From John Ware to the Compton Cowboys: 100 years of scholarship, writings, and re-contextualizing the black experience in the west

Man that’s a wordy title.

A couple of times, over the past year on social media, the topic of black cowboys has come up. It’s a fascinating subject that goes against the typical presentations seen in western fiction and stories of the west.

I just wanted to pull together, in one place, a list of some of the books on the subject. Basically, the books I’ve read. They’re all readily available and provide great insights and a solid introduction to the topic.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other books on the black experience in the west.

The earliest book that I’m aware of on this subject is from 1919 and a book on this subject was published in 2018. So we’re looking at a century of works about the black experience in the west.

The Negro Trailblazers of California by Delilah Leontium Beasley (1919)

John Ware’s Cow Country by Grant MacEwan (1960)

The Buffalo Soldiers by William Leckie (1967)

The Negro Cowboys by Philip Durham & Everett Jones (1983)

Black, Read, and Deadly: Black and Indian Gunfighters of the Indian Territories by Art T Burton (1991)

Black Women of the Old West by William Loren Katz (1995)

Black West: A Documentary and Pictorial History of the African American Role in the Westward Expansion of the United States by William Loren Katz (1996)

Black, Buckskin, and Blue: African American Scouts and Soldiers on the Western Frontier  by Art T Burton (1999)

Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West by Lillian Schlissel (2000)

Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves by Art T Burton (2006)

African American Women of the Old West by Tricia Martineau Wagner (2007)

Black Cowboys of the Old West: True, Sensational, and Little Known Stories From History by Tricia Martineau Wagner (2010)

The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America’s Forgotten Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality by Anna-Lisa Cox (2018)

The following book takes an expansive look at a related topic. It’s a fascinating book on its own merits but is especially insightful when read with this subject in mind.

Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson


Finally, The Compton Cowboys. The Compton Cowboys are an off-shoot of the Compton Jr Posse, a non-profit horse farm in Compton. The Compton Cowboys are only now just starting to get some small measure of wider recognition. They directly challenge the traditional notions of being a cowboy while simultaneously carrying on the forgotten traditions of the black cowboy. I love these guys, love their story, and hope to see them thrive and grow.

Take a few moments to learn about them and I’m sure you’ll love them too.

New York Times article on The Compton Cowboys


Related Posts:

Diversity in the West

African Americans in the West

Black Figures of the Old West: Isiah Mays & Benjamin Brown

Jesse Stahl

Author: Brian Lindenmuth

Former non-fiction of Spinetingler Magazine and fiction editor at Snubnose Press. Long time reviewer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s