Black cowboys: Creole trail rides showcase growing culture
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Black cowboys: Creole trail rides showcase growing culture

October 30, 2019

Being one with the horse, it’s legit, I love it. Black folks love country too. Actually, we started country. We were country before country was cool. This is a Creole trail ride, a decades-long tradition rooted in the forgotten history of black cowboys in the American West. Part horse riding, part rodeo and part dancing, trail rides are also about building up the black community today. It’s a passion that I have for this, for the youth. So, we went to a 10-mile-long trail ride with more than 5000 people, to explore this often overlooked but growing culture. Kevin Tircuit, aka Kevin Rodeo, is a professional truck driver in Houston. He keeps his horse, Misty, in a stable in the city. And most weekends, he takes her out on a trail ride. He has been doing it for 20 years. It is like a release, a stress reliever, like going to the pool, or going to the beach, but we’re on horseback. But trail rides actually began as a way to commemorate a journey that was anything but relaxing. More than a century ago, black cowboys would join the weeks-long cattle drives, shepherding cows from Texas ranches to Midwestern railroads. It’s one of those heroic stories or romantic stories that people could regale their listeners with. You had to worry about stampedes, you had to worry about crossing rivers, you had to worry about rustlers. It was a very big part of the economic growth of the United States in that era. In fact, about a third of cowboys in the cattle industry’s heyday were black and Latino. But when you think of a cowboy, you’re probably picturing this. So they would often make the cowboys in the books and the movies white, because a lot of white people would not go to see a movie, or did not want to read a book about a black cowboy. And so the image of the cowboy got whitewashed in popular culture. Today, even some black people in Texas are surprised to see a black cowboy or cowgirl. Here we come down the road, stopping traffic, and it’s 200 people on horseback, and they’d be like, “OK, what is this?” And some individuals, actually, by just seeing us, they get involved. They’d be like, “Oh, I want to do that!” Today, Creole trail rides happen almost every weekend in Louisiana and East Texas. This year’s Liz Cook Trail Ride includes a midnight ride. There’s also a dance party to the beat of Zydeco, a dance music from Louisiana that traditionally accompanies trail rides. But the draw of the ride goes
far beyond the fun. This, I believe, will keep younger kids out of trouble. The horses haven’t eaten for weeks. You gotta go feed them every day. This is hard work, I mean. And it teaches them responsibility. You have to have respect for these horses, you have to have respect for the land, the people who throw the rides. I’ve had trouble with my attitude, anger problems. And this has been a major calm down for me. It’s about getting together as a family. I lost my husband a year ago. But guess what? These folks took care of me. They were there day and night. That’s when you know you’ve got a family beside your family. The first Liz Cook Trail Ride 25 years ago had only 40 people. As her ride has grown, trail riding has also spread from Louisiana and east Texas across the south, even to the West Coast. Meanwhile, the figure of the black cowboy is taking off in mainstream culture. Just think of this year’s song of the summer. The image of the cowboy has changed. A cowboy was kind of a free spirit. He’s an honest vagabond, a hardworking vagabond. And so it becomes this romantic figure. And I think with these black trail rides, they want to make sure that young people get to participate in this, and realize that, “Hey, black cowboys are just as much heroes as white cowboys are.”

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