This summer at Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum, explore the lives and work of the numerous Black men, women and children – enslaved and free – who labored on the ranches of Texas and participated in cattle drives before the Civil War through the turn of the twentieth century in “Black Cowboys: An American Story,” a new exhibition opening May 5 at the CTHM. This powerful exhibition offers insight into legendary cowboys, a clearer picture of the Black West and a more diverse portrait of the American West with artifacts, photographs and documents depicting the work and skills of Black cowboys.
“The individual stories of Black cowboys, illustrating courage in the face of discrimination, skill, despite great odds, and success through generations as ranchers and leaders in their field are powerful,” said Marise McDermott, president and CEO of the Witte Museum, which organized the exhibition. “The Witte Museum was privileged to work closely with an outstanding steering committee and advisors, including community leaders, scholars and Black cowboys and ranchers, to create this unparalleled exhibition, which reveals what life was like for Black cowboys during this time”.
Museum visitors will discover how Black cowboys tamed and trained horses, tended livestock and rode on the trail with thousands of cattle across America. Over time, the role of Black cowboys evolved as they used the skills they learned on the ranch and trail to own their own ranches, serve as lawmen, ride in rodeos, become singers and perform in movies. Today, the lives and legacies of Black cowboys have inspired new generations to explore the past through music, film, fashion and design.
Central to the exhibition is a film about Hector Bazy, portrayed by distinguished actor and playwright Eugene Lee. Born enslaved on a plantation in Grimes County, Texas in 1851, Bazy wrote an autobiography in 1910 describing the exhilarating and dangerous work of cowboy life. In the film, Lee speaks Bazy’s own words to describe his experiences.
“Black cowboys were integral to the growth of Texas’ cattle industry immediately after the Civil War,” shared Ron Davis, PhD Candidate of the University of Texas, who co-curated the exhibition alongside the Witte Texas History Curator Bruce Shackelford. “In fact, one in four cowboys that went up the trails was a Black cowboy.”
“Black Cowboys: An American Story” will run May 5 through August 26, 2023, in the Friar Thomas Community Rooms, Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum.
“Black Cowboys: An American Story” is organized by the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas (wittemuseum.org) and generously supported by Bank of America, the Ed Rachal Foundation, John L. Santikos Charitable Fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation and H-E-B.