Deuce of Clubs Book Club: Books of the Weak

To Deuce of Clubs index page

I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski

Guy Debord: Revolutionary

No Place to Hide

Command of Office

The Christ-Myth Theory And Its Problems

The Christian Delusion

Lincoln's Wrath

How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself

The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex

Bossypants

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

Catching the Big Fish

Dig Infinity

The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones

Crazy for God

Basin and Range

Anarchy Evolution

The File

John Ringo

The Supremes

End the Fed

Burning Book

The Hohokam Millenium

God's Middle Finger

Narcocorrido

In Heaven Everything Is Fine

The Shunning

Wisdom Sits in Places

The Marvelous Country

Hamilton's Curse

The Secret Life of Houdini

The Trouble with Being Born

Schulz and Peanuts

First Into Nagasaki

Joe Miller's Jests

Human Smoke

Dirty Tricks Cops Use

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

All For A Few Perfect Waves

Systemantics

Death in the Desert

American Signs

Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention

Secrets Of A Stingy Scoundrel

The Self-Made Tapestry

A Constitutional History of Secession

The Neurotic's Notebook

Interrogation Machine

Monster Midway

The Harlot by the Side of the Road

Forced Into Glory

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

J. G. Ballard: Quotes

The Compleat Practical Joker

Laugh with Hugh Troy

Pranks!

A Liar's Autobiography

Cobb

Chasing Rainbows

Letters from Tucson, 1925-1927

The Five Fosters

The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World

How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker

World Famous Cults & Fanatics

That's Not All, Folks!

God's Problem

Will Christ Return By 1988?

Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology

The Whiskey Rebellion

FDR's Folly

Wilson's War

Bully Boy

[If] I Did It

The Dark Side

Secret Origins of the Bible

Godless

The End of Faith

Why I Became An Atheist

"Life's Calendar for 1922"

Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War

The Negro Cowboys

EXPECT RESISTANCE

Monty Python Speaks

Baseball Between the Numbers

The Psychopath's Bible

Satisfaction

J. G. Ballard: Conversations

Days of War, Nights of Love

Gospel Fictions and Who Wrote the Gospels?

The Real Deadwood

Deadwood

The Revolution: A Manifesto

45

The Secret Man

Stormin' Mormon

From Psyche to Soma

I'll Gather My Geese

The Osama bin Laden I Know

Alias "Paine"

A Man Without Words

The Wild Trees

The World Without Us

Arizona's Changing Rivers

The Phoenix Indian School

Realm of the Long Eyes

John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America's First Celebrity Criminal

Buckey O'Neill: The Story of a Rough Rider

Thanks For Tuning In

Adventures in the Apache Country

Waylon: An Autobiography

My Life: Sunrise to Sunset

Mimes and Miners: A Historical Study of the Theater in Tombstone

The First 100 Years: A History of Arizona Blacks

Enter Without Knocking

City in the Sun: The Japanese Concentration Camp at Poston, Arizona

House by the Buckeye Road

Vanished Arizona

The Big Con

The Astronomy Cafe and Back to the Astronomy Cafe

A Handbook on Hanging

The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right

A Mind Restored

Mr. Show: What Happened?!

Reclaiming the American Revolution

Stumbling On Happiness

Treasure Maps of the Superstitions

Sunny Slope

Did Genesis Man Conquer Space?

