| Chap. 1 | Chap.
2 | Chap. 3 | Chap.
4 | Chap. 5 | Chap.
6 | Chap. 7 | Chap.
8 | Chap. 9
FIVE: Post Civil War Migration and Settlement
The western black migration is assessed in
this chapter. The first vignette, A Black Woman on the Montana
Frontier describes the remarkable business success of a freedwoman
in Virginia City, Montana. The Founding of Nicodemus, Willianna
Hickman Remembers Nicodemus and Nicodemus in the 1990s profile
the most famous black settlement in Kansas. The sudden mass
migration of thousands of blacks to Kansas called "The
Exodus of 1879" is profiled in Black Texans and the Kansas
Exodus and Address to the Colored People of Texas. Perhaps the
most famous black settler in the state is described in George
Washington Carver in Kansas. Race Relations in Late 19th Century
West Kansas shows one consequence of black settlement in the
state. The 1890s migration to Oklahoma and Indian Territories
is profiled in the vignettes, Black Dreams of Oklahoma, The
Battle for the Cimarron Valley, and Edwin P. McCabe and Langston
City, Oklahoma Territory. On all-black towns in the West see
Booker T. Washington Describes Boley, Indian Territory, and
Allensworth, California. To Emigrate to Nebraska, Homesteading
on the Plains: The Ava Speese Day Story and Black Colonies in
Colorado show other efforts to settle the High Plains. In Virginia
City and Dodge City: 19th Century Black Urban Outposts we glimpse
African American life in two of the most famous western towns
while Kate D. Chapman Describes Blacks in Yankton, D.T. (Dakota
Territory) profiles black life in a not so famous western town.
The vignettes African Americans in a Frontier Town and The Demise
of Lawlessness at Fort Griffin profile
the small black community in a West Texas frontier community.
Three vignettes, Jim Kelly and Print Olive, D.W. "80 John"
Wallace: A Black Cattle Rancher, and End of the Trail: Black
Cowboys in Dodge City depict the black cattle drover. Black
Cowboys and the Pendleton Roundup shows African American participation
in the founding of the most famous Oregon Rodeo. Black Businesses:
Arizona Territory suggests significant African American entrepreneurial
activity even when the black population is small. Finally, the
North Dakota childhood of Era Bell Thompson, a noted photojournalist
for Ebony Magazine is profiled in A North Dakota Daughter.
Terms For Week Five:
- Homestead Act, 1862
- Sarah Gammon Bickford
- Ava Speese Day
- Benjamin "Pap" Singleton
- Founders of Nicodemus
W. R. Hill
W. H. Smith
Reverend Simon P. Roundtree
- The Great Exodus of 1879
- Edwin and Sarah McCabe
- Langston City
- Cherokee Strip
- Cimarron Valley
- Boley, Indian Territory
- Deer Lake
- Kinkaid Homestead Act, 1904
- Oscar Michaeux
- Kate D. Chapman
- James Edwards and Robert Ball Anderson
- Jim Kelly
- Daniel Webster "80 John" Wallace
- Pendleton Roundup
- George Fletcher
A BLACK WOMAN ON THE MONTANA FRONTIER
From 1888 to 1931 Sarah Gammon Bickford owned
and managed the Virginia City Water Company, that serviced Virginia
City, Montana. A partial account of her remarkable life provided
by her daughter Mabel Bickford Jenkins, is reprinted below.
Sarah Gammon arrived in Virginia City, Montana,
a rough, frontier gold mining community in 1871. Born a slave
on December 25, 1855 in North Carolina, Sarah was raised by
an aunt in Knoxville, Tennessee after her parents were sold
away. When she was fifteen Sarah and her Aunt accompanied the
family of Judge William Murphy overland from Tennessee to Virginia
City, where Murphy, a Confederate veteran, was slated to serve
as a Magistrate.
Sarah first worked as a chambermaid in one
of the hotels and later married William Brown, one of the gold
miners. Three children were born to the marriage but only one,
Eva, survived. William Brown died in 1877 and three years later
Sarah married Stephen Bickford, a white miner from Maine who
was twenty years older than the widow.
In 1888 the Bickfords bought two-thirds of
the Virginia City water system which brought water drinking
down from surrounding mountains through wooden logs. The Bickfords
substituted iron pipes for the wooden logs which allowed indoor
plumbing. Later they added hydrants along the street.
Sarah Bickford, acknowledged as Virginia City's
first "career woman" managed the books for the system,
billing customers and controlling expenditures. She also ran
the Bickford farm on the eastern edge of the city. There with
her four children by Stephen Bickford, she cultivated vegetables
and poultry including ducks which were sold to the small colony
of Chinese miners in Virginia City.
When Stephen Bickford died in 1900 Sarah became
the sole owner and manager of the water plant and farm. Although
she was aided by her oldest daughter, Virginia, she nevertheless
enrolled in a Business Management course from a correspondence
school in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to become more proficient
in the affairs of her business. Feeling more confident in her
ability to manage the company she bought out the other third
of the water business from Harry Cohn, making her the sole owner.
Eventually she acquired additional springs to meet the demands
of the growing town. She also became its first philanthropist,
purchasing and maintaining at her own expense, several historic
buildings in Virginia City. She moved her office into the Hangman's
Building, the largest and oldest building in town, made famous
by Virginia City's Vigilantes who in 1870 hanged five outlaws
from a beam of the building while it was under construction.
The office was the home of what Bickford now called the Virginia
City Water Company. Sarah Gammon Bickford continued to manage
the Company until her death in Virginia City in 1931.
Source: Mabel Bickford Jenkins, "Stephen
E. and Sarah G. Bickford: Pioneers of Madison County, Montana,"
Unpublished paper, 1971, pp 1-9.
THE FOUNDING OF NICODEMUS
Western historian W. Sherman Savage provides
a brief account of the western Kansas colony of Nicodemus.
One result of the black exodus was the establishment
of the black agricultural towns which were founded in several
states....The best known of these colonies was Nicodemus, which
was settled along the Kansas Pacific Railroad in Graham County..
The colony, scattered over an area about twelve miles long and
six miles wide was located....about one hundred and twenty miles
from Kansas City. It had a population of seven hundred. The
timber along the Salmon River furnished fuel and wood for construction
In 1877 the people of Nicodemus, limited to
a few teams of horses or oxen, put under cultivation all the
land they could. During the first year an average of about six
acres per person was under cultivation. Some had small plots
while others had as much as twenty acres. From a small beginning
this Kansas colony progressed so that by 1879 it was a prosperous
community and had a post office, stores, hotels, and a land
office. Like other villages in Graham County, it aspired to
become the count seat.
In 1879 the citizens of Nicodemus passed a
series of resolutions in which they thanked the people of Kansas
and other states for their help to the colony and requested
that no further charitable assistance be extended to them. As
explained by the authorities in the colony, the reason for this
request was that some among them would use charity as a means
to avoid working. Charity would also bring into the community
many destitute, undesirable persons. The people of Nicodemus
believed in work. They also believed in self support. After
four years, the colony form of life was dissolved and every
individual worked for himself, with women working alongside
men in the fields.
Nicodemus continued to grow, and as late as
1910 it was a thriving farm community. In that year the town's
first farmers' institute was held for the purpose of improving
the agriculture of the community. According to a Chicago Tribune
reporter, the success of Nicodemus had some influence on other
agricultural towns which developed on the frontier in later
years. Ironically, some of the population of Nicodemus was drawn
off to these.
Source: W. Sherman Savage, Blacks in the West,
(Westport, Conn., 1976), pp. 100 101.
WILLIANNA HICKMAN REMEMBERS NICODEMUS
Willianna Hickman, an Exoduster from Kentucky
was 31 when she traveled with her minister husband, their six
children, and 140 other colonists to the all-black settlement
of Nicodemus in west Kansas. They got off the railroad at Ellis,
Kansas, some thirty miles away, on March 3, 1878. In the vignette
below she describes the last part of the journey to Nicodemus.
I had some trouble getting housed as my children
broke out with measles on the way. We dwelled at a farm house
that night. The next night members of the colony had succeeded
in stretching a tent. This was our first experience of staying
in a tent. We remained in the camp about two weeks. Several
deaths occurred among the children while we were there.
We left there for Nicodemus, traveling overland
with horses and wagons. We were two days on the way, with no
roads to direct us save deer trails and buffalo wallows. We
traveled by compass. At night the men built bonfires and sat
around them, firing guns to keep the wild animals from coming
near. We reached Nicodemus about 3 o'clock on the second day.
When we got in sight of Nicodemus the men
shouted, "There is Nicodemus." Being very sick I hailed
this news with gladness. I looked with all the eyes I had. I
said, "Where is Nicodemus? I don't see it." My husband
pointed out various smokes coming out of the ground and said,
"That is Nicodemus." The families lived in dugouts.
The scenery to me was not at all inviting and I began to cry.
From there we went to our homestead fourteen
miles west of Nicodemus. Rev. S.M. Lee carried us to the farm
in his wagon and as usual there was no road and we used a compass.
I was asleep in the wagon bed with the children and was awakened
by the blowing of horns. Our horns were answered by horns in
the distance and the firing of guns, being those of my brother
Austin, and a friend, Lewis Smith. They had been keeping house
for us on our new homestead. Driving in the direction of the
gunfiring, we reached the top of the hill where we could see
the light of the fire they had built to direct our way.
Days, weeks, months, and years passed and
I became reconciled to my home. We improved the farm and lived
their nearly twenty years, making visits to Nicodemus to attend
church, entertainments, and other celebrations. My three daughters
were much loved school teachers in Nicodemus and vicinity.
Source: Dorothy Sterling, ed., We Are Your
Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1984),
NICODEMUS IN THE 1990s
The following contemporary description of
Nicodemus comes from a 1991 Wall Street Journal article on the
Nicodemus, billed by its 19th century prompters
as "the Largest Colored Colony in America," is fighting
for its life. The town and its surrounding farms total no more
than 50 people. Its stores are gone and its school long closed....Its
only weapons are history itself and a powerful sense of community
that keeps tugging expatriates home.
Sixty two year old Charlesst Bates has come
home from Southern California where she kept house for the rich
and famous and once served John Wayne her apple pie. Her sister
Ernestine Van Duvall, 70, also has come back from California;
she made lemon pie for Walt Disney. Veryl Switzer, a running
back for the 1950s Green Bay Packers, still journeys from his
administrative job at Kansas State University to his farm just
Next month's annual homecoming, a celebration
not so much of a town but of an extended family, will draw back
hundreds from as far away as both coasts. A public television
documentary is in the works. Meanwhile Angela Bates, herself
home to nearby Hill City from Washington, D.C., is dreaming
even bigger dreams. Ms. Bates, 38, is pressing the Kansas congressional
delegation to have the town declared a national historic site.
