Black pioneers: images of the Black experience on the North American frontier

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In , Bass Reeves became a U. Marshal overseeing the vast expanse of Oklahoma Territory before it became a state. His job was a tough one. Of the marshals killed in the line of duty, met their untimely ends in Oklahoma. He was an expert marksman with the rifle and pistol, attributed to his time fighting in Oklahoma Territory during the Civil War. Reeves served as a U. Marshal for 27 years and is widely regarded as the first true lawman of the Wild West.

Reeves, with the help of his Native American assistant, tracked down as many as 3, criminals during his career.


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He achieved this through skill but also audacity. Reeves used disguises as a way to get close to criminals before capturing them. Wikimedia Commons Meet Bill Pickett, biter of cow lips. Bill Pickett was a master ranch hand born in Texas in He invented the art of bulldogging , a method that subdues cattle by biting their lip.

Pickett observed bulldogs wrangling cattle to the ground by biting their lips until the cows sat still. Few women and children lived in mining camps. Only if a mining camp grew into a more stable town did the population diversify.

The Unheralded Pioneers of 19th-Century America Were Free African-American Families

If the camp prospered, it might grow into a boom town with retail stores, a jail, saloons, dance halls, and assay offices to evaluate and weigh gold. Mining booms swelled local populations quickly, outstripping the supply of almost everything, including food and work animals. Men sometimes killed each other for such necessities. Some mining communities formed governing councils and created codes of conduct.

These councils handled robberies, assaults, and other crimes. In some cases, mob violence and lynchings took the place of legal proceedings. Organized police forces and judges came only gradually to the West. Conflicts broke out between mining companies and miners as the latter tried to organize into labor unions.

Such labor groups as the Western Federation of Miners protested, demanding legal protections and better conditions under which to work. The labor organizer Mary Harris Jones, better known as "Mother Jones," spent her long life working to improve conditions for miners. Centers of ranching. Spanish and later Mexican ranchers had grazed cattle in the Southwest since about Ranches and missions with Native American labor raised livestock. Local markets purchased meat, and ranchers in California exported cattle hides, tallow beef fat , and dried beef.

Newcomers to the West continued much of this ranching tradition in the middle and late 's. The Civil War generated a great boom for western ranchers.

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During the war, most able-bodied Texas men left the state to fight for the Confederacy. Yet their cattle herds increased by several million animals, largely untended. Returning after the war to a surplus of longhorn cattle, Texans faced ruin unless they found new markets. So ambitious cattlemen drove herds north to sell them at "cow towns" in Kansas, where buyers had built stockyard holding pens. The animals then traveled east in rail cars to slaughterhouses in Chicago, Kansas City, and elsewhere.


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Cattle raising spread gradually northward from Texas and California. Many ranchers got their start by rounding up wild horses and mavericks unbranded cattle. Monroe Brackins, born a slave in , spoke of such roundups in south Texas. He said, "I used to rather ketch up a wild horse and break 'im than to eat breakfast. Most cowboys worked on trail drives or in the busier spring and fall roundup and branding seasons.

They moved from ranch to ranch, taking work when they found it. Life on the ranches. Ranch houses in the West ranged from humble, dirt-floored lean-tos to lavish mansions. On small ranches on the plains, an entire family might live in a tiny sod hut. If a ranch had forestlands, the rancher likely built a log cabin. A single fireplace provided winter warmth, and a wood-burning stove occupied much of the kitchen. Ranchers would expand and improve the dwellings if they made enough profits.

African-Americans on the Frontier

Larger ranches would have outbuildings, including a barn, outhouse, cookhouse, and a bunkhouse for cowboys. The bunkhouse often had old newspapers as wallpaper, which helped seal out the wind and provided reading material. Simple wooden frames tied by cord made up a ranch hand's bed. The cowboy slept in the same bedroll that he used on the range.

Entertainment consisted mainly of gambling usually card games , reading, swapping tall tales, and reciting poems. The poetry of many old-time cowboys got passed along and written down. Today, readers still enjoy the work of such cowboy poets as Charles Badger Clark, Jr. Cowboys would also stage ranch rodeos, challenging hands from nearby ranches in horse racing and roping.

The cattle drive.

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The heyday of the great trail drives came just after the Civil War, when cowhands drove millions of longhorns from Texas to Kansas. The Chisholm Trail, which ran about 1, miles 1, kilometers between southern Texas and Abilene, Kansas, became the main cattle route. Over the years, other cattle trails developed throughout the West. A Texas cowhand named W. Rhodes said about cattle drives of the 's, "The first 50 miles of any trail drive is always the hardest because the cattle want to break back to the country they're used to.

We sure had to haze a many a one back before we got the herd used to moving. Cowboys faced many dangers on the trail, including lightning, rain, hailstorms, range fires, tornadoes, and rustlers. An memoir by a cowboy named Charlie Siringo described a trail drive. He wrote, "Everything went on lovely with the exception of swimming swollen streams, fighting now and then among ourselves and a stampede every stormy night, until we arrived on the Canadian river in the Indian territory; there we had a little Indian scare.

Cattle stampedes could also cause great destruction.

African-Americans on the Frontier | Historical Society of Pennsylvania

A cowboy named Edward "Teddy Blue" Abbott described the result of one stampede, writing that, "horse and man was mashed into the ground as flat as a pancake. Bad weather, greed, and technology combined to end the great cattle drives. Especially harsh winters in the mid's killed tens of thousands of cattle trying to forage on the open range. Too many ranchers had overstocked the ranges, leading to lower prices and leaving animals unable to feed themselves on lands that did not produce enough grass in dry weather. Further expansion of western railroads made it cheaper and quicker to haul cattle by train rather than drive them.

Law and order. Motion pictures and novels often exaggerate the level of the violence in the West, as well as the average cowboy's skill with a gun. Ambush, rather than one-on-one gun duels, characterized most western killings.