Look Homeward, America

Radicals for Capitalism

Kayaker's Little Book of Wisdom

God Is Not Great

The Echoing Green

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll

K Foundation Burn a Million Quid

The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes and The Tao of Willie

Just Six Numbers and Our Cosmic Habitat

Wild Goose Chronicles

Behind Bars: Surviving Prison

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce

The Gang They Couldn't Catch

Manhunt

A History of the End of the World

Al Sieber: Chief of Scouts

Apaches & Longhorns

Deep Survival

Captured

DINO

Sock

Bo: Pitching & Wooing

You Are Worthless

You And Your Hand

Access All Areas

Field Guide to the Apocalypse

The War on Terrorism

Those Idiots From Earth

September 11: An Oral History

Mortal Questions

The Heresy of Self-Love

The White Flag Principle

Medieval Panorama

An Honest President

Those Words

À rebours

Peterson's Incident Report Book

Boo! Culture, Experience, and the Startle Reflex

Victory Denied

Nothing, Arizona

A Porcine History of Philosophy and Religion

O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto

DOME COMPENDIUM OF TOPICAL TREATMENT IN PROCTOLOGY

¿Hablas conmigo

Thirty-three Candles

Black Monk Time

Men of Distinction

Alexander the Corrector

Space Viking

Mark These Men

Hallucinogenic Plants

Prohibition: An Adventure in Freedom

JESUS! He's Our President

LOVE

How to Watch Football on Television

Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love

Lincoln: The Man and The Car

Whatever Men Know About Women

Biographies of Italian War Heroes

ABC of Espionage

Art Colony Perverts

Devil-ution

Starting Right with Bees

Planet Earth is a Cult

Baseball Letters

Fetish

Dopey Doings

Democracy: The God That Failed

Handgrenade Talk

Hi, How Are You?

het zingen van het ijs

The Museum of Jurassic Technology Jubilee Catalogue

The Rector and the Rogue

Colorful Cacti of the American Deserts

Odd Jobs: The World of Deviant Work

The Hungry Man's Outdoor Grill Cookbook

How to Get Invited to the White House

How to Work for a Jerk

Never Work for a Jerk!

The Mentality of Apes

Your Vigor for Life Appalls Me

Dr. Strange: Sorceror Supreme

Nautical Notions for Nibbling

A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity

The Fake Revolt

Coup D'Etat

History of the Town of Felicity

Hood of Death

Dolls' House Bathrooms: Lots of Little Loos

Border Security / Anti-Infiltration Operations

Living on Light

God is for Real, Man

Did the Apostle Paul Visit Britain?

Twin Peaks

2001

Power Phrases

The Truth About Wagner

The Life of the Bee

Tombstone

Science Looks at Smoking

The Chiricahuas

The New Dark Ages Conspiracy

The Big Question

Everybody's Book of Epitaphs

The Death of the Fuhrer

Mindfuckers

Gorbachev! Has the Real Antichrist Come?

The World's Worst Poet

Alyssa Milano: She's the Boss

Home is the Desert

Nine Lives: From Stripper to Schoolteacher

How to Start Your Own Country

How to Found Your Own Religion

Sex Objects in the Sky

Indian Oratory

Bastard Without Portfolio

The Bedside Book of Bastards

Hopeless -- Yet There Is Hope

Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand

Margie Asks WHY

Death of a Hippie

Wake Up or Blow Up

Feeling and Form

Guilt

A Mile in His Moccasins

Mojave Desert Ramblings

Passing of the Outhouse

This Way to Happiness

The Happy Life

Young Only Once

The Monkey Gland Affair

Bert Bacharach's Book for Men

The Two Babylons

For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes...

Why Christians Crack Up!

Why Do Christians Break Down?

Hava Nagila!

Beethoven or Bust

How to Abandon Ship

Livin' in Joe's World

The Last Democrat

Salvation Mountain

The Varmint and Crow Hunter's Bible

Love in the Western World

Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend

Little Men of the NFL

No One May Ever Have The Same Knowledge Again

The Secret Museum of Mankind

James Bond's World of Values

We Did Not Plummet Into Space

The Boy Who Didn't Believe IN CHRISTMAS

The Great Escape From Your Dead-End Job

All About Tipping

My Loser Godfrey

A Haircut in Horse Town

Mucusless Diet Healing System

Jefferson Returns

Lincoln Returns

Churchill Returns

Corporation Freak

Null Bock auf DDR

So You're Going on a Mission?

Nudes in My Camera

Why I Hate the Nazis

Flesh, Metal & Glass

The James Beard Cookbook

Mortal Refrains

Deadbolt

Amy Grant: A Biography

The X Cars

We Were Five

Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder

Hello ... Wrong Number

I'll Kill You Next!

Murder in Vegas

Did MAN Just Happen?

Terror at the Atlanta Olympics

Criswell Predicts

Your Next Ten Years

They Pay Me to Catch Footballs

The Phantom Menace

Just For Fellows

The Lopsided Gal

Astrology and Horse Racing

The Cokesbury Stunt Book

The Origin of Things

Remarks on the History of Things

U.S. Government Sewing Book

Funeral Tributes II

Blinky, the Friendly Hen

The Serbs Choose War

My Mystery Castle

Iggy

Funeral Customs the World Over

The Right to be Let Alone

Mormonism and the Negro

The Church and the Negro

Preacher with a Billy Club

Fighting Parson of the Old West

Invisibility: Mastering the Art of Vanishing

How to Disappear Completely

The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man

Langenscheidts Konversationsbuch

Marlene Dietrich's ABC

The Bible in the Hands of Its Creators


The Negro Cowboys

Philip Durham & Everett L. Jones (1965; rpt. 1983)