"People say there's nothing here," she says as meadowlarks
sing and the golden light of late afternoon floods down on Mount
Olive cemetery. "But I feel so blessed that I have Nicodemus.
I have a place. I have roots. I feel I've been selected to be
from this place."
There is something here that's rare in a nation
of interchangeable suburbs. It is a sense of identity and of
continuity of history. Buried on Mount Olive's little hilltop
is Angela Bates's great great grandmother, American Bates. The
name is appropriate, for what has unfolded here is an uniquely
American story and, argues Princeton historian Nell Irvin Painter,
an overlooked one.
The western frontier had black homesteaders....yet
the history of the West is typically depicted as a "hyper
Anglo" experience says Painter. "The myth is that
the cities were full of all these swarthy people with curley
hair," she says, "while the West for the antithesis
of all that. Actually, blacks played their part in Western history.
Nicodemus is an expression of black frontier hopes."
By 1877 the frontier was in western Kansas.
That year seven speculators six blacks and a white incorporated
Nicodemus which they named for a legendary slave who managed
to buy his freedom, and they fired off handbills grandly addressed
to "The Colored Citizens of the United States." And
they come, first from Kentucky, later from Tennessee and Mississippi.
By 1878, Nicodemus' population had soared to nearly 700, including
some whites. Nothing in their experience had prepared the former
slaves for the blazing heat, bitter cold and wind swept grass...
After 1878 the exodus movement had peaked
and Nicodemus was on the verge of decline. Bypassed by the railroads
in 1888, it began its century long downward spiral.
Historic site designation would bolster tourism
by making at least portions of the town a unit of the National
Park Service, most likely bringing in an interpretive center
and federal restoration money,. It would also serve to celebrate
sheer endurance and, some argue, a matter of fact confidence
that contrasts with the shrunken horizons and shriveled hopes
of the inner cities. "Here," declares Ernestine Van
DuVall, "we don't worry about what we can't do. We just
Source: Wall Street Journal, June 11, 1991,
BLACK TEXANS AND THE KANSAS EXODUS
Although most of our class discussion focuses
on the African Americans in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee
who were part of the exodus to Kansas in 1879-1880, a significant
number of blacks migrated from one part of the West, Texas,
north to Kansas. The following account by Leonard Wilson describes
this intra-regional movement.
From October, 1879, to the first weeks of 1880, the "Kansas
fever" reached epidemic proportions. Negroes were leaving
Texas for Kansas in groups of from four or five to as many as
five hundred in one body. Practically every county reported
that large numbers of blacks were migrating or making preparations
to do so. A great many of the "dusters" traveled by
train. It was reported that "one railroad car contained
ninety emigrants whose fares totaled over one thousand dollars."
The Navasota (Texas) Tablet stated that blacks in Grimes County
were buying tickets at a rate of almost fifty per week. Those
"who did not have full fare bought tickets as far North
as possible." By early December it was reported that "very
few negro voters remained in northern Grimes county...
The general route of the wagon trains went
through Dallas and Sherman, then on to Denison, the last rendezvous
in Texas. At Denison the "dusters" replenished their
provisions, made repairs, and rested themselves and their stock
before crossing the Red River into Indian Territory and on to
Kansas. During December, at the peak of the exodus, it was not
uncommon for that city to report that every vacant building
was filled with Negroes waiting to move on to Kansas, altogether
from three hundred to a thousand immigrants were departing Denison
every three or four days.
The exodus ended as quickly as it had begun.
After January, 1880, fewer and fewer Negroes were migrating
from the state. By January 30 Denison reported that there were
more Negroes returning from Kansas than going. Similar reports
from Sherman and Dallas stated that the leaders of the exodus
had called a halt to the movement until the following fall.
By April so few Negroes were migrating out of the state that
one editor was flabbergasted when he heard that some blacks
were still moving to Kansas. "All foolish negroes are not
dead," he exclaimed. "A few days ago about fifty negroes
in twelve wagons passed through Sherman on their way to Kansas."
Any suggestion as to the exact causes of the
abrupt end of the exodus is purely speculative. There are, however,
some conclusions that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence.
Undoubtedly, some of the Negro's urge to migrate was blunted
by the gloomy experiences related to him by some of the "dusters"
who had begun to return to Texas as early as December, 1879.
This disappointed group reported that all the glowing promises
of finding a good life in Kansas were simply not true. It is
also possible that the general decline of Democratic popularity
and the upsurge of the Greenbackers offered some political hope
for Texas blacks.
It appears, however, that the most important
factor influencing the Negroes' decision to abandon the migration
scheme was a slight improvement in their economic conditions.
This conclusion is not intended to imply that there no longer
existed serious economic problems among the black population.
Rather it means that there was a small, but perceptible shift
of Negro labor from the farm to newly developing industries...thus
relieving somewhat the depressed condition of agricultural labor.
In the eastern section of the state, may former filed hands
were slowly being employed by the lumber industry... In the
coastal area, hundreds of blacks worked as stevedores and in
other shipping-related industries along the coastal waterways.
Perhaps the largest non-agricultural employer of Negroes was
the railroad industry. Thousands of blacks left the fields to
work as common laborers, track layers, brakemen, engineers,
Most of the Texas "dusters" settled
in the southeastern section of Kansas, particularly in Labette,
Neosho, and Bourbon Counties. It appears that in general they
were much better prepared for settlement in the new country
than their fellow immigrants from the lower South. One Kansas
report that some of the first group, those who arrived by train,
had enough money either to by or rent homes and farms. During
the winter the Texans built about fifty homes in or around the
city of Parsons, sometimes paying as much as four hundred dollars
for city lots. By early 1880, at least two former Texans owned
and operated prosperous grocery stores in Parsons.
Many Texas blacks who traveled by wagon-train
owned enough stock to start immediately working the land the
purchased. Dr. C. Rockhold of Parsons testified that some of
the Texans' wagons were pulled by as many as six horses. Some
blacks who were unable to purchase land found work as wage laborers
on white owned farms and remained in the towns working as day
laborers and domestic servants... It was reported in early 1880
that over a thousand of them were profitably employed in the
wood cutting industry...
Despite the uncertainty of their condition,
very few of the "dusters" were eager to return home.
Henry Ruby testified that a white Texan, August Horne of Grimes
County, went into Kansas to encourage some Negroes to return.
Horne promised a "heaven" that is, a box house with
brick chimney and glass windows, to all who would follow him
back to Texas. He was able to convince about fifty blacks. Horne
was more successful than another white, a Mr. Stringfellow,
who was also in Kansas urging blacks to return to Texas... He
found few takers despite the fact that in addition to a "heaven"
he would pay a dollar per day in wages plus the use of a horse
or mule. Commenting on the Negroes' refusal of Stringfellow's
generous offer, one black pointed out that they had heard such
propositions before. "It is the same old song," he
remarked. "We will come out at the end of the year without
anything, just as we always have done. We cannot do anymore
than starve here, and we will not go back..."
Source: Leonard Wilson, Jr., "Texas and
'Kansas Fever,' 1879-1880," (MA Thesis, University of Houston,
1973), pp. 60-64, 86-89.
ADDRESS TO THE COLORED PEOPLE OF TEXAS
The address partly reprinted below, first
appeared in the Galveston Daily News on July 5, 1879. It originated
with a convention of Texas African Americans who after meeting
in Houston on July 4, 1879, concluded that they should emigrate
from their state to Kansas.
We the undersigned delegates and representatives
of the colored people of the state of Texas, in convention assembled,
respectfully submit for the impartial consideration of all friends
of liberty and justice the following facts in regard to the
many grievances and general condition of our race throughout
First--That in 1865 directly after our emancipation
our former masters refused to maker provision for our race to
become an intelligent prosperous people, and that they enacted
laws which virtually denied to us many of the rights of free
men...and have reduced our people to a new system of servitude.
Second--That many hundreds of our people have
been murdered in cold-blood by white men, and that our former
masters have never made any effort to prevent those high crimes
against civilization and good government...
Third--That the absolute control of all branches
of the several state governments of the South has passed into
the hands of the only master class [under whom] laws can be
enacted to oppress our people and deprive them of their civil
WE therefore advise the colored men in every
neighborhood and county throughout Texas to organize into colonization
clubs, and to use unremitting industry and economy in order
that they may be prepared for emigrating when the proper time
shall arrive. When arrangements are concluded for an exodus
of the colored people from Texas, they will be informed through
the proper channels...
We are still in the wilderness that borders
slavery, ignorance and poverty on the one hand, [and] liberty,
education and prosperity on the other. We will never cease our
efforts to at last emerge from this wilderness of doubts, fears
and tribulations until we are finally made secure in the enjoyment
of our civil rights and liberties in a land where all classes
of people unite in maintaining all of the principles that perpetuate
a free and just form of government.
We call upon our people throughout the south
to unite together in this SECOND AND REAL EMANCIPATION. By unity,
harmony and a faithful adherence to the great principles of
universal suffrage, liberty, and equal rights to all men, the
dark clouds of ignorance, poverty and tyranny that now overshadow
our people will drift away, and the bright morning beams of
the glorious sun of liberty, justice, prosperity and progression
will illume our way and lead our people on to a higher and a
more advanced state of civilization.
Animated by heartfelt gratitude, we herewith
extend to his excellency, John P. St. John, governor of the
state of Kansas, and all of the noble philanthropists of the
west and north, the sincere thanks of the colored people of
Texas for the prompt aid and sympathy so freely bestowed upon
our oppressed brethren heading to "free Kansas" to
escape fearful persecution from the blood-thirsty hands of their
white tyrants and assassins of Mississippi and Louisiana....
Source: Galveston Daily News, July 5, 1879,
reprinted in .
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN A TEXAS FRONTIER TOWN
The Clear Fork country around the Fort Griffin
military outpost was often described as western in geography
but southern in culture. For the small African American community
in this West Texas town the description was particularly apt.
Here is local historian Ty Cashion's description of race relations
in the community in the 1870s.
As a group, African Americans in the Clear
Fork country did not enjoy the admiration and gratitude that
local whites accorded the Tonkawas. Anglo citizens were readily
willing to admit that the blacks, like the Indians, were an
inferior race, but stopped far short of treating them as dependents.
All but a handful of the hundred-odd black civilians living
in Shackleford County in 1880 resided in the vicinity of Fort
Griffin. Four black people and one Hispanic family, in fact,
were Albany's only nonwhites. Many former buffalo soldiers remained
near the post after being discharged. The families of these
men often joined them, and most erected small homes on the "town
side" of Collins Creek in a subdivision that had existed
since the town was first platted. Other black people were scattered
about town. Lulu Wilhelm remembered that a group lived in "three
little houses right in a row" amidst an enclave of white
residents. Griffin's mulatto barber, Elijah Earl, lived next
to a bartender and his wife near the Clear Fork crossing, and
an elderly black woman lived alone on a hill near the post.
