TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – Historians estimate that one in four cowboys in 19th century America were of African ancestry. An exhibit in northern New Mexico is exploring the lesser-known legacy of the Black cowboy.
Stories inspired by the wild west are often told through westerns, starring actors like Clint Eastwood, Clayton Moore, and John Wayne. But there is a lesser-known history not often shared – The life of the Black cowboy. The story is now being told at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. It includes drivers, cattle rustlers, broncobusters, and cowpunchers – all with African heritage. “We know that 5,000 to 9,000 individuals that were cowboys were Black. That is almost 25 percent of all cowboys that were ranching in America,” said Nicole Dial-Kay, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at Harwood Museum of Art.
The months-long exhibition, “Outriders: Legacy of the Black Cowboy” opened to guests back in October. “We are storytellers, we are holders of history and that’s something we take very seriously. It is our responsibility to tell a more inclusive, more representative history than has been told” said Dial-Kay.
The show uses narratives and archival photographs depicting the life and work of the Black cowboy from the years immediately before the Civil War through the turn of the twentieth century. “There is a historical section which features archives from federal, state, family, and museum archives,” said Dial-Kay.
A contemporary section includes work from seven artists all responding to the idea of the cowboy. “It goes beyond just Black cowboys. It is more about the lifestyle of African Americans that lived this western lifestyle,” said Ron Tarver, award-winning photographer, and Associate Professor of Art at Swarthmore College contributed four photos to the exhibition.
Other artists in the contemporary section of the exhibition include Kennedi Carter, Praise Fuller, Alexander Harrison, Ivan B. McClellan, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, and Nate Young. “There’s so much diversity in the work and fresh ways of looking at it, coupled with the historical photographs. It is a wide-ranging exhibition,” said Tarver
When the show ends this spring, the photos and artwork will continue to tell a story somewhere else with many of the historical archives headed to The Black Cowboy Museum in Rosenberg, T.X.
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Outriders: Legacy of the Black Cowboy is open through May 7. The Harwood Museum of Art is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.