Author tells the forgotten tale of the Black cowboy
By Jill Draper
Growing up in Kansas City and Olathe, Trae Venerable can’t remember ever learning about Black cowboys in history class. He can’t remember any time when an author who looked like him visited his school. But he’s out to change that with a series of children’s books that make up the core of his business to promote children’s literacy.
He got the idea for writing the books while enrolled at the University of Central Missouri-Warrensburg. With a family history of cattle raising, horse training and hunting, he knew the typical image of a white cowboy was incomplete.
“In the old days, one in three cowboys were of African American descent,” he says. “It was one of the roughest, toughest jobs—kind of second class. When Hollywood glammed it up, they left out the forgotten cowboy.”
When he told a professor about his idea, “she thought it was awesome,” and after researching the market, they found nothing else like it.
The three-book series called “Grandpa, I Just Wanna be a Cowboy” features Bo, a young Black boy who learns through conversations with his grandfather about famous Black cowboys, rodeo stars and women who helped shape the West. Available in print and e-book, the series is illustrated with old photos instead of drawings because Venerable wanted it to be “as real as possible.” He says the books are written for elementary school students, but older ages might enjoy the history they contain as well.
Venerable began the project at age 20. Six years later he’s established a business that offers cowpoke coffee, T-shirts, ball caps, art and photos in addition to his books. He visited some 50 schools in 2019 and was beginning a busy 2020 tour when COVID-19 put a stop to his schedule. Martin City Elementary was one of the last places he spoke.
At most events he typically reads from his books and shows off a display of saddles, cow skulls and hides, lassoes and farming tools, often from a school gymnasium stage. He also talks about perseverance and the importance of reading.
He learned how various relatives persevered over the years while visiting Hartville, a small town near Springfield, Missouri, where several generations of his family have raised cattle. He watched his cousins compete in rodeos and learned how to handle the Tennessee Walking Horses his great-uncle raises in Gardener and Spring Hill.
“My dad calls me a city cowboy,” says Venerable, who now lives in Martin City. “I love the city, but I love the country, too. They’re two worlds that don’t always respect each other that much.”
Venerable majored in safety management engineering at UCM and works in that field at Honeywell at the Department of Energy’s Kansas City National Security Campus. But he still spends time helping with the horses and bird hunting with his dog.
In the future he plans to partner with Grandview School District on a book project to get kids excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, with an emphasis on manufacturing. He also works with nonprofits such as Lead to Read KC, Prep-KC and Literacy KC.
When he was back in college, he found the book writing process to be challenging. “It felt like a bajillion edits,” he said, and at times he wondered what he was doing. But he came to a realization.
“I think anybody who has a big idea has to go through that,” he says. “Now I pretty much make anything I want happen.” That’s the identical message he emphasizes at his school speaking tours. “Everyone has dreams and aspirations…Tell yourself you can.”
The cowboy books are available at traevenerable.com. The book can also be purchased for $10 at The Martin City Telegraph, 13610 Washington Ave., Kansas City MO. 64145. (Call ahead 816-309-9248)