As in most communities, the average black
or mulatto citizen at Fort Griffin held a menial job, but several
achieved distinction in more substantial endeavors. Single women
worked largely as servants and cooks, some for the area's large
ranches. Men, too, were employed as cooks, but many more, such
as "Old Nick," who worked for James A. Brock, were
ranch hands; others were laborers. Several owned farms and ran
a few cattle and hogs. Others identified themselves as teacher,
minister, freighter, porter, blacksmith, and barber. Such jobs
likely did not sustain their large families--often seven or
eight to the household. Many, such as...Charlie Fowler, who
hauled wood to the fort, found odd jobs and daywork to help
African Americans infrequently interacted
with whites socially, a practice that both races accepted for
different reasons. Local affairs, like the two Christmas Eve
parties in 1880 as well as dances and picnics, were celebrated
separately. Black people also sent their children to a segregated
school. In other parts of Texas with larger African American
populations, the minority enjoyed associations such as the Colored
State Grange, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, and even
limited membership in the Knights of Labor. At Fort Griffin,
however, about the only formal communal focus for black citizens
was the American Methodist Episcopal Church; in 1878 the baptism
of four women by Reverend Shepherd Middleton merited a line
in the Echo [the town newspaper].
Whites, out of prejudice and fear, kept African
Americans at arm's length. Even though Captain Robson eagerly
sought printing work, he published the notice: "No JIM
CROW work at this shop," Anglos, convinced of the blacks'
"natural inclination toward violence," heartily recommended
discouraging disruptive behavior by extreme measures. The Echo
reprinted an article from the Fort Worth Daily Democrat that
suggested "castration and fire" would be fitting punishment
for any "Negro who raped a white woman." The entry
was obviously a warning. As elsewhere in Texas, whites at Fort
Griffin were still apprehensive about the recent taste of freedom
that African Americans had won. Mahalia Dedmon, a former slave
who moved to the Clear Fork after the Civil War, remarked that
the behavior of local blacks caused her to fear that they would
indeed be "returned to slavery."
Such concerns were seldom well grounded; Anglos
were quick to remind any forgetful African Americans of the
prevailing caste. Jet Kenan told of a white transient who once
walked into a near-empty Griffin saloon and invited a black
man, Alan Dudley, to join him for a drink. Bartender John Hammond,
somewhat bemused but fully annoyed, served them. The drinkers,
related Kenan, "tipped glasses and down their throats went
the liquor." After the white man departed, Hammond railed
at Dudley for the egregious breach of etiquette. The black man's
tactful explanation spoke volumes about race relations at Fort
Griffin. "Mr. John," he supposedly stated, "I
knowed he was nothing but white trash and I drank with him just
to show you how low down he was..."
Some former Clear Fork people nevertheless
remembered more pleasant incidents and associations between
the races. Upon stopping at Griffin on his way to Fort Concho,
Lieutenant Henry Flipper--the only black officer in the U.S.
Army--led a "sextet" that serenaded the townsfolk
one summer evening. A "colored boy" who broke horses
for stable owner Pete Haverty earned the reputation as "the
pluckiest and grittiest fellow we know of," according to
the Echo. And Jet Kenan seemed to regard Elijah Earl as an esteemed
acquaintance; he described the barber and former soldier as
a "very intelligent, courteous, likable fellow." Both
Kenan and Joe Matthews openly claimed the friendship of a man
named Sutton. The rancher remarked that he kept a very clean
place "for a Negro man" and was never reluctant to
stop there for a meal...
* * *
For African Americans, Emancipation Day provided
an occasion that was all their own. In 1879 about a hundred
of them from Shackleford and adjoining counties gathered to
celebrate the holiday at a grove on the Clear Fork, two miles
from Fort Griffin. While everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch, Elijah
Earl and William Jones delivered what the Echo called "appropriate
addresses." School children also "spoke their pieces
in a creditable manner." The observance, however, was interrupted
when three drunk black men--one brandishing a six-shooter--rode
their horses into a group of women. The younger people had hoped
to cap the celebration with a dance in town, but the continuing
menace of the party crashers precluded it...
Source: Ty Cashion, A Texas Frontier--The
Clear Fork Country and Fort Griffin, 1849-1887, (Norman, 1996),
pp. 258-260, 241-242.
GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER IN KANSAS
George Washington Carver is best known as
Tuskegee Institute's agricultural scientist who devised various
uses for the peanut. Long before Missouri-born Carver became
a university professor and researcher in the Deep South, he
was a homesteader, one of the forty thousand African Americans
who established themselves in Kansas between 1870 and 1900.
Carver apparently avoided all-black settlements such as Nicodemus
and sought out instead an area with few African American homesteaders.
He claimed 160 acres in Ness County on the western plains of
Kansas in 1886. Also, like thousands of white and black would-be
homesteaders, too little water and too much debt forced him
to relinquish his homestead in 1891. Carver left Kansas for
Iowa State University where he received the education that launched
his later career as a scientist. The vignette below by historian
Linda O. McMurry describes his brief sojourn as a homesteader
in western Kansas.
George Washington Carver proved to be a typical
settler in almost every way but color. In August 1886 he bought
a relinquishment on a quarter section of land south of Beeler.
He continued to live with and work for [white settler George
H.] Steeley while he constructed his own dwelling. Lacking native
timber on his claim, like most plains settlers, he built a sod
house. Such houses were constructed of bricks cut from thick,
strong sod from low spots on the prairie. Carver's house was
a little smaller than average--only fourteen square feet. When
the walls reached the right height, he put in a window and a
door and constructed a framed roof over which he placed tar
paper and a layer of sod. The walls of sod houses were usually
three feet thick and plastered with clay. This made the houses
warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but they were also
very dark and prone to insect invasions.
Carver's house was completed on 18 April 1887,
and two days later he moved in with only a cookstove, bedstead,
bed, cupboard, chairs table, and laundry equipment for furnishings.
He had solved one of the three major problems on the plains--the
lack of wood. He still had to face the other two; the lack of
water and the frequency of extreme weather, ranging from burning
drought to crippling blizzards. He managed to survive a blizzard
that struck in the middle of January 1888 and killed over two
hundred people along its wide swath from Texas to Canada. On
the matter of water he was not as lucky. He tried digging a
well in several places but never found water, and had to rely
on Steeley's spring about three fourths of a mile away.
Carver also depended on Steely for many of
his farming implements, since he owned only a spade, a hoe,
and a corn planter. Breaking seventeen acres of land, he planted
ten in corn, vegetables and rice corn. He also set out a number
of trees and purchased ten hens. His only taxable personal property
consisted of his accordion and a silver watch, each valued at
five dollars. His 160 acres and homestead may not have amounted
to very much but it was more than he had ever owned before.
The grimness of the frontier usually created
a spirit of communal help and friendship among settlers and
sometimes partially erased racial barriers. Carver was one of
only a handful of blacks in the immediate area... His talents
and personality soon won him the respect of his white neighbors.
Indeed, on the frontier he appeared even more remarkable to
those around him and was widely considered to be the best-educated
person in the area. He developed an interest in art, taking
his first lesson from Clara Duncan, a black woman who had taught
at Talledaga College in Alabama and later became a missionary
for the African Methodist Episcopal church. He also played his
accordion for local dances and joined the Ness City literary
society, which met weekly for plays, music, and debates. Carver
participated in these activities and was elected assistant editor
of the group. The whites of Ness County clearly recognized Carver's
"specialness." One later remarked, "When I was
in the presence of that young man Carver, as a white man of
the supposed dominant race, I was humiliated by my own inadequacy
of knowledge, compared to his."
Source: Linda O. McMurry, George Washington
Carver: Scientist & Symbol (New York, 1981) pp. 25-27.
AFRICAN AMERICAN COLONIES IN COLORADO
From the early 1870s to the 1920s various
African American organizations sought to establish colonies
for ex-Southern blacks in Colorado. The following vignette from
a 1976 article by historian George H. Wayne, describes some
of their efforts, culminating with Dearfield, the most successful
of these attempts.
Black interest in colonization in Colorado
dates back to 1872 when a group of black Georgians sent agents
to the territory seeking possible home sites. At various times
in the late 19th Century blacks exhibited interest in sites
near Denver, Canon City, Craig, and Pueblo. One hundred blacks
arrived in Southern Colorado from Georgia, in 1875 hoping to
begin stock raising. By 1902 short-lived colonies were established
near Denver and Canon City by two ministers, Jesse Pack and
John Ford, joining a similar effort in nearby Cortez. In 1904
Lieutenant Colonel Allen Allensworth, who eventually established
a black town in California that bore his name, visited Craig,
Colorado on behalf of a group of prominent blacks from Kentucky,
Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, to investigate the prospects
of an agricultural colony. The most ambitious effort however,
evolved in Pueblo in 1902 when Isaac B. Atkinson founded the
Ethiopian Protective and Beneficial Aid Association, whose objectives
were to help its members buy homes, obtain employment and protect
themselves as citizens. The Association's proposed 4,000 colony
along the Arkansas River near Pueblo would include a shoe factory,
tannery, general store, school, hospital and retirement home,
most of which would be supported by sugar beets harvested from
the surrounding farmland.
Dearfield, in Weld County, was the only Colorado
colonization effort that achieved any long-term success. Dearfield
was the idea of O. T. Jackson, a messenger for Colorado governors
who arrived in the state in 1887. Inspired by Booker T. Washington's
Up From Slavery, Jackson believed successful farm colonies were
possible in Colorado and chose as his first site, a forty acre
tract which he homesteaded, twenty-five miles southeast of Greeley.
Jackson attracted other black Denver investors who made additional
land purchases, including Dr. J. H. P. Westbrook, a physician,
who suggested the name Dearfield. The town's population peaked
at 700 in 1921, with area families occupying nearly 15,000 acres.
Dearfield's farmers produced wheat, corn and sugar beets and
like their Weld County neighbors, prospered during World War
I because of the European demand for American foodstuffs. Town-founder
Jackson was also its most prominent businessman. He owned the
grocery store, restaurant, service station and dance hall. The
war years were the apex of the town's prosperity. Declining
agricultural prices and the attractiveness of urban employment,
caused Dearfield to steadily lose population. When Jackson died
in 1949, only a handful of "pioneers" remained.
Source: George H. Wayne, "Negro Migration
and Colonization in Colorado--1870-1930," Journal of the
West 15:1 (January 1976): 112-117.
TO EMIGRATE TO NEBRASKA
On New Years Day, 1884, black Nebraska homesteader
I.B. Burton, sent a letter to a Washington D.C. newspaper, The
People's Observer, urging other African Americans to settle
in his state. Part of the letter is reprinted below.
Mr. Editor: As I sincerely hope that many
of our people will avail themselves of the privilege of settling
upon vacant lands in the west, I shall endeavor to give a few
plain directions to those who may desire to do so....
