Skip to main content

Black Outlaws, Cowboys, and Lawmen of the Old Wild West

I've always been interested in history that no one ever talks about.

It's true—Black cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen all existed in the Old West. In fact, there were plenty of them. Read on to learn about some of the most famous Black cowboys.

It's true—Black cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen all existed in the Old West. In fact, there were plenty of them. Read on to learn about some of the most famous Black cowboys.

Were There Black Outlaws and Cowboys in the Old West?

When you hear about Black outlaws and cowboys of the Old West, you might be sitting there scratching your head: “Why—that’s an oxymoron! I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

Yeah, I know you haven’t because they were literally “whitewashed” (pun intended) out of Old West history. Oh, I know you may have heard of the “Buffalo Soldiers,” but that was only part of the story. According to historians, about a third of all cowboys were of African American descent. Bet you never saw that in the movies when you were growing up, did you? Neither did I!

The doctrine of White Supremacy permeated the air during the Old West and after. So, the exploits of Black cowboys, lawmen, and outlaws in the storied history of the Old West weren’t deemed important or worthy enough for inclusion in the annals of Old West history. This was reserved for White men only.

I mentioned Black lawmen, and you probably thought “Black lawmen?” while scratching your head at the same time. I thought the same thing when I first started researching the true history of the Old West.

This article covers the following four significant Black cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen of the Old West:

  1. Bass Reeves
  2. Ned Huddleston (aka Isom Dart)
  3. William “Bill” Pickett
  4. Cherokee Bill

1. Bass Reeves

Bass Reeves (1838-1910) was a famous Old West lawman. He was born in Arkansas territory but also lived in Lamar and Grayson counties Texas.

Reeves was born into slavery and was enslaved by Col. George R. Reeves, who eventually became the speaker of the house of Texas. Reeves adopted his enslaver's last name as many Black enslaved people did. To obtain his freedom, Reeves escaped to Indian Territory and served with the Union Indian Home Guard Regiments during the Civil War.

After the war ended, he moved to Van Buren, Arkansas, and became a farmer. Reeves sometimes found employment as a guide for deputy U.S. marshals working out of the Federal court in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

He bragged that he knew Indian Territory “like a cook knows her kitchen.” Because of his knowledge and skill as a tracker, Judge Isaac C. Parker, the so-called “hanging judge” because of the many men he sent to the gallows, made Reeves a deputy U.S. marshal in 1875.

Reeves was one of the earliest Black men to be commissioned as a deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He served as a deputy Marshal for thirty-two years and was very successful in performing his duties. He was a celebrated lawman during his life. (Amazing— and we’ve never heard of him.)

It's said that Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie Hang 'em High was based on Reeves's life.

Isom Dart

Isom Dart

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

2. Ned Huddleston (aka Isom Dart)

Another famous Black outlaw and rustler was Ned Huddleston (also known as Isom Dart) who was born into enslavement in Arkansas in 1849. He earned a reputation as a rider, roper, and bronco-buster and was called the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy.” He was also a notorious Wyoming Territory outlaw.

In 1861, twelve-year-old Huddleston accompanied his enslaver, a Confederate officer, to Texas during the Civil War. Huddleston was freed at the end of the war and took off for the Southern Texas/Mexico border region where he became a master horseman and found work at a rodeo as a stunt rider.

He joined a notorious band of rustlers called The Tip Gault Gang, and changed his name to Isom Dart. He trained horses for the Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s gang, and was a successful rustler.

He tried many times to give up his rustler’s life and go straight, but was never able to. On August 3, 1900, as he came out of the front door of his ranch, the notorious range detective Tom Horn, who had been hired by local ranchers to rid the area of rustlers, shot him dead.

3. William “Bill” Pickett

This legendary cowboy, born in Texas on December 5, 1870, invented bulldogging, a practice still popular in rodeos to this day. His name was William “Bill” Pickett.

