Tales from the Black West

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Bill Pickett was best known for inventing bulldogging a form of wrestling steers.

By Paul Edelman

On February 18 at 2 p.m., a presentation by John Anderson at the Blue Ridge Mid-Continent Public Library, 9253 Blue Ridge Blvd, will cover a little-known piece of American Old West history: the black cowboy. Anderson helps his audiences discover these authentically American stories in a unique manner through an interactive and fun musical journey back in time. “I’m a motivational storyteller and vocalist,” he said. In this performance, John musically guides his audience through the harsh and solemn existence of some of the many forgotten African American cowboys or ‘cowpunchers.’ He explained they were nicknamed this because of their rugged occupation that involved the handling of ornery beasts and harsh terrain. But the cowpunchers’ lifestyle did offer a beacon of freedom to those oppressed and scorned black Americans brave enough to take to the open plains. Through Anderson, the audience will hear the songs and tribulations of these African-American pioneers.

“All Americans had a part to the play in the pioneer story,” Anderson said. During the hey-day of the cowboy, from about 1870 to 1900, Americans of all colors headed West to seek the American ideals of happiness and freedom on the plains. These cowpunchers most often dealt in the rough work of the guarded transport of cattle. Because these beef cattle were no ordinary docile dairy cows, this work necessitated a rough approach in dealing with these bulky and headstrong beasts. Anderson described the journey of a cowpuncher: a precarious trek across plains, grasslands, and deserts to deliver cattle for sale at towns perhaps hundreds of miles away, all the while thwarting off possible cattle rustlers and wildlife and braving the harsh environments of the frontier. He said while it could be a lonely life fraught with dangers, many undertook this “call to freedom.”

The typical lifestyle of a common cowboy can get lost in the glamor of Old West movies and shows. “The [library] program is to expose the truth about cowboys. They were not all outlaws and bank robbers,” he explained. As stated, the most common occupation of cowboys involved cattle, but their lives were, nevertheless, dramatic. His performance will chronicle the exciting lives of African-American cowboys like Bill Pickett, whose stories are not widely known in the American mainstream. Anderson said that Americans today can learn a valuable lesson about the quintessential American pioneer story of the frontier.

To learn about these about these cowboys and sympathize with their struggle, you and anyone ages 7 and up can enjoy a musical and interactive discovery with Anderson at the Blue Ridge Mid-Continent Public Library on February 18th. Call 816-761-3382 for more information. Registration required.

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