The whites in the south have always been taught
and led by a false philosophy concerning themselves and the
respect due to the Negro, and it is useless to expect any change.
Certainly no colored man will think so little of himself and
his family as to remain, in low and unhealthy parts of the country
to perform labor for the whites who "disdain labor,"
and try to make him believe that he is the only one than can
labor down there and live.
But, as to where we may live and prosper the
best, is a question which we must soon solve thoroughly and
practically. Prudence would suggest that it would be better
to seek a healthy climate and one where peace, law and respectability
reigned, and where political murders would not occur; and where
we could gain in intelligence and civility.
Let us turn now more directly to our subject--How
to succeed on a small capital or on small means. First of all,
let all who make up their minds to emigrate West, determine
to succeed. And to succeed co-operation is the first thing to
be effected; and which will strengthen and serve as a check
to many sudden and foolish impulses, as it will cause much discussion,
deliberation and the exercise of a great deal of common sense.
Let no one feel provoked or impatient over former troubles,
and determine to "go it blind," for nothing can be
gained by such a course.
Beginning with the uplands of northern Arkansas
and extending through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, southern Dakota,
and other states and territories, west, the climate is very
healthy, and the people, for the most part, civil, and the laws
wholesome. We should determine beforehand, by careful inquiry,
to what state or territory we wish to go, and form colonies
or large settlements.
A large company can emigrate and purchase
railroad lands for about half of what it would cost single persons,
or single families, and the fact is, single persons are by no
means as desirable as families or large settlements. By emigrating
in large crowds, cars can be gotten very cheap, and into which
all valuables, such as bedding, bureaus, pianos, organs or articles
of any kind, can be shipped very cheap, in case one cannot sell
them to an advantage where they are.
A good and shrewd man or men employed as agents
will do immense good. Wholesale goods and machinery can be shipped
the same way in large lots for the colony with wide-awake agents.
Windmills are indispensable in the far west, and one windmill
could be made to answer four or five farmers--each having an
interest in it. Thus, for a few years, one reaper would do the
work of a half dozen families, and one mower could serve more
than that number. Thorough-bred stock can be purchased by a
number of men and shipped in the same way. In my next letter
I shall speak of how to get land; from whom to get it, and how
I. B. Burton
January 1, 1884
Source: Washington People's Observer, January
19, 1884, p. 2.
HOMESTEADING ON THE PLAINS: THE AVA SPEESE DAY STORY
The Kinkaid Homestead Act of 1904 which threw
open thousands of acres of the Sandhills region of northwestern
Nebraska, provided an opportunity for the only significant black
homesteading in the state. Recognizing the arid condition of
the land, the federal government provided homestead claims of
640 rather than 160 acres. The first African American to file
a claim, Clem Deaver, arrived in 1904. Other blacks, particularly
from Omaha, soon followed and by 1910 twenty four families filed
claim to 14,000 acres of land in Cherry County. Eight years
later 185 blacks claimed 40,000 acres around a small all-black
community named DeWitty, after a local African American business
owner. Yet black farm families by the early 1920s began leaving
the isolated region for Denver, Omaha, or Lincoln. Ava Speese
Day, in the vignette below, provides the most detailed accounts
this homesteading community. Her recollections have been called
a black "Little House on the Prairie" story because
of their rich description of her childhood in the area.
The Negro Homesteaders in the Sandhills were
led there by my mother's father, Charles Meehan. He grew up
in Detroit and Round Eau, Ontario, Canada, where he met and
married Hester Freeman, born and raised in Canada. They heard
of land available in Nebraska so went there, settling near Overton,
where my mother, Rosetta, was born. When they heard about the
Kinkaid Act, grandfather and several others investigated and
filed claims northwest of Brownlee, along the North Loup River.
In the spring of 1907 he led the first emigrant
train to Cherry County, accompanied by William Crawford and
George Brown. He drove one of his three wagons, his son Den
drove another and my mother, Rosetta, drove the third. She took
care of her own team, greased the wagon wheels, and she was
just turned sixteen. Uncle Bill rode with George Brown. He was
fourteen. Grandpa's homestead was about twelve miles upriver
from Brownlee on the north side of the river. Uncle Den was
upriver two miles. Across from him was the Emanuel home, and
another mile up was Jim Hatter. Two miles more was A.P. Curtis,
and further up the Griffiths. Several miles on were Bert and
Ida Morgan. William Crawford homesteaded about a mile down river
from Meehans, and George Brown a mile east. His son, Maurice,
who married Aunt Gertie, was farther east... Other negro families
took Kinkaids farther down from the river until there were forty
or more. There were the Price family, the Praythers, Bill Fords,
Josh Emanuel, DeWitty. Jim Dewitty ran the store and post office,
and after he left Uncle Dan Meehan was postmaster, and changed
the name from DeWitty to Audacious...
Dad and Mom lived near Westerville for a year
and then moved to Torrington, Wyoming, moving back to the Sandhills
in November, 1915. At that time I was three years old. We lived
with grandpa and grandma Meehan the first winter till our house
could be built.
I remember them cutting sod for it. They laid
the sod like we do brick today, overlapping layers. The door
frames were made of 2x12's. This home was across the river from
grandpa's on Uncle Ed's homestead that we rented for a few years...
I could watch our house go up, our sod house. What a thrill
on the occasions when we all rode the lumber wagon across to
take a look up close. Before we moved in we knew where each
piece of furniture would sit. Our first sod house was one large
room. It was partitioned off in sections with curtains to make
bedrooms. Later most everyone added a sod kitchen, joining them
by using a window as the door to the new room. We felt we had
a whole new house again... It was heaven, and we enjoyed it.
We had two big problems, the dirt and the
flies. Summertimes we twisted newspapers and lit the tip. Holding
this carefully it was swept close to the ceiling, which was
made of brownish or pinkish building paper. The flame burned
the wings off the flies and then they were swept up and burned.
We only did this when dad was home. If the paper ceiling had
caught fire, but it didn't. Otherwise we all waved clothes and
drove they out. Then there were the sheets of grey fly paper
you poured water on and the poison seeped out. And large sheets
of sticky fly paper that gathered flies. Grandpa Meehan added
a crowning touch to his soddy, he plastered the entire inside,
no one had a home as easy to keep clean as grandma...
The negro pioneers worked hard, besides raising
plenty of corn, beans and what vegetables they could, everyone
raised cattle. It was too sandy for grain so the answer was
cattle. If you did not have enough land you rented range land.
We had range cattle and about sixty head of brood mares... We
raised mules, and when they were broken to drive, brought a
good price on the Omaha market.
One of my earliest memories is a trail herd...
It was a sight to see them coming out of the hills on down the
river... They traveled on open range where this was possible.
Sometimes the entire three miles within our sight was a long
line of cattle...
We attended one room frame schools. There
was a coal bin attached on back and the older boys kept the
coal scuttle filled from the bin... The backlot held two outhouses.
If teacher caught us throwing spitballs we had to stand in a
corner, or she spanked our hand with a ruler. It was a pretty
bad offense of yours if you got spanked, teacher sent a note
home with you and you got another spanking...
The negro teachers we had in Nebraska were
Irene Brewer... Fern Walker... Esther Shores...and Uncle Bill
Meehan. They were all good teachers but of course Uncle Bill
was our favorite... Our school was Riverview, District 113...
The School Superintendent preached two things to us, that teachers
were underpaid, and that Knowledge is Power...
During summer there would always be a big
picnic at 'Daddy Hannahs' place. This would usually be in August
on the first Sunday. There would be speeches and eats and rodeo...
Social life was very much a part of the community. There were
dances, I mean parties held at homes. A great number of these
forty families were excellent musicians so who was to provide
music was no problem... Our family was fortunate, we had a cottage
organ. You pumped the pedals to force air through the reeds.
Dad used to play Sunday evenings and we all sang... We had fun
around the organ, wore out two of them and a piano...
Looking back it seems that getting our 80
[acres] was the beginning of the end for us in Nebraska. There
was one thing after another... In March 1925, we left the Sand
Hills for Pierre, South Dakota... This account is factual, and
I did not realize it would be so long, but, a way of life is
not short. No, a way of life is not short.
Source: Ava Speese Day, "The Ava Speese
Day Story," in Frances Jacobs Alberts, ed., Sod House Memories,
Vols. I-III (Hastings, Nebraska, 1972), pp. 261-275.
BLACK DREAMS OF OKLAHOMA
The following vignette describes the beginnings
of the black land rush to Oklahoma in the early 1890s and the
role played by Edwin P. McCabe in that immigration.
After 1866, there were concerted efforts on
the part of blacks to make the Oklahoma Lands a haven for blacks
of the United States and the Indian Territory. However, those
efforts met with little success. Nevertheless, blacks of the
United States (and especially those of Kansas), refused to give
up the idea, and after Oklahoma was opened to settlement on
April 22, 1889, there was repeated on a smaller scale an exodus
much like that to Kansas a decade before. This time, the efforts
of black leaders were directed toward making the new territory
a black state.
The dream was especially espoused by Kansas
blacks. When it became apparent that Oklahoma would open to
settlement, Kansas newspapers such as The American Citizen (Topeka)
urged every black who wanted 160 acres to prepare and watch
diligently for the opening. In July of that year W.L. Eagleson
was described as the "prime mover" in a scheme to
encourage Southern blacks to emigrate to Oklahoma. He had organized
an emigration company, whose purpose it was to establish agents
in the major cities of the South. At his headquarters in Topeka,
Eagleson estimated that by July of 1890 he would have 100,000
blacks in Oklahoma....
Much of the black dream depended on the person
of Edward Preston McCabe, who had served two terms as State
Auditor of Kansas and in 1889 was serving as the Washington
agent for the Oklahoma Immigration Association. Petitions began
arriving in Washington from blacks in Kansas and Oklahoma, asking
the President to appoint McCabe as Territorial Governor. Throughout
March of 1890, McCabe worked unsuccessfully for the position.
But by late March, excitement over the prospects of a black
state was dying. McCabe gave up the idea of the Governorship
and became a candidate for Secretary of the Territory. However,
he was disappointed on that count, too. He moved to Oklahoma
Territory in April and had been there only briefly when he was
appointed the first Treasurer of Logan County. He carried out
his duties as Treasurer and ran a real estate office at Guthrie.
Although McCabe had evidently given up the idea of a black state,
he continued to urge migration of blacks to the Territory, and
exerted great influence on their pattern of settlement there.
