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"The Sunset Kid": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On unacknowledged Black cowboys and soldiers.

Digital ID



man001001. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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OCR transcription





I must've had five or six really good horses. They could run pretty good and whenever I had to get away in a hurry or catch up to someone who had a lead, I always took the palomino. It was a proven fact that a palomino could outrun a black or brown or pinto horse. The palomino did not get tired or out of breath and could leap over fences and even chasms. It was also good for being able to go down steep hillsides where other horses could not. The thing that I liked most about them was they had a lot of sense. They were able to keep going even when I had to pull my six shooter and fire away at rustlers, bank robbers, or highwaymen. They were particularly good when I wanted to capture someone and choose to use my rope instead of my gun. Riding fast and twirling a rope took a lot of concentration and you cannot do it by yourself. The horse has got to help out. If the horse is a palomino you get the most help possible.
Some of you may find it difficult to believe that I was once a cowboy. Don't worry about it. People like me have been cowboys for eight score and ten years and even those intellectuals in Hollywood have not been able to find out about it yet.
All the way back to 1820 when the Austin family of Virginia arranged with the Mexican government to move to Mexico there have been black cowboys. You see, the Austin's were a slave-holding family and right about the time that the Missouri Compromise was adopted in 1820 which restricted the spread of slavery in the territory acquired by virtue of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 to the area south of latitudinal line 36530', they decided to leave the United States and migrate to Mexico. The fact that the Mexican government required that they not bring slaves or protestanism in the country did not matter. Afterall, these were Americans and southerners at that and their word was not worth very much when it came to doing what they wanted.
After promising to abide by the wishes of the Mexican government, the Austin family brought both slaves and their religion to that country. They settled in a northern province and did pretty much as they pleased. That province ultimately became the place that we know as Texas] Of immediate importance is the fact that at that time black slaves joined Mexican caballeros as the only cowboys in the region. Whatever cattle were punched on the Austin ranch/plantation were done so by black slaves.
Over the next fifteen years the Austin's were joined by many others who were looking for a place where they could practice their version of free enterprise; slavery] The further introduction of slavery into the old southwest took place. Interestingly, while each of those newcomers who came hat in hand asking for only a small piece of land were initially individually satisfied, the ebb and flow of the slavery question in the United States and the gradual exhaustion of the geographic area within the United States where slavery could expand changed all that. By the mid 1830s they were no longer satisfied with those original grants^of the Mexican' government. By then they wanted the whole enchelada.
Then there was the Alamo in 1836 and a dozen years later the Mexican- American War which was proceeded two years earlier by the Mormon settlement of Utah and followed one year later by the discovery of gold at Potters Mill on the American River in California which precipitated the California gold rush and the era of the Forty Winers. Over the next ten years most of those who followed Greeley's exhortation of "Go West Young Man" of a decade and a half earlier, went there in search of gold and dreaming of the day when they would be able to say; "Eureka] I'm worth me weight in gold." There was little in the way of major changes in the appearance of the cowboy and there
would not be until after the Civil War.
War's end greatly impacted the demographics of the west. Many exconfederates who returned to their homes in the south found only devastation. They were prime candidates for looking for somewhere to go where they could start over and the west seemed to decon them. Slavery, which ended with the 13th Amendment created an upheaval in the black population of the south. While the overwhelming majority of ex slaves remained in the south, a goodly number could hardly wait to put all memory of slavery behind them. Some went north and others went west.
In the north they were not welcomed with the opened arms they had expected. Many places forbade their settlement and in other places they were seen as threats by the established labor force. It is often thought by many that the opposition to slavery exhibited by the north was synonomous to beliefs in racial equality. That was not the case. Even some of the more ardent northern white abolitionists, while rejecting slavery, were not supportive of any ideas of racial equality.
In the west things were different. There was a belief held by both blacks and whites that the west was open land, there for the taking by anyone who was hardworking enough to tame. Little thought was given to the current inhabitants; Indians. They were universally perceived as savages. Among the first blacks, during the years immediatedly following the war, to enter the trans-Mississippi west were those black soldiers who had fought for the Union. General Phil Sheridan, Secretary of the War Department, assigned them the duty of manning the outposts stretching from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. They became what we euphemistically call "Buffalo Soldiers."
Then there were the sod busters. Ex slaves who went to Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and other points west. They fought the elements, racists and Indians and established farms and ranches, raised wheat and cattle and did all of the other things the western movies would have us believe were only done by John
Wayne, Roy Rogers, Rocky Lane, Red Ryder, and the Durango Kid.
There was much more than that. There were black stagecoach drivers, riders for the Pony Express, wranglers, piano players, rustlers, card sharks, trail drivers, railroad workers, mimers and all the rest. Those characters traditionally have not been mentioned in our history books and, on those rare occassions when they are shown in the movies they are little more than buttons.
When I was a child most of my Heroes were cowboys and those cowboys were all white. When we would play, oftentimes we played cowboys. I emulated my heroesi I was the Sunset Kid. I had a few good horses--stick horses. They all ran well. The fastest was the palomino. He had become a palomino by virtue of my stripping all the bark off him. He resembled Trigger and he was just as fast.
There are black cowboys in the rodeo not appearing in town. I wonder
if any of them ever had stick horses with names like Lightning.