Pickett’s bulldogging was a lot different than the way it’s done today. Pickett would leap off his horse, grab the steer’s head, twist it toward him, bite its upper lip, and hold it with his teeth to control the steer while raising his hands in the air in victory.

Amazingly, Pickett started cowboying after completing the fifth grade. He became so skillful at roping, riding, and bulldogging, that he put on exhibitions, passing a hat to collect donations.

During his career, Pickett toured the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, and England, and was the first black cowboy movie star. Unfortunately, as in major league sports, he wasn’t allowed to compete against white rodeo performers or he probably would have been known as the greatest performer in rodeo history.

Pickett died in 1932 after being kicked in the head by a horse, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he was finally inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. In 1989, he was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. In 1994 a U.S. postage stamp honored his memory. During his lifetime (as with other blacks and minorities), Bill Pickett never received the glory and respect he so justly deserved.

Last but not least is the notorious outlaw of color, Cherokee Bill, who was said to be far worse than Billy the Kid.

Cherokee Bill (Crawford Goldsby)

Cherokee Bill (Crawford Goldsby)

4. Cherokee Bill

Cherokee Bill's real name was Crawford Goldsby, and his father was Black and served with the Buffalo Soldiers. His mother was part Black and Native American. He was born on February 8, 1876, in Fort Concho, Texas, one of St. George and Ellen Goldsby's four children.

In July 1894 Cherokee Bill was involved in a host of robberies and murders as part of the notorious Cook gang headed up by brothers, Bill and Jim Cook. He and the Cook gang ran havoc over the Indian Territory for over two years.

On November 8, 1894, Cherokee Bill and the cook gang robbed the Shufeldt & Son General Store, during the robbery Cherokee shot and killed Ernest Melton, an innocent bystander, who had the misfortune of entering the store as it was being robbed.

Cherokee was said to have such a bad temper that when he and his brother-in-law, Mose Brown, got in a dispute about some hogs, Cherokee shot and killed him. Cherokee Bill was responsible for the murders of at least seven men during his lifetime.

Cherokee Bill's career as an outlaw come to an end in 1896, when he was captured, tried, and sentenced to hang for the murders he committed by the so-called “hanging judge” Isaac Parker.

When the noose was placed around his neck he was asked if he had any last words, he said, “I came here to die, not make a speech.” And the notorious career of Crawford "Cherokee Bill" Goldsby, had come to an end.

More African-American Cowboys and Outlaws to Look Up

This was just a short synopsis of the subject to get you started on a more thorough look at the topic. Other African-American Old Westerners you may want to look up include, Addison Jones, Bob Leavitt, Bose Ikard, Bronco Sam, Charley Willis, Nat Love (Deadwood Dick), One Horse Charley, George Glenn, and Stagecoach Mary Fields, to name a few.

Happy hunting!

African-American Cowboy: The Forgotten Man of the West

Questions & Answers

Question: Are you, the writer of this article, a descendant of Denmark Vesey?

Answer: I don't know! But I believe that all of the various spelling of that name Vesey Veasy Veasey Veesee etc

Originated from his name. He actually took the name of his slave ship captain

© 2012 VC L Veasey


VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on August 10, 2020:

You're welcome! Glad You appreciate it!

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on June 19, 2020:

Thank you for this information. I love it.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on May 12, 2018:

Thanks John Ferguson! I really enjoyed the videos!

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on May 09, 2018:

Thanks for your comment Youma.bouare!

youma.bouare on May 09, 2018:

this is wonderful

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on April 09, 2018:

What's up John Ferguson!

Thanks for the video links! Very cool!

Yeah we've got to make people aware

of the hidden, purposely, neglected history

of the Black Cowboys

John Ferguson on April 09, 2018:

I love that these stories are now becoming more mainstream. This stories on the contribution that African-American Cowboys made to the Western narrative has long been neglected or plainly forgotten. Hollywood also played a major role in playing down their roles in the opening up the dangerous and wild frontier of the 1800’s. Indeed many black cowboys preferred life on the open plains as opposed to working in the cotton fields or other forced labour jobs. You can see my contribution via my photo project here at

I hope you like what you see.

