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When telling the history of America’s Wild West, often ignored is a community of Black Cowboys who were “free” to work the cattle drives of the day. All cowboys were paid the same wage, regardless their color.
Many Black Cowboys wealth and prosperity, and founded an African America community, later called THE BLACK WEST.
Cross That River
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 run for freedom.
On his small raft, using a tree branch as an oar, Blue crossed the fast-moving river, and made a difficult landing on the Texas side of the river.
For the first time in his young life, Blue was a free man.
“Blue Was Angry”
6b/ Allan Harris
MIAMI / 2016
w/ The 21st Century Freedom Riders
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.
After his successful escape, and crossing of the Red River, 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.
Riding Free On The Chisholm Trail.
Texas ranchers driving their cattle on The Chisholm Trail started from either the Rio Grande or San Antonio, and joined the Chisholm Trail at the border between Texas and Oklahoma (Red River of the South).
The Trail is named for Jesse Chisholm, a half-Cherokee trader from Tennessee, who originally created the trail to transport his goods from one trading post to another.
Cattle Rustling, vigilantism, and violence were also problems, and by 1859, driving cattle was outlawed in much of Missouri.
1866 — Because The Civil War restricted access to The Trail, their was a tremendous overstock of cattle in Texas, where the cattle were worth $4 per head, compared to more than $40 per head in the hard-to-reach North and East of America.
1867 — Joseph G. McCoy encouraged Texans to drive their cattle to his new stockyards in Abilene, Kansas. They responded, and in that first year, McCoy shipped 35,000 head, and became the largest stockyards west of Kansas City, Kansas.
O. W. Wheeler was one of those Texas ranchers who answered McCoy’s call. He and his partners drove 2,400 steers on The Chisholm Trail, from Texas to Abilene.
Wheeler’s 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.
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.
The Negro Cavalry
6 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).
After surviving a 19th Century filled with pain and suffering, Blue quietly retired, as so many still do, to Florida.
“Cry of the Thunderbird”
b/ Allan Harris Cross That River
“Cry of The Eagle”
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: