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

Updated on May 24, 2016

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Isom Dart


The Black West!

Black Outlaws and Cowboys of the old west you might be saying with wonderment and head scratching!

“Why that’s an oxymoron! I’ve never heard of such a thing!”.

Yeah, Yeah I know you haven’t because they were literally “white washed” (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 the cowboys were African Americans.

Bet you never saw that in the movies when you were growing up did cha?

Neither did I!

The doctrine of white supremacy and the inferiority of blacks and other non-whites permeated the air during the old west and thereafter.

So the exploits of black cowboys, lawmen (yep that's right lawmen) and outlaws in the storied history of the old west, wasn’t deemed important or worthy enough of inclusion in the annuls of Old West history. This was reserved for white men only.

I mentioned black lawmen and you probably thought “black" lawmen? (scratching your head at the same time)

I thought the same thing when I first started researching the true history of the Old West.

Bass Reeves


Bass Reeves

One such lawman was, Bass Reeves. Born 1838, died 1910.

He was born in Arkansas territory but also lived in Lamar and Grayson counties Texas.

Reeves was born a slave and was owned by Col. George R. Reeves, who eventually became the speaker of the house of Texas. Reeves adopted his owner’s last name as many enslaved blacks 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. (Quite an accomplishment for a black man, especially during those times)

Reeves was one of the earliest, if not the very first black man 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 the Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie “Hang em High” was based on Reeves life.

Isom Dart


Ned Huddleston aka Isom Dart

A Black outlaw and rustler was Ned Huddleston (also known as Isom Dart) he was born a slave 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 owner, 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 found work at a rodeo as a stunt rider and became a master horseman.

He join a notorious band of rustlers called, The Tip Gualt 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 time to give up his rustler’s life and go straight, but the call of the wild was too strong for him and he keep going back to it.

This would be his downfall.

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..

How many of you have ever heard of Mr Dart? I thought so!

Ever heard of the cowboy who invented bulldogging, now one of the main events in rodeos?

William "Bill" Pickett


William (Bill) Pickett

It was invented by another black cowboy, William (Bill) Pickett. Pickett who was born December 5, 1870, in Texas. He died April 2, 1932.

Pickett’s bulldogging was a lot different than the way it’s done today.

Pickett would leap of his horse grab the steer’s head, twist it toward him and 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 leagues 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 (Shameful). In 1989, he was inducted into the Prorodeo 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 black outlaw, Cherokee Bill, who was said to be far worst than Billy The Kid.

Cherokee Bill (Crawford Goldsby)


Cherokee Bill

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

in July 1894 Cheorkee 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.

In 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.

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 are, Addison Jones, Bob Leavitt, Bose Ikard, Bronco Sam, Charley Willis, Nat Love (Deadwood Dick), One Horse Charley and George Glenn, Stagecoach Mary Fields, to name a few.

Happy hunting!

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    • MaestroECMcCloud profile image

      MaestroECMcCloud 4 years ago from Lexington, South Carolina

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

    • Curtis_Hit67 profile image

      Curtis_Hit67 4 years ago from Petoskey, MI

      Superb hub! Keep it up

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 4 years ago from Detroit,MI

      What'd up MaestroECMcCloud!

      Glad you dug it!

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 4 years ago from Detroit,MI



      I'm glad you could dig it also!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

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

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 4 years ago from Detroit,MI


      thanks for voting it up and sharing it!

      I definitely appreciate that!

    • Justsilvie 4 years ago

      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!

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 4 years ago from Detroit,MI

      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.

    • billd01603 profile image

      billd01603 4 years ago from Worcester

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 4 years ago from Detroit,MI


      Thanks much appreciated

    • Henry 4 years ago

      @ dilldo1603

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

    • billd01603 profile image

      billd01603 4 years ago from Worcester

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

    • Davidwork 4 years ago


      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.

    • Augustus Howard 4 years ago

      We should call history books WHITE history books!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E. Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      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!

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI



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

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI

      Thanks for commenting Walt

      I don't agree with the criticisms.

      I agree with Quentin that slavery was a hundred times worst than what Django depicted.

      That's the way people talked back then. This was before it became unfashionable to be openly racist.

      Those people probably didn't see themselves as racists. It was just normal to refer to blacks as niggers. Everybody knew they were was like saying that the sky was was no big deal.

      Many blacks referred to themselves a niggers back then and many still do today, but not necessarily with the negative or degrading stigma attached to it as it was then.

      I think that history as been too "white washed" pun intended, in many movies and in school history books. So people are offended because either they don't know how bad it really was or the way people talked then or the attitudes people had toward blacks then.

      It upsets them too much and they don't won't see it or hear it.

      Or many whites feel guilty by association because they're white.

      But they shouldn't, if they don't share the values of those who were and are racists.

      That's part of my long-winded take on the issue

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI


      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.

    • inthethirdperson profile image

      In The Third Person 3 years ago from Maryland

      Great informative hub.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI


      thanks for your comments

      I appreciate you appreciating it

    • S Leretseh profile image

      S Leretseh 3 years ago

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI

      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?

    • Tayshia profile image

      Tayshia 3 years ago from Seattle

      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!

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI

      Thanks Tayshia

      Yeah research Mr Reeves he's a great unsung

      hero of the "Old West"

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI

      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

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      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!

    • jdw7979 profile image

      John David 3 years ago from Middle America

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

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 3 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI

      Thanks Michele

      I appreciate it

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 3 years ago from East Coast

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI

      yep All part of the same neglected history

    • MaestroECMcCloud profile image

      MaestroECMcCloud 3 years ago from Lexington, South Carolina

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 years ago from Detroit,MI

      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

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      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

    • Mark Myers 2 years ago

      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

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 2 years ago from Detroit,MI

      Mark Myers I would be honored to for you

      to do that! Thanks!

    • JonDIDit profile image

      JonDIDit 2 years ago

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 2 years ago from Detroit,MI


      All I can say is you're Right and

      Amen Brother!

    • Jeff 2 years ago

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

      VOTED UP!!!!!!

    • richard chapple 2 years ago

      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...

    • Tina 2 years ago

      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

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Johnson 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      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.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 2 years ago from Detroit,MI

      Thanks for your comments Tina!

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

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 2 years ago from Detroit,MI

      Thanks for your comments Rodric29

    • Fred Browning 2 years ago

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

    • Angela 23 months ago

      Thanks for the hearing about black history.

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 23 months ago from Detroit,MI

      I agree Fred!

      You're welcome Angela!

    • qeyler profile image

      qeyler 19 months ago

      Really enjoyed your hub

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 19 months ago from Detroit,MI

      Thanks qeyler

    • HollywoodJackson 12 months ago

      Great post.

    • Hollywood Jackson 12 months ago

      Great post.

    • Vik 3 months ago

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

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 months ago from Detroit,MI

      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

    • ericdierker 3 months ago

      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

    • vveasey profile image

      vveasey 3 months ago from Detroit,MI

      Nice Eric but not germane to the topic

    • Griffin 2 months ago

      very cool

    • jjj 5 weeks ago


    • Tony 6 days ago

      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.

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