They’re very much part of American history across our region and many points west, yet their lives and cultural contributions remain mostly hidden in obscurity.

Not many people may readily picture an African American if asked to imagine a cowboy, yet history shows us that 25 percent of cowboys who once dotted the landscape across Texas and the American West was Black.

Thanks to the great work by our partners at The Witte Museum, our community is being offered a unique opportunity to learn up close about this unknown part of our history through Black Cowboys: An American Story, a new exhibition opening this weekend (Nov. 6) and running through April 2022.

The San Antonio Area Foundation’s John L. Santikos Charitable Fund contributed a $50,000 sponsorship, which will go toward the exhibition itself as a well as to cover school field trips for many of our area’s youngsters to soak in this tremendous new learning opportunity.

“The story of the Black Cowboy is an American story, yet not a widely known one. That’s why we’re so proud to partner with the Witte Museum and numerous community leaders who shaped this exhibit,” said Patricia Mejia, the Area Foundation’s Vice President for Community Engagement and Impact.

“We hope it provides an opportunity to deepen understanding of the many contributions African Americans have made to our community – and that children draw inspiration from the valiant stories they’ll learn,” Mejia added.

The exhibition explores the lives and work of countless Black men, women and children – enslaved and free – who labored on the ranches of Texas and participated on cattle drives before the Civil War through the turn of the 20th century. 

It features artifacts, photographs and documents depicting the work and skills of Black cowboys, offering insight into legendary cowboys, a clearer picture of the Black West and a more accurate and diverse portrait of the American West. 

“Most powerful are the individual stories of Black Cowboys, illustrating courage in the face of discrimination, skill despite great odds and success through generations as ranchers and leaders in their field,” said Marise McDermott, The Witte Museum’s President and CEO.

Visitors will be transported through time to meet a variety of real Black cowboys and appreciate their deep impact on American history – taming and training horses, tending to livestock and riding on the trail with thousands of cattle across America. 

Hector Bazy, portrayed by distinguished actor and playwright Eugene Lee, will provide a first-hand account of his experience. Born enslaved on a plantation in Grimes County, Texas in 1851, Bazy wrote an autobiography in 1910 describing the exhilarating and dangerous work of cowboy life. 

The role of Black cowboys evolved over the 20th century as Black cowboys used the skills they learned on the ranch and trail to own their own ranches, serve as lawmen, ride in rodeos, become singers and perform in movies. Today, the lives and legacies of Black cowboys have inspired new generations to explore the past through music, film, fashion and design. 

Hernán Rozemberg is the Area Foundation’s Director of Communications and Storytelling. Samantha Rendon, Director of Communications at The Witte Museum, contributed to this report.