Black Cowboys, did they exist in the West?

(Casper, Wyo.) - No, we aren't talking about Cleavon Little in *Blazing Saddles*, we are talking about the true Western Black Cowboys. All through February, the National Historic Trails Center in Casper will host, "Black Cowboys" an exhibit that supports Black History Month and consists of 24 hanging panels with information and photos of Black Cowboys of the West. Curator of the exhibit, Jimmy Simmons, and long time resident of Casper, spent over a year creating the exhibit and searching for Black Cowboys across Wyoming and the West. "I visited the museum in 2009 and talked with Alex Rose, working at the museum, they had a small exhibit of Black Cowboys, and I promised him I would bring a better exhibit," said Simmons on Friday. Simmons has spent forty-five years living and working in Wyoming and he recently retired from the oil patch after thirty-eight years of service. With the help of his wife and daughter, Simmons has spent some of his time researching and putting together the "Black Cowboys" exhibit. Friday he toured Pitchengine Communities through the exhibit showing off the cowboys of Wyoming and sharing the tales of their lively hood. The first cowboy we looked at, the famous, Jesse Stahl who was one of the best saddle bronc riders in the nation, according to Simmons. ​ "The famous story is he was in a saddle bronc competition. He had an awesome ride, and they gave him second place. He protested for first by getting on another bronc backwards and riding with a suitcase!" said Simmons with a grin. Simmons talked about James Arthur Walker who was nicknamed, "Cowboy" in 1868 and about Thorn Biggs, a ranch hand in Laramie County. "Biggs real name was Jim Hoge. I found his saddle at a museum in Laramie. I tried to buy it but it was the only history they had on him. That is state history, and he was a dam good ranch hand." ​​ According to Simmons, the first black cattleman was Mr. James Edwards. He came to Wyoming in the early 1900s to work on the coal mines. He was driven out by white miners which would eventually lead him into cattle ranching in the Lusk area. The famous,* Ebony Magazine*, once called him, "the greatest negro cattle rancher in Wyoming'. His cabin can still be found around Lusk and Simmons reported that he plans to visit it this Summer. "One of the black cowboy's daughters, Fanetta Bayer is still living in Wyoming. Her grandfather, Sam Wilson was a cowboy back in 1928," said Simmons. Wilson had lived and ranched in Ten Sleep before moving to Powell. "Now we cannot exclude the ladies, and this lady was mean!" said SImmons, referring to 'Inmate #459. "This cowgirl, Eliza, 'Big Jack' Stewart was addicted to morphine and once went to jail after shooting a man in the throat. The story goes they were at a Saturday night dance in Hanna, Wyoming, she got upset at him for something and shot him. He did not die from the shot, but she spent about eighteen months locked up. They called her Inmate #459 during her time." Simmons encouraged the public to come up the the Trails Center and check out the exhibit he has worked hard on. "I just want to help dispel the myth that there weren't any black cowboys in West, because there certainly was. They roamed anywhere from Texas to Canada. I need some help expanding my exhibit and for the public to let me know of other favored black cowboys. Before entering the exhibit room, Simmons' last rope and ride are featured on the wall. "My last bull ride was in 1983 at the Bicentennial Buffalo Rodeo. My mom, pictured here with me flew up from Houston to watch me ride," commented Simmons. ​ Simmons went on to tell us about his first bull ride, "I remember the first bull I rode in Lynch, Wyoming. My buddies always laughed at that and didn't believe me. But I was a spectator at the rodeo and a guy asked me to ride a bull, that was when I was young and crazy," said Simmons with a smirk. "I got on that bull got strapped in, and I rode him. Not because I wanted to, I had no choice, and then I won the whole thing!" The "Black Cowboys" exhibit will be on display at the National Historic Trails Center until February 26th, might be a good time to mossy on up there for a history lesson. To learn more about the exhibit or Jimmy Simmons, contact the National Historic Trails Center at (307)-261-7700. #oilcity #news #county10