John Ferguson

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on March 08, 2018:

Thanks for your comments Khalid R Watson, koihjugbf, Deanna, b

I really appreciate yall!

Khalid R Watson on March 08, 2018:

I like reading a lot

koihjugbf on February 08, 2018:

I love reading things like this might not have to learn nothing else or more

Ghujyuj on January 31, 2018:


VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on December 18, 2017:

Thanks David Thomas! I'm glad you appreciate my work!

David Thomas on December 16, 2017:

Very Informative. Outstanding!

C. Johnson on August 21, 2017:

I grew up in Kansas, a great place to be raised live, and rich in "Cowboy" and western history. As a man of color, I remember the only thing said or taught me about black cowboys and or lawmen was...nothing! However we were taught that John Brown did so much for "the blacks", and on more than one occasion told by white teachers how "thankful we should be for our being saved by him"! I loved western movies as a kid, but was perplexed why I never saw myself ever on the silver screen. I enjoy Kevin Costner movies, but was sorely disappointed when no men of color emerged from "the corn fields" to play baseball, then James E. Jones gives this "all about the game" speech which for me rendered the movie hollow. Mr. Eastwoods done a decent job in his portrayal of native Americans, with a "drop" of MOC characters. But the issue of (non)educating the public especially our nations youth to the accomplishments and failures, good and bad of all her citizens needs to be addressed. I just found out yesterday that the "first distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey was a black man!, Mr. Nearest Green taught Mr. Daniels the art! Mr. Veasey thank you very much for your interest, research and the sharing of this story of our country's history. In closing let me share another citizen that I'll bet 90% (or more) of Americans have not heard of, and who happens to be my paternal cousin.... "Oscar" Micheaux. Happy researching

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on July 01, 2017:

Larry young

You're welcome! Glad you appreciate this info

Larry young on June 30, 2017:

thank you for this wonderful piece of information

Tony on January 10, 2017:

This is great. I've been to Tombstone AZ twice and loved it. I realized something last year. There was no blacks in costume there. That's when I found this. I love the movie Tombstone but why is there nothing on blacks in the old west? Why not movie's made about these men? Most ppl when they hear old west they think of Wyatt Earp or Billy the Kids. Why not give us some new ppl to learn about like I Isom Dart or Bass Reeves? I'm sure enough could be found on them. Ty for educating me on some of our history that many no nothing about.

Griffin on November 03, 2016:

very cool

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on September 21, 2016:

Nice Eric but not germane to the topic

ericdierker on September 20, 2016:

I have no darned Idea why this came up. My gradeschool rival and thereafter buddy James Joyce died a bit ago. For sure he was a pard and teamate. As we look back on it he was dark skinned. No damed buddy ever thought of James Joyce as black. We looked at him as powerful and except for my prowess the best in town as center on in court. -- State Champs 1972 AZ

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on September 20, 2016:

Vik go to this link

also this one Wikipedia article "Cowboy"

in Ethnicity section

Cattle on a thousand hills "The overland Monthly, March 1887 in the note section

Vik on September 20, 2016:

"According to historians, about a third of all the cowboys were African Americans." Which historians?

Hollywood Jackson on December 28, 2015:

Great post.

HollywoodJackson on December 28, 2015:

Great post.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on May 29, 2015:

Thanks qeyler

qeyler on May 29, 2015:

Really enjoyed your hub

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on February 18, 2015:

I agree Fred!

You're welcome Angela!

Angela on February 16, 2015:

Thanks for the hearing about black history.

Fred Browning on December 06, 2014:

I think is Time that We see our Black Cowboys in Weastern Movies. We are American History as Well!

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on October 08, 2014:

Thanks for your comments Rodric29

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on October 08, 2014:

Thanks for your comments Tina!

