[ LOOK TO SEE ]
The Black West was home to many people of color
who found a future West of the Mississippi.
“Cross That River” b/ Allan Harris
Blue’s Run for Freedom
1851 — Near the Louisiana cotton plantation where he was imprisoned, a rebellious young slave named Blue was hiding in the reeds on the bank of the Red River.
Blue was both excited and nervous, as he was about to make his long-dreamed of run for freedom.
On his small raft, using a tree branch for an oar, Blue crossed the fast-moving river, landing in Texas, for the first time, a free man.
Blue quickly found work (as a cowboy) on a cattle drive between San Antonio and Abilene … and it was Kansas where Blue planted the roots of his new life. A “Black Cowboy,” and a pioneer of The Black West.
In the decades to follow, Blue made himself a home, bought himself a wife, and killed more than his share of Indians as a Buffalo Soldier.
After surviving a 19th Century filled with pain and suffering, Blue quietly retired, as so many still do, to Florida.
“Blue Was Angry”
b/ Allan Harris (Miami/2016)
— photography b/dave.(originalnoise.org)
“Blue Was Angry” — Angry at life as a cotton-picking slave on a Louisiana plantation in 1851. Angry for being bought and sold as “property.” Angry at being driven to near death, and regularly being disciplined with the frayed end of a braided, leather whip.
The unsettled West of 1860 offered a new beginning and new dreams for Blue, the runaway slave who escaped to Texas, and as a free man became a successful, first-generation Black American Cowboy.
As a musical, “Cross That River” Allan tells Blue’s adventurous story in a most compelling and entertaining way. Through voice and song, Allan seamlessly integrates historical fact and colorful story to tell an often overlooked chapter in the fight for Civil Rights in America.
Each song another page in a most exciting chapter in America’s storied past. The story of The Black West.
The Negro Cavalry
“Buffalo Soldiers” b/ Allan Harris Cross That River
“Cross That River” (video) b/ Allan Harris NYC/2012
(1880s) — Nearly half the working cowboys in Oklahoma and Texas were free black men, many had joined the U.S. Army’s Buffalo Soldiers (Negro Cavalry), and had fought alongside the (White-Anglo) Army in its war against the “Indians” (Native Americans).
“Cry of the Thunderbird”
b/ Allan Harris Cross That River
Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This nickname was given to the Black Cavalry by Native American tribes who fought in the Indian Wars. The term eventually became synonymous with all of the African American regiments formed in 1866:
Texas ranchers using the Chisholm Trail started on the route from either the Rio Grande or San Antonio, joined the Chisholm Trail at the Red River of the South at the border between Texas and Oklahoma, and continued to the railhead of the Kansas Pacific Railway in Abilene, Kansas, where the cattle would be sold and shipped eastward. The trail is named for Jesse Chisholm, a half-Cherokee trader from Tennessee, who originally created the trail as a means to transport his goods from one trading post to another.
By 1853, Texas cattle were being driven into Missouri, where local farmers began blocking herds and turning them back because the Texas Longhorns carried ticks that caused diseases in other types of cattle. Violence, vigilante groups, and cattle rustling caused further problems for the drovers. By 1859, the driving of cattle was outlawed in many Missouri jurisdictions. By the end of the Civil War, most cattle were being moved up the western branch of trail at Red River Station in Montague County, Texas.
In 1866, cattle in Texas were worth only $4 per head, compared to over $40 per head in the North and East, because lack of market access during the American Civil War had led to an overstock of cattle in Texas. In 1867, Joseph G. McCoy built stockyards in Abilene, Kansas. He encouraged Texas cattlemen to drive their herds to his stockyards. The stockyards shipped 35,000 head that year and became the largest stockyards west of Kansas City, Kansas.
That same year, O. W. Wheeler answered McCoy’s call, and he along with partners used the Chisholm Trail to bring a herd of 2,400 steers from Texas to Abilene. This herd was the first of an estimated 5,000,000 head of Texas cattle to reach Kansas over the Chisholm Trail.
The construction of the Union Pacific Railway through Nebraska eventually offered a cattle drive destination which was an attractive alternative to the Kansas Pacific Railroad, and the Texas Trail emerged as an alternative to the Chisholm Trail. Between 1876 and 1884 some drives went along the Texas Trail instead of the Chisholm Trail.