Black Pioneers, Settlers, Cowboys and Outlaws

During the western migration, during the period we call the "Wild West", 1 in 3 cowboys was either Black or Mexican. Hollywood seems to have left a third of the cowboy population out of its hundreds of cowboy movies. Maybe they just didn't know better.

Most of the information here is from the wonderful book, "The Black West" by William Loren Katz, published in 1987 by Ethrac Publications, Inc.

Other souces of information about Black cowboys and settlers are, "Black California, The History of African-Americans in the Golden State", by B. Gordon Wheeler, and "The Negro in American History" series by Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation.

A great book about Black cowboys is "The Negro Cowboy" by Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones. It has great stories, photographs, maps and illustrations as well as an extensive bibliography.

This is not a comprehensive listing, but represents some of the most colorful and obscure Black men and women who helped tame "The Wild West".

By the way, if you're in Colorado or planning a trip there, stop by the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver.

Moses "Black" Harris

Scout, explorer and teller of tall tales.

Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable

Built a trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River. It was the first permanent settlement and grew into what is now the city of Chicago, making Du Sable the city's founder.


Slave of Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Helped by befriending Indian tribes and acting as interpreter. Was freed by Clark after journeying with them from St. Louis to the Columbia River and back. Supposedly headed west and became the Chief of an Indian tribe.

Ben Bruno

A leader amoung the Seminole Indians. The Seminole tribe who adopted him termed blacks their slaves so that they could not be recaptured and enslaved by the U.S. government.

Jim Pierce

Expedition cook and guide.

James P. Beckwourth

Frontiersman, trapper, guide, "the most famous Indian fighter of his generation". Discovered the "Beckwourth Pass" through the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Personally lead the first wagon train of settlers through the pass he discovered.

Edward Rose

Frontiersman, trapper, guide, friend of the Aricaras Indians.

John Marrant

Protestant missionary to the western Indian tribes.

John Stewart

Methodist missionary to the Wyondotte tribe.

George Bonga

Fur trapper, Indian language specialist. Bungo township in Cass County , Minnesota bears his name.

Edmonia Lewis

First famous black sculptress in America.

Greenbury Logan

Settler, soldier, rendered crippled in the Texas war for independence against Mexico. After the war, lost all civil rights when slavery was introduced.

John Jones

Settler, publisher, conductor on the "Underground Railroad", Civil Rights activist.

Dred Scott

Fought for decades to win freedom for his family held in slavery in the "free" western territories. His fight lead to the famous "Dred Scott" decision by the Supreme Court wherein Chief Justice Roger B. Taney declared that black people "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." After many years of struggle and dying of old age and poor health, Dred Scott's family was finally freed.

George Washington

Founder of Centralia, Washington.

Aunt Clara Brown

Entrepreneur, nurse, community leader and organizer in Central City, Colorado.

Willie Simms

During slavery, blacks were the stableboys, trainers, and jockeys. Simms was the first American Jockey to ride an American horse in England.

Sojourner Truth

Ex-slave from New York. Famous lecturer against slavery. Migrated to Michigan in her later years.

William Lambert

Conductor of Underground Railroad in Detroit, Michigan.

George Monroe

Gold miner, California stage driver.

William Robinson

Pony Express rider.

Biddy Mason

As a slave, she walked from Mississippi to California keeping her master's cattle from roaming. Cleverly negotiated her freedom when her master chose to return to Mississippi. Gained wealth through her labors and investments. Became a well-known philanthropist.

Mary Ellen Pleasant

Civil rights activist, California.

Mifflin W. Gibbs

Founded California's first black newspaper, "Mirror of the Times". Civil rights activist.

Jim Taylor


Britton Johnson

"Best shot on the Texas frontier."

Jesse Stahl

Bronco buster. "...best rider of wild horses in the West."

Bose Ikard

Top trail Hand.

Nat Love

Known as "Deadwood Dick". Autobiographer, cowboy, adventurer. Rodeo roping and shooting expert.

Cherokee Bill

Indian Scout, outlaw, "a human monster from whom innocent people can expect no safety."

Mary Fields

Known as "Stagecoach Mary". Laundress, mail carrier, gunfighter, brawler.

Ben Hodges

Dodge City con man, forger, card cheat, rustler.

Isom Dart

Cattle rustler.

Bill Pickett

Rodeo showman. Invented "bulldogging".

Charley Glass

Colorado cowpuncher, broncobuster, ranch foreman.

The Rufus Buck Gang

Mixed Creek Indian and Black. Committed more crimes in thirteen days than the Starr and Dalton gangs combined.