If you ever have the chance to visit the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles, please take advantage of it. The museum does a bang up job demonstrating that the history of the West isn't exclusively about white men but also about the contributions that Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans made to the frontier. It's impossible to leave that museum thinking that whites alone are responsible for the West as we know it today. Unfortunately, many Americans have no idea that people of color played roles in the historic West. New documentary "The Forgotten Cowboys" aims to set the record straight.
The film chronicles contemporary cowboys of color and outlines how such cowboys left an imprint on the Old West. CNN reports that in 19th century Texas, a quarter of all cowboys were black. The proportion of Mexican cowboys was even higher. Augusta State University Professor Michael Searles told CNN that black cowboys in particular had it rough. "Breaking of stock (taming horses) and getting horses ready to ride each morning was often the work of the black cowboy--where there were black cowboys--and when they had to cross a swollen river to move cattle ... black cowboys were the first to cross that river," Searles said.
According to the filmmakers, some slaves were even cowboys. After slavery ended, race relations among cowboys were reportedly less tension-filled than race relations among members of the general public. Cowboys simply couldn't afford to allow racism to divide them. Explained "Forgotten Cowboys" filmmaker John Ferguson to CNN: "There are times when you really need the assistance of another cowboy. That was not the place to be too prejudiced or too hostile to the cowboy riding next to you."
So, why don't we know more about cowboys of color? Hollywood may be to blame. Old Western films largely rendered such cowboys invisible. The new documentary hopes to change public perception. Check out "The Forgotten Cowboys" trailer here.