 

Now they are forgotten, but once they rode all the trails, driving millions of cattle before them. Some died in stampedes, some froze to death, some drowned. Some were too slow with guns, some too fast. But most of them lived through the long drives to Abilene, to Dodge City, to Ogallala. And many of them drove on to the farthest reaches of the northern range, to the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana.
They numbered thousands, among them many of the best riders, ropers and wranglers. They hunted wild horses and wolves, and a few of them hunted men. Some were viIlains, some were heroes. Some were called offensive names, and others were given almost equally offensive compliments. But even when one of them was praised as "the Whitest man I've ever known," he was not white.
For they were the Negro cowboys.
They rode with white Texans, Mexicans and Indians. All the real cowboys—black, brown, red and white—shared the same jobs and dangers. They ate the same food and slept on the same ground; but when the long drives ended and the great plains were tamed and fenced, the trails ended too. The cattle were fenced in, the Negroes fenced out.
Years later, when history became myth and legend, when the cowboys became folk heroes, the Negroes were again fenced out. They had ridden through the real West, but they found no place in the West of fiction. That was peopled by tall, lean, tanned—though-lily-white under the shirt—heroes who rode through purple sage made dangerous by dirty villains, red Indians and swarthy "greasers," only occasionally being helped by "good Indians" and "proud Spanish-Americans." Even the Chinese survived in fiction, if only as pigtailed caricatures who spoke a "no tickee, no washee" pidgin as they shuffled about the ranch houses. Although the stereotypes were sometimes grotesque, all but one of the races and nationalities of the real West appeared in fiction.
All but the Negro cowboy, who had vanished. (1-2)

Many of the first settlers of the Willamette Valley were Southerners, and while they could not change the ruling of the 1843 provisional constitution that prohibited slavery, they added a provision in 1844 which expelled all the Negroes and mulattoes. So in that same year, when George W. Bush, a free Negro, joined an expedition to Oregon, he was refused settlement there. (6)

Negro cowboys hunched in their saddles during blizzards and thunderstorms, fought grass fires and turned stampedes, hunted wild mustangs and rode wild horses. Wolves threatened their cattle, and rattlesnakes crawled into their camps. Their lives were like those of all other cowboys—hard and dangerous.
The point of their history is not that they were different from their companions but that they were similar. They had neither peculiar virtues nor vices to be glorified or condemned. But they should be remembered. (12)

Occasionally a Negro cowboy was spared some of the most dangerous work. Because he was himself valuable property, his owner protected him. Therefore white bronc busters frequently were hired to ride bucking outlaw horses; they sat in dangerous saddles, taking the shocks of bucking, sometimes bleeding from nose and mouth, sometimes fainting, risking rupture, mutilation, or death while expensive Negroes watched from a corral fence. Thus Abel (Shanghai) Pierce, a white cowboy who became one of the greatest of the early cattlemen, was only nineteen when he was hired by Bradford Grimes in 1853 as a bronc buster on Grimes's ranch near Palacios. He was paid fifteen dollars a month. (16-17)

In Texas, as in other Southern states, Reconstruction left a bitter heritage of racial antagonism. (23)

The whites were easily insulted. One Negro was plowing a field when Jack Helms, the white cowboy sheriff of De Witt County, went riding by. The Negro left off plowing, climbed up on the rail fence and began to whistle "Yankee Doodle" as Helms passed. Helms drew his powder and ball Colt and shot the Negro between the eyes. Then Helms rode on, and the Negro's body lay where it fell until only the bones remained. (23)

One of the common stories of the range, according to J. Frank Dobie, told of the tenderfoot Negro cowboy put on first night guard and instructed to call his relief when the North Star set. The next morning he rode in, tired and sleepy-eyed, to find his relief enjoying a cup of coffee after a good night's sleep. The tenderfoot complained that he had watched the star all night but that it had never moved. His first lesson in astronomy had been a hard one. (40)

Cowboys, if they could swim at all, were rarely strong swimmers, and the treacherous currents of high, muddy rivers were made even more dangerous by struggling cattle and horses, floating branches and debris, and hidden rocks and snags. (42)