Feel free to post this on Facebook if you so desire.

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on October 07, 2014:

I thought this hub was informative because I am aware that Blacks tryied to settled out west in towns which were taken from them if they became too prosperous.

Sadly, this is not a Black man's country back then. Now it is more free for all people is what matters. It is nice to know there were exceptions to the rule back then, voted up.

Tina on September 16, 2014:

Why don't anyone post stuff like this on Facebook because there are millions of FB friends who would love to read about our history Please post something when ever you can I Didn't Even Know That a black man was the one who invented a way to get to the moon so please post thank you moon

richard chapple on September 01, 2014:

Always loved wild west history and its much more meaningful when it's your own history. I knew of some of the cowboys but now I have been more enlightened and shall dig deeper,as someone said earlier we are not entertainers solely but important intellectuals in the history of the world. Thanks again for the knowledge...

Jeff on June 25, 2014:

HUB!!!!!! GREAT JOB........I , am thankful for the knowledge of more African American history.

VOTED UP!!!!!!

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on February 08, 2014:


All I can say is you're Right and

Amen Brother!

JonDIDit on February 07, 2014:

This IS a wonderful hub but there is so much more to tell about each of them. I encourage others to do some research on their own and find out even more. I am TRYING to write a screenplay for Morgan Freeman who would like to play Reeves and hasn't found a good script but I think he might be pleased to direct if the right script comes along. His life was so rich it is hard to do especially because I am NOT a writer. I LOVE the research part but I am a good script doctor ...go figure;) But each of the men spoken of here had a rich life even if they did do some rotten things they also did some good things along way. It is hard to write of a day or two in their lives when they had so many they did that we all need to know. There are many more that have been portrayed in films but by whites. I have so many names of men and women that have been hidden or deleted from mainstream history and you find them in old newspaper articles or old books. Look at how long it took for the world to know that there was a woman among the Buffalo Soldiers. Solomon Northrup was not the only one to write of his life as a slave which the film took a lot of liberties with but a least it was finally told. We need to try to tell as many as we can in whatever format we can use, republish the books, stories of those who came to Midwest and founded small towns and those that went to the Northwest and founded more towns and one right here is CA and give all our people the credit they deserve.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on February 07, 2014:

Mark Myers I would be honored to for you

to do that! Thanks!

Mark Myers on February 07, 2014:

I like your hub video . I am vice president of black culture enlightenment society (bcesociety) and produces the blackcowboyfestival at my fram for pass seventeen years a sanction event for state of south carolina ; I would like to put your hub on web site

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 17, 2013:

Buddy I be tickled pink here in. I was much raised by a black man in and around 4 - 10. He was a decorated Marine from Korea. Emmit was so cool he ran the rule. If my momma was a bad lady, well she more than made up for it hiring Emmet. Cajun to the core. And beholding to the corps.

I am sorry, I am not

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on August 11, 2013:

Yeah Maestro

that's because most of them, including some "black folks", have been brainwashed by the "white - washed" version of the history of the United States

MaestroECMcCloud from Lexington, South Carolina on August 11, 2013:

To hear some folks tell it Weasey, we've been here four hundred years and haven't done a damn thing but pick cotton, sing, dance and play sports. Sadly this speaks to a larger problem. Much of white America still sees African-Americans for our entertainment value. Beyond that, we're supposed to keep smiling and shut the hell up until given permission to speak.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on August 10, 2013:

yep All part of the same neglected history

H C Palting from East Coast on August 10, 2013:

Awesome hub. For some reason it also reminded me of the contributions and skills of the forgotten black jockeys of horse racing. I enjoyed reading.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on July 14, 2013:

Thanks Michele

I appreciate it

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on July 14, 2013:

Awesome hub. So many African Americans have done so much, like inventing things. But, it has been covered up.

Thanks for writing this. I love it!

Voted up.