Throughout McCabe's campaign for the offices
of Governor and Secretary of the Treasury, the Oklahoma Immigration
Association continued its work. It was generally successful
and during the early months of 1890 its success added spirit
and enthusiasm to McCabe's campaign. R.F. Foster, one of the
Association's representatives in the South, reported in April,
1890 that on July 1 some 10,000 blacks would leave Alabama for
Oklahoma, and that 1,700 had already left Atlanta. In August,
a committee of three, representing some 300 blacks from Mississippi,
were reportedly going to Oklahoma to investigate the prospects
for immigration. And in February of 1891, a delegation of 48
from Arkansas arrived in Guthrie, to be followed by 200 then
on their way from Little Rock. By the spring of 1891 blacks
from the South arrived in Oklahoma on "almost every train."
Source: Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., and Lonnie
E. Underhill, "Black Dreams and 'Free' Homes: The Oklahoma
Territory, 1891-1894," Phylon 34 (December 1973), pp. 342,
THE BATTLE FOR THE CIMARRON VALLEY
The following vignette describes the nearly
frantic efforts of African Americans to secure land in Oklahoma
during the first years the territory was open to settlement.
Hundreds of blacks had already arrived at
Langston and were being cared for until time for the "invasion,"
as the papers called it. Immigrants arrived daily; thousands
more were expected. They were reportedly armed, ready to secure
homes "at any price," and were expected "to exclude
all but members of their race from securing claims, at least
until each negro has found a home." The prime leader in
this endeavor was [Edwin] McCabe, who was trying to congregate
at least 15,000 of his people at Langston by the day of the
Tension mounted in nearby Guthrie as the day
for the run drew near. The arrival of so many blacks was interpreted
by Guthrie residents as an intended mass movement into the best
of the lands to be opened--the Cimarron Valley, and there were
plans on the part of "white settlers" and "cowboys"
to preempt claims made by blacks. The Sac and Fox Indians also
supposedly resented the presence of blacks in the run. It was
claimed that they had sold their lands to the United States
with the understanding the lands would be opened to white settlement.
They....intimated that they would make it "uncomfortable"
for blacks who settled among them....
Two days before the opening, there were rumors
of corruption, as in the opening of the Oklahoma Lands, with
"Sooners" already on the lands, preempting the choice
claims. The blacks were reported determined to make successful
claims to the northern part of the lands... By this time there
were some 2,000 [black] men at Langston; half of them were armed.
Determined to succeed, they planned to settle four of their
numbers on each quarter section to ensure protection of their
claims. On the night of September 21, thirty armed members of
the group, headed by "William Eggleston [sic] and the postmaster"
descended on a camp of whites nearby. The surprised cowboys
offered no resistance as the blacks issued a proclamation that
the land across the line belonged to them and that they would
hold it at all costs. After giving the proclamation they returned
On the day of the run, the blacks gathered
at the line, many destitute and without food, but all determined
to make their bids for new homes. Many of them met with violence.
On the northern line, some were intimidated by whites, and they
fled to areas where more blacks had gathered. Four miles south
of Langston, two blacks became angry when some cowboys indicated
their intentions to settle upon a quarter section desired by
blacks. An argument ensued and, as a result, the blacks were
badly wounded and did not make the run. McCabe, himself, who
went out to see how his people were doing, returned to Guthrie
with a report that he had been the object of violence. He had
been on the lands a short time when three white men ordered
him away. He refused to go, saying that he was an American citizen.
One of the men pulled his gun and fired at McCabe, who was unarmed
and dodged behind a wagon. The others pulled their six-shooters
and fired five or six shots at him; they were almost upon him
before he was rescued by a group of blacks who, armed with Winchesters,
came to his assistance. In speaking of the white men, McCabe
said, "I did not know them, but I believe they belonged
to the crowd that threatened to kill all negroes found on the
land." In spite of such violence, it was estimated that
nearly a thousand black families obtained homes in these reservations....
Thousands of blacks were on hand for the opening
of the Cheyenne-Arapaho lands. On the day before the run, large
groups of them massed on the sand bars of the Cimarron and along
the ninety-eight meridian south of the river. They carried their
children and belongings on their backs. One white promoter had
come from Topeka with 200 black homeseekers. Coming to Hennessey
by train, they had walked the sixteen miles west to the Cimarron....
Most of the blacks were afoot, but they did not lose out in
the run. They found their way to homesteads....in the blackjacks
and sandy hills along the North Canadian River, many securing
claims along the headwaters of Salt Creek.
Source: Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., and Lonnie
E. Underhill, "Black Dreams and 'Free' Homes: The Oklahoma
Territory, 1891-1894," Phylon 34 (December 1973), pp. 342,
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON DESCRIBES BOLEY, INDIAN TERRITORY
In a 1908 article in the popular magazine
the Outlook, Booker T. Washington, describes the most famous
of the all-black Indian Territory towns, Boley. Part of his
description is included below.
Boley, Indian Territory, is the youngest,
the most enterprising, and in many ways the most interesting
of the negro towns in the United States. A rude, bustling, western
town, it is a characteristic product of the negro immigration
from the South and Middle West into the new lands of what is
now the State of Oklahoma....
It is a striking evidence of the progress
made in thirty years that the present northward and westward
movement of the negro people has brought into these new lands,
not a helpless and ignorant horde of black people, but land-seekers
and home-builders, men who have come prepared to build up the
country....They have recovered something of the knack for trade
that their foreparents in Africa were famous for. They have
learned through their churches and their secret orders the art
of corporate and united action. This experience had enabled
them to set up and maintain in a raw Western community, numbering
2,500, an orderly and self-respecting government.
In the fall of 1905 I spent a week in the
Territories of Oklahoma and Indian Territory. During the course
of my visit I had an opportunity for the first time to see the
three races--Negro, the Indian, and the white man-- living side
by side, each in sufficient numbers to make their influence
felt in the communities of which they were a part, and in the
Territory as a whole....
I learned upon inquiry that there were a considerable
number of communities throughout the Territory where an effort
had been made to exclude negro settlers. To this the negroes
had replied by starting other communities in which no white
man was allowed to live. For instance, the thriving little city
of Wilitka, I was informed, was a white man's town until it
got the oil mills. Then they needed laborers, and brought in
the negroes. There are a number of other little communities--Clairview,
Wildcat, Grayson, and Taft-- which were sometimes referred to
as "colored towns," but I learned that in their cases
the expression meant merely that these towns had started as
negro communities or that there were large numbers of negroes
there, and that negro immigrants were wanted. But among these
various communities there was one of which I heard more than
the others. This was the town of Boley, where, it is said, no
white man has ever let the sun go down upon him.
In 1905, when I visited Indian Territory,
Boley was little more than a name. It was started in 1903. At
present time it is a thriving town of two thousand five hundred
inhabitants, with two banks, two cotton-gins, a newspaper, a
hotel, and a "college," the Creek-Seminole College
and Agricultural Institute... It was, it is said, to put the
capability of the negro for self-government to test that in
August, 1903, seventy-two miles east of Guthrie, the site of
the new negro town was established. It was called Boley, after
the man who built that section of the railway. A negro town-site
agent, T.M. Haynes, who is at present connected with the Farmers'
and Merchants' Bank, was made Town-site Agent, and the purpose
to establish a town which should be exclusively controlled by
negroes was widely advertised all over the Southwest.
Boley, although built on the railway, is still
on the edge of civilization. You can still hear on summer nights,
I am told, the wild notes of the Indian drums and the shrill
cries of the Indian dancers among the hills beyond the settlement.
The outlaws that formerly infested the country have not wholly
disappeared. Dick Shafer, the first Town Marshal of Boley, was
killed in a duel with a horse thief, whom he in turn shot and
killed, after falling, mortally wounded, from his horse. The
horse thief was a white man... Boley, like the other negro towns
that have sprung up in other parts of the country, represents
a dawning race consciousness, a wholesome desire to do something
to make the race respected; something which shall demonstrate
the right of the negro, not merely as an individual, but as
a race, to have a worthy and permanent place in the civilization
that the American people are creating. In short, Boley is another
chapter in the long struggle of the negro for moral, industrial,
and political freedom.
Source: Booker T. Washington, "Boley,
A Negro Town In The West", The Outlook, January 4, 1908,
EDWIN P. McCABE AND LANGSTON CITY, OKLAHOMA TERRITORY
The following account provides a glimpse of
Edwin P. McCabe, 19th Century Republican politician, black nationalist,
and town promoter who balanced these objectives while encouraging
the settlement of Langston City, Oklahoma. Note the view of
McCabe here as contrasted with the earlier vignette, "Black
Dreams of Oklahoma."
[Edwin P.] McCabe, one of the leading black
Republicans in Kansas, had left Nicodemus in 1882 and resettled
in Topeka, where he lived until 1890. His participation in local
and county politics in Nicodemus prepared the way for his election
to two terms in the Kansas State Auditor's Office. In 1886,
he lost his bid to a third [term], but he continued to seek
political appointments. A trip to Washington, D.C., in early
1890 resulted in his being offered a position as immigration
inspector in Key West, Florida. He refused that offer, preferring
to accept appointment by Governor George W. Steele as deputy
auditor for Logan County, Oklahoma. In May 1890, McCabe moved
with his family from Topeka to Guthrie, Oklahoma, and began
his auditing duties with J.W. Lawhead, a political friend and
colleague from Kansas, who became his immediate superior. Although
he continued to reside in the biracial town of Guthrie, twelve
miles southwest of Langston City, he also soon engaged in unofficial
activities to promote Langston City townsites.
McCabe became a focus of attack by several
white-oriented newspapers, including the Kansas City Times and
the New York Times, concerned about black political aspirations
in the Oklahoma Immigration Association. The inflammatory newspaper
articles promulgated the idea that blacks planned to take political
control of Oklahoma to establish an exclusively black state.
McCabe was reputed to have lobbied in Washington for appointment
as either territorial governor or secretary. The March 3, 1890,
issue of the St. Louis Republic quoted an unidentified "friend"
as saying that McCabe had been promised that the president would
appoint a black governor if McCabe could prove that Oklahoma
had a black majority, and the February 28, 1891, issue of the
New York Times quoted McCabe as saying, "I expect to have
a Negro population of over 100,000 within two years of Oklahoma...[and]
we will have a Negro state governed by Negroes." Either
McCabe had told the Times reporter what he thought the white-oriented
press wished to hear, or perhaps the reporter deliberately misquoted
him....The 1907 special statehood census figures indicate that
never in the history of the territory could blacks have outnumbered
white residents or posed a genuine threat of political domination
McCabe's endorsement of the idea of black
states was transitory, if indeed he ever seriously contemplated
it. Some months after the New York Times interview, he allowed
his own Langston City Herald to print a letter from resident
G.W. Sawner that said , "Surely McCabe...[realizes] the
folly of a distinctly Negro state, rules by Negroes. McCabe
knows it is impossible to keep the white men away from the Negroes....Negro
supremacy is not the desire of the Negro or McCabe, but they
do wish to see one state, at least, in the Union, where the
Negro will have an equal chance in the race of life with other
men." [McCabe's] behavior suggested not that he endorsed
a separated state but that he recognized that predominantly
black-populated towns might better allow blacks to achieve both
personal and racial advancement.