Cattlemen who knew the dangers of dissension among their crews made their cowboys pledge not to drink, gamble or swear while on the trail. There is doubt that the cowboys kept their pledge not to swear, but drinking and gambling during the drives were uncommon. Only after a thousand miles of blistering sun, choking dust, drenching rain, filthy clothes and sweat-caked bodies did the boys arrive in Abilene for a day or two of don't give-a-damn seeing the elephant. Their trail's-end pay of eighty or a hundred dollars could go in one wild night of drinking, gambling and whoring.
During the months on the trail a close relationship was built up among all members of the crew—among the cowboys, the boss, the cook and the wrangler—that was little affected by differences of race and color. It would, of course, be ridiculous to say that there was no discrimination when men of different races worked together, particularly when most of them were Texans during the bitterness of Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction. But the demands of their job made them transcend much of their prejudice. On a drive, a cowboy's ability to do his work, to handle his share and a little extra, was far more important than his color. To be a good cowboy, one needed first of all to be a good man, for a wild longhorn had no more respect for a white Texan than for a Negro.
An old economic reality helped, too. When there are more jobs than men to fill them, there is less discrimination. And in the beginning, with literally millions of cattle and few experienced cowboys, trail bosses could not afford the luxury of unbridled discrimination. Many contemporary accounts show that some of the best riders, ropers, wranglers and cooks were Negroes. (43-4)

When nationality or color is mentioned in accounts of the trail drives, far more Negroes than Mexicans are identified. It also appears that Mexicans, although many of them were excellent vaqueros, adapted themselves less well than Negroes to the long drives. They suffered from prejudices nearly as strong as those that worked against Negroes, and they had a language handicap. Unlike the Negroes, who could expect some protection from the law during Reconstruction days, as well as active sympathy from some old Abolitionists in Kansas, Nebraska and other northern states, the Mexicans were despised foreigners in a strange land. Unlike the Negroes, who found that provisions for Negro troops had opened restaurants, saloons and even whorehouses to them, the Mexicans could expect to find themselves welcome only at the gambling tables. Small wonder, then, that Mexicans appear infrequently in accounts of the drives to Abilene, Dodge City and Cheyenne. (44-5)

Understandably, most of the men who wrote of their days on the plains did not designate color or nationality among the cowboys with whom they rode. One finds reminiscences in which a cowboy is introduced by name as one of many others and then several pages later is identified, almost by chance, as a Negro. But from a sampling of writers who seemingly did note race or nationality with some consistency, one can infer that a typical trail crew had among its eight cowboys two or three Negroes. Its boss was almost certain to be white, although a few Negroes led crews up the trail. Its wrangler might be Negro or Mexican. Its cook was likely to be a Negro—usually an ex-cowboy. (45)

Always there were rattlesnakes that could spook the horses. Or even worse, they could bite the wrangler, who spent more time afoot than any other member of the crew except possibly the cook. Once bitten, he could expect rough and drastic treatment. In the early seventies a Negro wrangler named Dick came back to the wagon sucking his thumb; his hand and arm were already badly swollen. One of the cowboys immediately drew a knife and gashed—"almost hashed"—the thumb around the fang marks. Then he opened a pistol cartridge, poured powder over the wound,and lighted it with a match. Dick seems to have survived both the bite and the treatment. (48-9)

Jack Thorp remembered that "any one riding up to the wagon was supposed to approach behind the fire so that no sand would blow into the skillets and ovens. Any green puncher who, not knowing this law, violated it, was likely to learn it soon enough, by being told the names of his ancestors and kinfolk. Even a Negro cook, who was frequently forced by Texas mores to be more than ordinarily polite, was usually recognized as something of "an autocrat within his jurisdiction." Failure to treat him with consideration could be punished in too many ways: an erring cowboy found his coffee weak, his beans cold and hard, his meat full of gristle, his bedroll misplaced, his comfort disturbed by countless accidents. Whether Negro or white, cranky or cheerful, the "old woman" was a very important member of the trail crew. (50)

Hundreds of miles due north of Doan's Store lay Dodge City, the head of the trail. Frequently a crew positioned the chuck wagon each night so that its tongue pointed to the North Star and showed the direction of the next day's drive. (64)

The first man killed in Dodge City was both innocent and unlucky. He was a tall Negro named Tex, whose only mistake was standing in a crowd on the street during some minor excitement. The crowd milled around, guns were fired, and Tex fell dead. At the time, everybody thought his death was an accident, but years later a gambler named Denver, then many miles from Dodge, boasted that he had shot Tex "just to see him kick." (65)

