KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT currently writes about education for Rutherford County Schools and teaches Feature Writing as an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University. His upcoming book, COWBOYS LIKE US, is a collection of untold triumphs of America’s heroic black cowboys spanning 150 years.

Despite their historical significance, they became an all-but-forgotten part of American culture. They were left out of U.S. history books, and when Hollywood popularized westerns in the 1940s and 1950s, black cowboys were cast out of storylines.

“The joy of the work you do is that you’re really bringing nuance, complexity and subtlety,” said LONNIE BUNCH III, executive director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “That’s why I’m excited about what you’re doing.”

The idea that western culture would have lacked color is a travesty considering 25 to 30 percent of all cowboys have been minorities for more than a century. COWBOYS LIKE US illustrates the impact they have had on American history and serves as an introduction to these true heroes.

They will no longer remain nameless.

John Ware | Bass Reeves | Bill Pickett | Cleo Hearn | Willie and James Thomas
Myrtis Dightman | Bailey’s Prairie Kid | Freddie Gordon | Harold Cash | Tex Williams
Tony Brubaker | Doug Lawrence | Charlie Sampson | Fred Whitfield
Chris Byrd | Tre Hosley | Stanley ‘Ray Ray’ Taylor

“One of the things that I think you’re doing that is really interesting is the notion of expertise. Often these blacks who move to the west and become cowboys, it’s almost as if there’s not a lot of skill that they have to have,” said Bunch.

“And, I think, your notion of the skills it takes – the horsemanship, the skill it takes to even plan moving cattle along the Chisholm Trail or [John Ware] going all the way up to Canada – is really important. You’re countering the notion that enslaved people had no skills.”

COWBOYS LIKE US, a young adult nonfiction release coming soon, brings to life those stories — past and present.