Source: Kenneth Marvin Hamilton, Black Towns
and Profit: Promotion and Development in the Trans-Appalachian
West, 1877-1915, (Urbana, 1991), pp. 101-102.
Allensworth, California, profiled below, represented
the Far West's version of the all-black town.
It began in 1908 as a utopia for blacks, a
place where former slaves could escape the indignities of discrimination.
In its heyday, it was a thriving farm community with a lucrative
railroad stopover. There was a constable and a justice of the
peace. There were debates, a traveling glee club and theater
performances. This was Allensworth, the only town in California
established by blacks. But the dream began to fade. After half
a century of struggling to survive, this black Mecca died in
the 1960s, done in by the harsh flats of the San Joaquin Valley
and the harsh realities of racism. "Its not in the history
books, and it's been kept quiet for a long time," says
Sally Clipps, an archivist for the state Department of Parks
and Recreation in Sacramento. "But once you get there,
you can see the history. You can feel it."
Through the efforts of historians and former
residents, Allensworth became a state park in 1976. And today,
residents and descendants are still trying to piece together
its lost history. Recently, 3,000 people gathered at the partially
restored site for a reunion. They held hands and sang spirituals
in the reconstructed Baptist church. They traveled from Oakland,
Fresno and Los Angeles. Some came from Chicago, Mississippi
and Washington, D.C. One young boy marveled to his mother that
he had never seen so many black people in his life. "It's
a real special spirit--a feeling of pride--to know that these
people were able to do what they did," says Dorothy Benjamin,
44, a Sacramento resident whose grandfather, Eddie Cotton, was
among the town's first settlers. "This is our culture,
The town was named after its founder, Allen
Allensworth, a Kentucky slave who was sold and separated from
his family at age 12 because he violated a state law that prohibited
blacks from learning to read or write. [Nine years later, during
the Civil War] Allensworth slipped behind Union lines. He joined
the army and eventually became a lieutenant colonel, the highest-ranking
black U.S. military officer at the time. When he retired in
1906, "the Colonel" began devising plans for a town
that would attract the best and brightest of his race..."to
prove to the white man, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the
Negro is capable of self-respect and self-control." The
concept was not a new one. Rather than test the limits of the
racial restrictions of the day, blacks around the country were
forming their own self-contained communities...Boley, Oklahoma,
Nicodemus, Kansas, Mound Bayou, Mississippi.
While scouting locations for their settlement
they contacted the Pacific Farming Company controlled by a group
of wealthy land speculators, who offered to sell thousands of
acres around Solito, a train depot halfway between Los Angeles
and San Francisco. The company readily agreed to do business
with the blacks partly because the land was anything but fertile.
But for the settlers, the rugged, untilled tracts were their
only chance for salvation. At the time, two to three acres could
be purchased for less than $1,000. Allensworth bought 2,700
Solito, renamed Allensworth, grew rapidly.
Soon farmers, teachers and officers who had fought in the Civil
War were flocking from Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Texas,
eager to take part in the great "Negro experiment."
After a time, cotton, grain, sugar beets and livestock flourished
with the help of irrigation. Within three years, the community
had swelled to 300 families, and their success was touted in
black periodicals around the country....Eventually, the community
became a transfer station of the Santa Fe Railroad. Traveling
cattle merchants arrived in Allensworth daily, providing a booming
business for the local restaurant, hotel and Livery. Allensworth
was designated a voting precinct. Its justice of the peace and
constable were the first black men in California to hold elected
office. The town was run by an association of representatives
chosen by the residents.... There was even a fire auxiliary
in which women were on call to "attend the fire with brooms
which are to be kept wet so as to put out sparks..." according
to newspaper accounts.... Education was so important to the
town that they even taxed themselves extra to pay for a second
school teacher because the state only paid for one....It was
the only place in California that hired black teachers.
As Allensworth exceeded even its founder's
vision, the town's prosperity angered its white neighbors. "They
thought this would just be a town of migrant workers,"
said Ed Pope, 61, who moved to Allensworth in the late 1930s
to pick cotton. "But when they saw how successful it was,
they tried to destroy it." Sometime between 1911 and 1914
the Pacific Farming Company stepped in and took control of Allensworth's
water rights, then issued an edict that no more land could be
sold to blacks. Town residents sued and eventually regained
control of their water supply. In 1914 the Santa Fe Railroad
built a stop in the neighboring with town of Alpaugh, and lucrative
business was diverted from Allensworth....The town's problems
continued to worsen with the agricultural demand of a growing
population lowered the natural water table, drying up drinking
wells. When neighboring white towns formed a cooperative to
build a new water system, they refused to allow Allensworth
to participate. The devastating blow came in 1914: Col Allensworth--on
a visit to Los Angeles to promote the community--accidentally
stepped off the curb in front of a streetcar and was killed
by a passing motorcyclist. Despite his death, may residents
remained in Allensworth, tending their crops and continuing
to eke out an existence.
But tragedy struck the town again in 1966,
when state water officials discovered arsenic in three new wells
that were being drilled. They blamed the problem on natural
causes and ordered residents not to drink from the polluted
wells. Health officials say arsenic had probably been in the
drinking water since the town was founded. Eventually residents
secured a $48,000 federal loan to build a new water system.
In addition, the community--never straying from Allensworth's
philosophy of self-help--donated an estimate $15,000 of their
own labor to lay the new water lines.... [Nonetheless] once
the arsenic was discovered many residents began moving away.
Even as the new pipeline was being built, the town was on the
verge of extinction. The few surviving buildings were a shambles
and the population was just over 100....
Finally in 1976, the state approved plans
to develop Allensworth Historic Park, a 240 acre site at the
former town center. So far, half a dozen buildings have been
restored, including Allensworth's home. There are plans to renovate
16 more....Although blacks still live there--some still making
their living from he soil, more than half its 100 residents
are Mexican farm laborers. "This is a town that refuses
to die," says Ed Pope, "We're beginning to build it
Source: Los Angeles Times, November 17, 1991,
VIRGINIA CITY AND DODGE CITY: 19TH CENTURY BLACK URBAN OUTPOSTS
Television has been instrumental in shaping
the contemporary popular image of the West. Two enormously successful
television series--"Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke,"
typify that influence as the projected two small towns--Virginia
City, Nevada. and Dodge City, Kansas, as 19th Century icons
of the region. Popular wisdom purports that the towns had no
African Americans. History shows otherwise. In each place briefly
thriving black communities revolved around local churches. The
vignettes below provide a glimpse into those communities.
Virginia City: A Meeting of black residents
was held in Virginia City on December 1, 1863, to plan a celebration
of the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation for
January 1, 1864. The meeting, chaired by R. H. Scott, adopted
the following resolution: "That we heartily tender our
thanks to Abraham Lincoln...for the liberation of many of our
enslaved brethren in the southern portion of the United States...and
that the Emancipation Proclamation...has created in us a strong
desire...to prove ourselves worthy of the gift of God to man,
Liberty...by going forth to battle against the enemies of God,
Liberty and Union."
A meeting of colored citizens held on February
3, 1870, resolved to celebrate the ratification of the Fifteenth
Amendment, whenever it should occur. A one-hundred-gun salute
was planned for the morning of the day of ratification, and
a total of $227 was collected at the meeting to defray expenses...
The first event was a parade through Virginia City to Gold Hill.
The parade formed at the "Hall of the Lincoln Union Club"
on April 7, 1870, a few days after the amendment had been declared
ratified... The parade, preceded by an American flag and the
Virginia [City] Brass Band "playing popular patriotic airs,"
contained a "fine silk flag" made by the black women
of Virginia City... On one side of this flag were the words,
"Justice is slow, but sure..." The parade consisted
of about fifty men walking, followed by twelve carriages containing
men, women and children. "All were well-dressed, and the
marshals rode on horseback.. In all the procession numbered
nearly... 150 persons."
Dodge City: Blacks represented 4.3% of the
total Kansas population in 1880, while the 42 blacks...represented
only 3.3% of Dodge City's households. There were seven discernible
family households... With one exception, all of the seventeen
males and fourteen females worked in poorly paid service occupations...
Elizabeth Harris, cooked at one of the hotels. Hotels, in fact,
used the services of black men more than any other business...
Servants, black and white, represented 11.4% of the total workforce
and could always find a position on Front Street or in the homes
of the more prosperous businessmen. In one line of personal
service, laundry, blacks had a near monopoly and at one point
exercised a bit of economic exclusiveness of their own by complaining
of "Chinese...wash tub artists" threatening to take
over... For blacks, life in Dodge was…better than it had
been in their past experience.
Housing, always in short supply in cow town
Dodge, was not a serious problem for the single servants and
laborers who "lived in." Houses for families were
small...but were gradually improved after 1885 when blacks began
buying lots close together in Shinn's Addition south of the
Arkansas River, a move which enhanced the cohesiveness of the
As was true of the white community in Dodge,
the blacks separated themselves into a Front Street crowd and
a respectable class. The "better" element held religious
services in homes and occasionally supported revival meetings
"across the dead line." The Union Church which catered
to any and all congregations...also served the blacks... The
few people who lived on isolated ranches and farms in the rural
areas around Dodge were part of the larger black community.
They came as independent homesteaders or ranchers and frequented
Dodge City because it was the major trade center for southwestern
Sources: Elmer R. Rusco, "Good Time Coming?"
Black Nevadans in the Nineteenth Century (Westport, Conn., 1975),
pp. 72-74, 98, and C. Robert Haywood, "'No Less a Man':
Blacks in Cow Town Dodge City, 1876-1886," Western Historical
Quarterly 19:2 (May 1988):162-163, 165-167.
KATE D. CHAPMAN DESCRIBES BLACKS IN YANKTON, DAKOTA TERRITORY
In April 1889, seven months before Dakota
Territory became the states of North and South Dakota, nineteen-year-old
Kate D. Chapman, destined to be one of the few black female
journalists in the nation, wrote about the small African American
community in her hometown of Yankton. Her account suggested
that African Americans could survive and even prosper in regions
where the black population was small (according to the 1890
U.S. Census, Yankton had 59 blacks and South Dakota had 540).
Part of her description of black Yankton is reprinted below.
Yankton has a mixed population of five thousand
inhabitants, about sixty of whom are Afro-Americans, who are
all more or less in a prosperous condition. The schools, churches
and hotels, are thrown open too all regardless to color, and
the...the feeling that exists between the two races is friendly
in the extreme.... The colored people pay taxes on fully $22,000
worth of property. The majority of them came from the Southern
States only a few years ago, and by their industry have earned
for themselves homes and the respect of all. One man, Mr. Amos
Lewis, who came here ten years ago with nothing except a knowledge
of plastering, now owns $5,000 worth of real estate, saying
nothing of his fine team and other personal property.