Zeke lay down on the blanket, took a long knife from inside his shirt and stuck it into the jamb of the door. Then he took out another knife and drove it into the floor, convenient to his hand.
So guarded, Bolds and the Colonel spent a quiet night. (67)

Although Negroes suffered from discrimination and abuse in Dodge City, there were many white cattlemen like Jim Thornhill. One of his friends explained him this way:
"Jim had a code of his own. I knew his affection for his boys, yet I have heard Jim say he would rather see any of his boys dead than ever take a backstep when they knew they were in the right.
"Unlike so many of his kind, Jim held no racial prejudice. Black, white, yellow and red, they were all alike to Jim. Yet he believed that no race as a whole was worth the powder to blow it to hell. To Jim the human race as a whole was a failure. Only the individual counted, no matter what his color or creed—and a friend could do no wrong." (70-1)

As a tough Olive gunman, the big Negro Kelly frightened settlers in western Nebraska; at almost the same time some quite different settlers in eastern Nebraska were debating "the Negro question." In the Rock Creek community, about sixteen miles northeast of Lincoln, the local Mutual Improvement Society held a series of debates in 1880 and 1881, and in these debates the proper status of Negroes was a recurring question. The decisions of the judges, though undoubtedly influenced by the forensic skill of the debating teams, seem also to have reflected the community sentiment. Thus the judges agreed that Guiteau should be hanged for shooting President Garfield and that Chinese immigration should be prohibited, but they did not believe that enfranchisement of Negroes should be gradual nor that Negroes should be colonized in Africa. They believed that American Negroes were citizens of the United States and should be recognized as such. (83)

Negroes were among the miners, and some of them dug great quantities of gold from their claims. In Lawrence County, on the border of Dakota and Wyoming, "Nigger Hill" took its name from a group who arrived at the mines in 1875 and staked a claim on a hill some distance from a creek. White prospectors sent them there as a joke, and the innocent tenderfeet began to work a dry claim. Carrying all their water, they began placer mining and soon hit a rich pocket that yielded thousands of dollars. Farther south, in Pennington County, both "Nigger Creek" and "Nigger Gulch" took their names from a miner named Jackson, who worked, died and was buried in the area. Hundreds of other Negroes came to work on the claims or in the mines, but they were not celebrated in place names. (85)

One Negro cowboy who stayed in South Dakota was more fortunate than many. He worked as a horsebreaker, and his methods were admired by Theodore Roosevelt, who first came into a little town in the Bad Lands in 1883. Roosevelt built himself a place on the Little Missouri River, served as a deputy sheriff and became a cattleman.
The Negro cowboy was named Williams, and he worked for the Langs, near-neighbors of Roosevelt. Williams's specialty was horse breaking, according to Lincoln A. Lang, who later wrote a book, Ranching with Roosevelt. Williams did not "bust" horses or break their spirits; he broke them to saddle by winning their friendship and confidence. In Lang's account Williams was a "past-master of the art cool, collected, apparently fearless—if there was anything he did not know about handling horses, we never found it out. Moreover, if there was a horse in the range country that could throw him, nobody ever produced one." According to Lang, "Williams was the first to introduce sane horse breaking in our section of the country."
Roosevelt became "an interested and sympathetic observer" of Williams's methods. He watched the Negro handling horses in the corral—getting them used to mounting and dismounting, accustoming them to saddle and harness—and then the rancher adopted the same methods, as far as possible, on his own ranch. (89-90)

When John L. [Sullivan] offered to fight the four biggest men in Tombstone in one ring, nobody volunteered. When the world champion offered to knock out a mule with one punch, nobody offered an expensive mule for the sacrifice. (113)

The good men and the bad men—indeed most of the population of Arizona—were concentrated in the southern part of the state. It is no accident that Cochise County and the town of Tombstone are among the most famous Arizona names in early Western history. The northern counties were more thinly populated and less wealthy; consequently much of their history was less eventful. (113)

With this jail delivery, "Nigger Jeff's" name disappears from the stories of the range war. He may have left the range, or he may have left Arizona.
Or he may have continued to ride and fight. His story illustrates the difficulties faced by any modern reader who tries to discover the role of Negro cowboys in the West. Jeff might never have been remembered as a Negro if his nickname had not included an offensive epithet or if he had not posed for his picture with a group of his friends in a local photographic studio. He might never have been remembered at all, for that matter, had he not ridden through a large crowd of hostile Mexicans, fighting a rear guard action against nearly hopeless odds, helping to save the life of another cowboy. (116)


Buy this book

To Deuce of Clubs