudson — Lamar University
Jovonne Ledet — University of Texas at Austin
Faith Northern — Prairie View A&M University
Phillip Parks Jr. — University of Houston
R’riel Smith — Texas A&M-College Station
Dayla Suber — Prairie View A&M University
Ja Ta’via Stoot — Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
The “Trail Blazer” Award
Also, the purpose of the annual event is to create awareness and recognition for African- American Men and Women who have made significant contributions in the African-American Community.
The “Trail Blazer” Award is the highest award given by the BPCCA.
It is presented every year in recognition of an individual or an organization whose pioneering contributions have been outstanding and unique, and whose efforts have “Blazed-A-Trail” in the community.
In 2016, the Trail Blazers recognized for his contributions and efforts was William “Chilly Bill” Smith.
Judge said it is his hope that the mission to help youth and keep Black Cowboy history alive and in front of the African American community for many generations to come.
“Black cowboys are an important part of our past, present, and future,” he said. “We strive to keep the legend alive and growing.”