John David from Middle America on June 22, 2013:

Great look into a hidden section of the Old West. Very insightful and thanks for bringing many of these Cowboys to light. Thumbs Up!!

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on June 21, 2013:

Thanks for this hub! I fully agree that this knowledge needs to be promoted. There's more to black history than slavery, sharecropping, slums and civil rights.

Another book you may be interested in is "Blacks in Gold Rush California". One story tells of some southern whites who traveled there, bringing one black slave with them. One morning they woke to find Native Americans had come in the night and stolen all their horses - and the one slave! Yeah, right... LOL!

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on June 21, 2013:

Say Yes To Life

thanks for commenting.

I'm familiar with Jim Beckwourth and the pass named after him.

This was just a short synopsis for those who may not be aware of blacks in the old west and to spur them to learned more about the unsung blacks of that era

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on June 21, 2013:

This is great! I highly recommend the book, "Black People Who Made The Old West", which profiles 36 blacks. You listed several people who are in the book, including Isom Dart, Bill Picket, Stagecoach Mary, Cherokee Bill, and Nat Love.

One person I really liked in the book is James P Beckworth. He was born in 1798 to an African mother and White slavemaster. When he was past 21, his master criticized his womanizing ways, and James slugged him and ran off. He became a mountain man, living among the Crow tribe in Wyoming for 14 years. Eventually he found a pass going north from Reno into California. The pass (now covered by Hwy 70) and the California town where he settled in old age still bear his name, Beckwourth. You may want to read his book sometime; "The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth".

Back in 1992, I visited Sierra Hot Springs, which is 40 miles south of Beckwourth. When I arrived, I was surprised to find a black woman working the front desk. Then I thought she might be one of James Beckwourth's descendents. It turns out she'd never heard of him! She was from Washington state, and was simply traveling around. She'd been working there 6 months. I wonder whatever became of her.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on March 07, 2013:

Thanks Tayshia

Yeah research Mr Reeves he's a great unsung

hero of the "Old West"

Tayshia on March 07, 2013:

I really enjoyed this Hub! I had heard about Cherokee Bill, but not to this extent. I would also be really interested in researching Mr. Reeves. Lastly, the pictures are fabulous!

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on February 24, 2013:

S Leretseh

thank for commenting!

Interesting perspective

You said "The black man was suppose to be separate and self-reliant as a people i.e. he was suppose to provide for himself with the structure and confines of his own male group."

Is this some philosophy that you made up yourself?

How could the "black" man be self-reliant when they were captured, bought and sold like cattle in a country that they didn't know and couldn't speak the language.

Where it was against the law to teach them to read and write?

Where Africans from different groups who spoke different languages and dialects were indiscriminately mixed together and sold?

Where fugitive slaves laws were enforced against them and against any white person who help them or tried to help them escape or free them?

S Leretseh on February 24, 2013:

I thought this was a good read. I was particularly surprised to read about Bass Reeves. Colorful character. Bass Reeves, the only one of Judge Parker's 200 US deputy marshals who was black, was assigned to the Indian Territory, and his responsibilities were entirely disposed of within Indian territory i.e. among the respective Indian tribes.

From 1965 and likely all the way up to the mid-1960s, I think one would be hard pressed to find an example of a black "lawman", and particularly singlehandedly, enforcing the law on a white male. It just wasn't done. Laws at that time emanated from the single 'male group' (the dominant male group) and such laws were supposed to be enforced against its own members by its own members i.e. same male group. A 'society' had always had only ONE structure in human history- one male group as the dominant one. In America, it was the white, Christian male group (ending in 1964).

I am not condemning or criticizing how things were back then. It was what it was. The black man was suppose to be separate and self-reliant as a people i.e. he was suppose to provide for himself with the structure and confines of his own male group. In the 1960, the black man chose integration - own his volition thru civil disobedience and other public disruptions - into another distinctly different male group. There was no US constitutional right to receive it. But he had always pressured for integration rights (civil rights), stretching all the black to the beginning of America's urbanization (circa 1900).

