Hollywood has always presented a particular image of a cowboy. You know, a badass white man on a horse roping cattle and getting into bar fights while keeping the dangerous elements away from the town people, like a Billy the Kid or Butch Cassidy type figure. After watching a cowboy movie you would think the name cowboy had something to do with one of the aforementioned activity’s, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The first official cowboys in this country were slaves and the name “cowboy” came more out of social customs than anything else. It was common for black men to be called different variations of “boy” in those days, whether it was field boy, stable boy, cowboy etc. Becoming a cowboy was a natural progression for a slave based on their experience working on plantations as horsebreakers, which was basically controlling horses with wild behavior and poor temperaments. Some of the more notable black cowboys of the late 1800’s we’re Bill Pickett, Nate Love, and John Ware.