Another man who is on the road to wealth,
is Mr. James Parsons, who formerly kept a restaurant at this
place; he is worth about $3,000 in cash and [has] property [worth]
J.B. Shaw, the city constable, is a progressive
colored man and is worth about $1,500 He has a daughter who
will be famous some day in the world of music....
C.T. Chapman* is a cook by trade, and has
thoroughly mastered his profession. He has a home valued at
$2,500. He owns also a fine breed of hunting dogs valued at
from $50 to $100.
Henry Robinson, who owns an elegant barber
shop, situated on the principal street, has several white hands
working under him, and has property worth about $2,500.
Another fine man belonging to the Afro-American
race is Thomas Sturgiss, and excellent mechanic, who employs
his idle hours in distributing good literature among the race.
His home is valued at $1,000.
Washington Stokes, who now owns a $1,000 home
says that he borrowed the money to pay the fare of himself and
his wife when he came here from Eufaula, Alabama, and now is
Mrs. Amy Davis, a sprightly little widow has
by her own exertions acquired $1,500 worth of property.
Mrs. Towns is also an industrious widow, owning
$1,800 worth of real estate.
Mr. Fred Baker, assistant druggist in one
of the largest drug stores, is a property holder in the South,
and is worth about $800 in cash. He has been in Yankton about
three years, and thinks it is just the place for poor colored
people who want to get a fair show in the world.
Mrs. Proteau, whose husband, a Frenchman,
perished in the blizzard last winter, up about Pierre, Dakota,
owns a home worth $800....
The church, a branch of the A.M.E. connection,
is valued at $2,000, and has a membership of twenty persons.
A Masonic lodge is also in existence. The people are socially
inclined and extend a hearty welcome to all who come. When we
think of the crowded tenement houses, loathsome streets, foul
air, bitter prejudice many of our people have to endure in the
south, we are forced by the love we bear them to say, for the
sake of health, wealth and freedom, come west. Dakota has been
well named the 'Beulah Land,' for such she had proved to those
of our people who have ventured, despite the prediction that
they would certainly 'freeze to death,' to come to the Territory
Hoping you will visit the colored Yanktonians
some fine day, I close with a line...from the brilliant Pope:
"Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow; The rest
is all but leather and prunella."
*[the father of Kate D. Chapman]
Source: Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., "Kate
D. Chapman Reports on 'The Yankton Colored People," 1889'"
South Dakota History 7:1 (Winter 1976):32-35.
RACE RELATIONS IN LATE 19TH CENTURY WEST KANSAS
In the following vignette historian Craig
Miner suggests that the acrimonious race relations which so
often characterized exchanges between blacks and whites in larger
cities of the nation, and throughout the South, did not evolve
in small western towns such as Hays City or Kinsley, Kansas.
His argument is reprinted below.
Competition for population led...to...temporary
tolerance for minority groups in western Kansas towns that was
remarkable in contrast to the general national tone. It was
part of a push for unity, an aspect of hard surroundings where
one took help from wherever it came, but, however short lived,
it induced, such cross-cultural, interracial empathy was a secret
gift of time and place.
In 1879 "Uncle" John White, a black
man who had lived in Hays City since 1868, was visiting a friend
aboard a train. Stepping off as it departed, he fell, was dragged
twenty yards, and then run over and cut to pieces. He had been
a barber and restaurant owner; his "good humored countenance
was a familiar object in Hays--everybody knew and like him,"
and his death was "like the passing of a landmark."
Born a slave in Tennessee in 1815, White had gained his freedom
in 1863 and come west with his wife. It was not unusual that
the local paper should write up the lurid details of a grisly
incident, but the recognition of a black man's central place
in the life of a community, an understanding of his personal
history, and an extension of the "heart-felt sympathy of
our community" to his widow by name were hardly common
in 1870s America.
Similar identification of a black man as an
individual, not just a member of a race, came in Kinsley in
1879 when Jerry Saunders, proprietor of a local cleaning and
repair shop, crushed the skull of another black man in a quarrel.
In Wichita, the newspaper would be likely to have reported the
wielding of razors but say it did not get the name of either
party. But most people in Kinsley knew Saunders well, and his
plight could not be easily ignored on account of his race. His
name appeared regularly in the society columns, before and after
the murder: when he fell skating on the ice and the girls giggled,
or when he played baseball on the local nine where there was
"no distinction of color shown." It was news in Kinsley
when the "young men's social club (colored) gave a party,
or when blacks organized the Pioneer Mutual Agricultural Association,
or even when a black carpenter built an especially nice addition
onto his "neat and cozy residence" in town. Therefore,
the black murderer was for the community, its friend Jerry Saunders,
and the Kinsley Graphic editor was relieved when, after Saunders
gave himself up, the county attorney reduced the charge to fourth-degree
manslaughter and the court imposed the minimum sentence. "Jerry
Saunders is a hard-working colored man and has the facility
of attention to his own business which has made him popular
in the community, who, without an exception as far as we know,
are glad that he escaped with a light sentence.
Evidence...can be found for other towns. When
a Great Bend reporter learned in 1879 that a "colored lady
of culture" from North Carolina was enrolled at the new
normal institute in town, he suggested that the board of education
enlist her as a teacher, especially because there were thirty
black children in Great Bend schools. Some politicians would
oppose it, the reporter thought, but the majority of the community
would see the practicality of such a move. The same paper reported
on a convention of the black citizens of Barton, Pawnee, Edwards,
Ford, and Hodgeman Counties held in Kinsley on 4 July 1878 to
elect delegates to the Business and Industrial Convention to
be held in Kansas City, and suggested that Barton County blacks
elect an extra delegate on their own. In Larned, a black man,
Jerome Johnson, was on the staff of the Larned Chronoscope in
the early 1880s and kept newspaper readers informed of everyday
goings-on among local blacks. Their picnics, their weddings,
their entertainment, their politics, and their dreams of a home
in the West were chronicled in all the towns along with those
Source: Craig Miner, West of Wichita: Settling
the High Plains of Kansas, 1865-1890 (Lawrence, 1986), pp. 101-103.
JIM KELLY AND PRINT OLIVE
Jim Kelly was one of thousands of black cowboys
who rode the trail from Texas to Kansas and Nebraska cattle
towns. However, because of the biography of his employer, Print
Olive, Kelley's name and his story can be reconstructed. Kelly
once saved Olive's life in a Kansas barroom brawl. Yet even
the biography of Olive, as you will read below, is susceptible
to the prevalent racial stereotyping of black cowboys as obedient,
accommodating servants even when the record indicates otherwise.
On May 28  Print turned a big steer
herd out of the Olive Pens and started it up the Chisholm Trail.
With him he took Nigger Jim Kelly as wrangler, with a night
hawk to help him. Jim was "a good man to cross the river
with," as Print spoke of him, for Kelly knew no fear and
was a valued hand when trouble arose on the trail. With quick
reflexes, fast with a gun, loyal to Print and proud of it, Nigger
Jim was irreplaceable in Print's mind. Jim's work with the horses
of Olive remudas made them the envy of many Texas drovers and
Olive saddlehorses brought top prices wherever they are shown,
many being from Steel Dust breeding.
"That Nigger Jim can ride anything with
a hole in it or hair on it," cowboys facetiously remarked.
But in spite of the vulgar insinuation, Jim Kelly like most
of the cowboys of his time, white, colored, or Mexican, shared
an almost reverent attitude toward womenkind.
On the trail, Barney Armstrong, a faithful
Olive cowboy, took the right point and Albert Herrera, a vaquero
from Dime Box, rode the left. Buishy McGuire, a new hand, "wild
and wolly and full o' fleas, ever bin curried below the knees,"
as the trail men told it, rode right swing. Gene Lyons, Print's
friend, an easy-going young man with a calm disposition, the
antithesis to McGuire, rode left swing. Gene had started as
an Olive cook, and he was the friendliest of men.
The two flank riders were experienced vaqueros,
Carlos and Francisco, brothers whom Print had picked up in Austin
a few days before the drive started. At the drag, Print put
two young and inexperienced boys, Ranny Johnson and Steve Nicholas,
both seventeen. Henry Strain, a young colored boy, drove the
chuckwagon and cooked. Victorio, an elderly vaquero, helped
with wagon and remuda.
Print had the feeling from the start that
it would be a troublesome trip. He was not disappointed in his
forecast. The cattle ran every night for the first week in the
brushy country north and across the San Gabriel, keeping the
herders sleepless and irritable until a final bad run ended
in the death of twenty head of big steers in a canyon. Among
them had been the spooky leader of the stampedes.
"It's worth fifty head to get that bastard
out of the herd," Print said. But when the stampedes had
ended, near Fort Worth, trouble began between the cowboys....
One night at the wagon after some of the saddlestock in the
remuda had strayed, McGuire quarreled with the trail-worn wrangler,
Nigger Jim Kelly. The tall Negro, born a freeman and a very
proud one, took his share of the bantering, then shoved his
.44 under McGuire's nose. Looking straight into McGuire's eyes
but speaking for the ears of the trail boss, Kelly said icily,
"If Mista Print don't say 'Take it down' I'se goin' to
blow the haid off youah shoulders, Bushy." Kelly pulled
back the hammer.
Print allowed enough time to pass for the
significance of the Negro's action to sift into McGuire's thick
head, then he said quietly, "Take it down, Jim." Nigger
Jim lowered the barrel of the gun and shoved it into his holster.
"Some day you goin' to cuss up the wrong
man, Bushy," Print advised McGuire. Then he closed the
subject for all time.
Source: Harry E. Chrisman, The Ladder of Rivers:
The Story of I.P. (Print) Olive (Denver, 1962), pp. 102-104.
D.W. "80 JOHN" WALLACE: A BLACK CATTLE RANCHER
Few African American cowboys acquired enough
resources to become cattle ranchers. One exception, however,
was Daniel Webster "80 John" Wallace, of West Texas.
Wallace, who was born near Inez, Texas in 1860, would eventually
become the state's most successful black rancher, eventually
acquiring 10,240 acres by his death in 1939. Before he began
his assent into the ranks of cattlemen, Wallace was a West Texas
cowboy. The account below, part of a brief autobiography, describes
I have been asked by several of my white friends
to write the history of my life and the pioneer days in the
west. I have been trying for ten years to decide on making the
attempt to comply to their request. I have never been ashamed
of my life, but I have always felt I could not tell the facts
of the old pioneer days in an interesting way, even though I
have grown up with the west. I was born in Victoria County,
Sept. 15, 1860, near Inez, Texas, on a small farm owned by Mrs.
Mary Cross. The farm consisted of about 200 acres, a few cows,
and other stock. The houses on the farm were built of logs.