Only the African America male group, in all of human history, has done such a thing. Historically, when a male group was under the hegemony of another (dominant group) , it ws always considered human nature to expect that group, and particularly if it was claiming brutal oppression, to demand autonomy and, if they could get it, self-determination. Naturally, had blacks chosen the road to self-determination, their white socialist advocates never would hv gotten their socialist system installed (e.g LBJ's Great Society). I know , I digress... This was, again, a well done article.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on February 18, 2013:


thanks for your comments

I appreciate you appreciating it

In The Third Person from Maryland on February 18, 2013:

Great informative hub.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on February 11, 2013:


and it's a movie based in a historical period but it still a movie.

Like all of those early Clint Eastwood westerns. There has never been a gunslinger or outlaw who did or could do what he did in his westerns,

Quentin was doing his take on those type of movies only with a black hero.

Walt Kienia from Hartford, Connecticut on February 11, 2013:

History is only revealed by digging. So, along with the "white washing" of history in many instances, other agendas dictate what is presented to the the public. Your Hub reveals what many other history oriented sources may not. "DJango" perhaps presents a picture of history that does not fit the agenda that certain critics of the movie prefer to follow. They have no problem with Danzell serving heroically in the Civil War, but "killing a white man and getting paid for it...," that likely factual history doesn't serve the absolute oppressive history that some would like us to believe.

Walt Kienia from Hartford, Connecticut on February 11, 2013:

People do not get enough history; it's like a vitamin.

Enjoyed your Hub.

What is your take on the movie "Django," and the criticisms of it?

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on February 05, 2013:



You're right Bass Reeves should definitely be more well known

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 04, 2013:

Great hub. I especially appreciate the info on Bass Reeves. I never heard of him before, but it's obvious he should be much more well known than he is. Thanks!

Augustus Howard on January 13, 2013:

We should call history books WHITE history books!

Davidwork on December 26, 2012:


You clearly haven't read the hub properly, how could the ones who were great lawmen have gone west to look for things to steal?

And what were they supposed to have stolen before they went West? An enslaved, oppressed people can't steal anything.

What about the racist, plantation and slave owners of the Old South? They stole the land of the native Americans who were there before them, and then stole the lives and dignity of the Africans who were imported as slaves. The plantation owners did that because they were too lazy to do the hard work themselves.

billd01603 from Worcester on November 11, 2012:

That's not what I meant! No more of this racist shit!

Henry on November 10, 2012:

@ dilldo1603

Agreed, they went west to look for new things to steal.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on November 09, 2012:


Thanks much appreciated

billd01603 from Worcester on November 09, 2012:

Good Hub! I love historical stories about little known events and people.

Thinking about American History, it makes sense African Americans went west after the Civil War.

Keep it up.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on November 09, 2012:

Thanks Justsilvie

I appreciate the vote up and sharing.

I agree American history is diverse but unfortunately during the founding of this country which included slave owning, and during the jim crow era, etc only white men were really considered worthy of mention in American history books.

Justsilvie on November 09, 2012:

Really Interesting Hub! American History is so diverse but has also been presented in such a one sighted way for so long and people assume that is who we are. Look forward to reading and learning more from you.

Voted Up and Shared!

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on September 30, 2012:


thanks for voting it up and sharing it!

I definitely appreciate that!

Terrye Toombs from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map. on September 30, 2012:

Excellent research and information, vveasey. Voted up and shared.

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on September 18, 2012:



I'm glad you could dig it also!

VC L Veasey (author) from Detroit,MI on September 18, 2012:

What'd up MaestroECMcCloud!

Glad you dug it!

Curtis_Hit67 from Petoskey, MI on September 18, 2012:

Superb hub! Keep it up

MaestroECMcCloud from Lexington, South Carolina on September 18, 2012:

You've done it again my friend. Excellent hub.

Related Articles