The place I stayed was a log house of two rooms and a small
hall. All the rooms had dirt for floors. My parents worked on
In 1876 on the 13th day of March, I started
to work for a Mr. Carr, who moved his family and a small herd
of cattle to Lampasas County. After the work was over I left
Mr. Carr with $1.50 in my pockets for Taylor County...where
Tom Cross, the son of the woman on whose place I was born, was
working for Sam Gholson. I stayed there and worked a year....
On the 12th of December 1878 I hired to a Mr. Clay Mann who
lived in Coleman County. The next spring he bought beef cattle
and drove them to Whitesboro. Later he established a ranch near
Silver creek, a few miles south of Colorado City.
The Indians stole all of our horses in '78
and most of them in '79, but we stayed there all the year of
'80. On the 19th of January in '81 Mann sold the J.D. Brand
to a man by the name of J.W. Wilson. Mr. Mann then began to
buy cattle and started the 80 brand. From this brand my friends
gave me the name 80 John. The 80 brand ran to a large number,
at one time Mr. Mann claimed to have 26,000 held of cattle.
In 1883 he drove on the trail 4,000 cattle and established a
ranch in Wyoming. In the spring of '84 he drove about 4,000
more. These cattle were sold at Dodge [City] Kansas...
Life on the range was altogether different
from what the people find today. Our homes were dugouts when
we were fortunate to find one where a buffalo hunter had lived.
Sometimes we would take time to build one, but more often we
used our wagons and the ground. It was common to lie on the
ground in all kinds of weather with our blankets for a bed and
a saddle for a pillow.
There were no stores closer than 90 to 150
miles from our camps. Often times the boys' clothes would become
worn before we got a chance to go or send to town. We would
take sacks, rip them up and make pants. Some one usually went
to Coleman City about every two or three months for food, clothes
and other things we needed.
I have seen people on the frontier who had
a narrow escape for their lives, yet they would stay. Everyone
slept with his gun under his head.... An outfit would furnish
you with a gun and cartridges, usually a pistol and Winchester;
you were not allowed to shoot a rabbit or small game... Rattlesnakes
and dangerous beasts were plentiful. It was common to find a
snake rolled up in your bedding or be awakened early in the
morning by the howl of the wolf or the holler of the panther.
Sometimes for fun the boys would rope a wolf.
I have stood guard dark, stormy nights when
you couldn't see what you were guarding until a flash of lightening.
Many times the cattle would stampede and in the rush, often
the cattle or a cowboy was hurt. If a fellow got sick on the
range, he just laid around camp until he got well or died. There
were no doctors in the country. I have seen a pitiful sight
of a cowboy groaning with pain while we stood around helpless,
had nothing or knew nothing to lessen his misery....
Source: R. R. Crane, "D.W. Wallace ('80
John'); A Negro Cattleman on the Texas Frontier," in West
Texas Historical Association Yearbook 28 (1952): 113-118.
END OF THE TRAIL: BLACK COWBOYS IN DODGE CITY
The stockyards next to the Santa Fe Railroad
tracks at Dodge City were the end of the trail for many of the
Texas to Kansas cattle drives of the 1870s and 1880s. As such,
it was a gathering point outside Texas for thousands of white
and black cowboys who had spent months in isolation. Dodge City,
however, was not Texas which at the time was increasingly characterized
by racial restrictions which affected even the most independent-minded
African American drover. Dodge City, or at least the part along
notorious Front Street that entertained cowboys, proved surprisingly
free of racial segregation. That tolerance probably stemmed
from a combination of reasons including Kansas's reputation
for racial liberalism and the economic realities of the hundreds
of black cowboys eager to spend their wages in the saloons,
restaurants, hotels, brothels and other businesses along Front
Street. Whatever the reason, Dodge City businesses welcomed
all regardless of race. White and black drovers shared hotel
rooms, card games, cafe tables and, when necessary, jail cells.
Historian C. Robert Haywood provides a glimpse of that remarkable
southwestern Kansas anomaly to the 19th Century racial order.
If Dodge Citizens were not of one settled
mind in dealing with the permanent black residents, there is
also little to indicate unanimity of action or attitude toward
the black transients who arrived with the summer trail herds.
The transient population, black and white, frequently outnumbered
the permanent residents when summer season brought cattlemen
and cowboys to town... There is no way of accurately determining
the number of black cowboys who came to Dodge or were there
at any one time. George W. Sanders of the Trail Drivers Association,
as valid an authority as there is, estimated that about 25%
of all cowhands were black. Estimates made at the time indicated
there were usually around 1,550 cattlemen and cowboys in Dodge
during the summer-trail season. Of these, about 1,300 were cowboys.
This would mean that as many as 325 black men were in or near
the town from June to August... Black cowboys, with the same
dollars in their pockets as their white compeers, represented
a significant factor in Dodge's economy.
Although subject to some of the same attitudes
and customs as the permanent black residents, the black cowboys
expected and received better treatment. The freedom and equality
of range life had conditioned them to a more integrated friendship...
As long as Dodge was a raw, open cow town, the black cowboy
felt nearly as comfortable there as he did on the range or trail...
Just how relaxed a black, trail-herd cowboy...could be is illustrated
by Colonel Jack Potter's description of the arrival of a cattle
crew when "old Ab" Blocker's colored cook, Gordon
Davis, marched into Dodge City, mounted on the back of his left
wheel oxen, with fiddle in hand, playing "Buffalo Girls
Can't You Come Out Tonight."
Few, if any, of the early hotels, bars, and
restaurants were segregated. J.A. Comstock recalled his own
error in trying to exclude "a young mulatto cowboy"
from the Dodge House where Comstock was clerk. After the cowboy
had checked in, Comstock assigned a drunken white cowboy to
share the extra bed in the same room. The black didn't mind
sharing the room, but not with a raucous inebriate. When he
ordered the drunk out of the room at pistol point, the man fled.
Because of his action, Comstock's boss told him not to accept
the black cowboy the next night. But when the clerk told him
there were no rooms, the cowboy drew his pistol and waved it
in Comstock's face, saying: "You are a liar!" The
clerk quickly rechecked his roster and found a suitable room.
Source: C. Robert Haywood, "'No Less
a Man': Blacks in Cow Town Dodge City, 1876-1886," Western
Historical Quarterly 19:2 (May 1988): 168-170.
THE DEMISE OF LAWLESSNESS AT FORT GRIFFIN
During the 1870s Fort Griffin was a "typical"
frontier military town with a large floating population of gamblers
(including briefly Doc Holliday), prostitutes, con men and other
hustlers who preyed on the soldiers stationed there. Added to
the mix were rowdy cowboys whose violence enhanced the town's
reputation for lawlessness. By the early 1880s, however, settlers
filled the open spaces and the town increasingly became more
"respectable." What follows is a brief discussion
of that transition, focusing on one of the last episodes of
lawlessness which ironically involved Dick Bell, a black cowboy.
As the 1870s came to an end, the edge of the
plains was "fast settling up," in the words of boosters,
and the potential for expanding into the Rolling Plains, the
Southern High Plains, and even the trans-Pecos seemed limitless.
Over the next decade railroads would cut through the grasslands,
cattle would fill up the open spaces, farmers would plow the
bottomlands, and towns would mushroom where just a few years
earlier such scenes would have been inconceivable... The formative
development of the Clear Fork country...would be complete by
the end of the 1880s, and the experience of its pioneers would
leave an indelible mark on the regional character of West Texas...
When the new decade began, Fort Griffin remained
the most prominent town in western Texas, but clearly it had
lost the vibrancy that had once made it the unrivaled center
of the frontier... Despite townspeople's every effort, Griffin
could not overcome its notoriety. Lawlessness, though infrequent,
continued to reinforce outsiders' negative perceptions, contributing
further to the town’s demise. During 1879 the killings
of 'Cheap John' Marks and Charles McCafferty captured wide attention.
The next year the moribund little village suffered two more
incidents that rivaled any of the 'spectacular' killings that
occurred against the colorful backdrop of Griffin's heyday.
The first evolved out of a drunken spree,
when African American cowboy Dick Bell inexplicably mounted
his horse and shot a boy's pet, then harassed a black teamster
and some buffalo soldiers before a posse cornered him in a mesquite
thicket. A running gunfight through the town followed, whereupon
Bell took several wounds; as he wheeled around to face his pursuers,
he accidentally shot his own horse and then went down himself.
Some men loaded Bell onto a discarded door and left him to die
at the home of an elderly black woman. Miraculously, he recovered.
The Echo reported that Dr. Powell removed a bullet from his
face and that he was "carrying six more balls in his body
but is doing well." So well, in fact, that Bell escaped,
followed by wild stories that he had killed "an even dozen
Source: Ty Cashion, A Texas Frontier--The
Clear Fork Country and Fort Griffin, 1849-1887, (Norman: 1996),
BLACK COWBOYS AND THE PENDLETON ROUNDUP
The Pendleton Roundup is the most famous annual
rodeo in the Pacific Northwest. Yet few contemporary spectators
or participants realize that African Americans were among the
founders and first performers during its early years. The account
below provides a brief introduction.
In 1908, a group of cowpunchers in Pendleton,
Oregon, arranged to give an exhibition of bucking, bulldogging,
roping, and other "wild west" stunts at the old ball
park were the present Round-Up grounds are situated. These cowboys
included Charles Buckner, "a colored man whose people lived
south of Pendleton on Stewart Creek on a ranch." The punchers
gave a two-day show which has been an annual event since 1910
known as "The Round-Up."
The following year a [local] black cowboy,
George Fletcher, earned the reputation of "great"
by his fellow riders and spectators. At age 21, during the three-day
show his rides qualified him for the finals' contest. It was
a spine-tingling spectacle to see him ride three of the best
broncs--"Scarback," "Hot Foot," and "Going
Some." On that day he proved able to "fork" the
best. It is told that Fletcher...made such a brilliant showing
at Pendleton, that when the crowd heard that he had not been
allowed to win, they tore up his hat in little pieces and sold
them in the stands to give George a prize." Other black
who made a name at the Pendleton Round-Up were S.B. Therman
and Lewis Mosley.
During World War I, as an enlistee while in
Paris, France, Fletcher rode a so-called outlaw horse. "The
crowd shouted Viva, viva! To them he was more than just a rider.
He was a celebrity." According to one chronicler, Fletcher
received 400 francs and "the undying admiration of the
Source: Clifford P. Westermeier, "Black
Rodeo Cowboys," Red River Valley Historical Review 3:3
AFRICAN AMERICAN BUSINESSES: ARIZONA TERRITORY
The following vignette from a 1971 Master's
thesis, illustrates the range of black entrepreneurial activity
in Arizona Territory in 1890 at a time when the African American
population was only 1,357 out of a total population of 88,243.
It is surprising to note that many Negroes
from 1860 to 1880 not only had personal estates valued between
seventy-five and two hundred seventy-five dollars, but several
owned land ranging from one thousand dollars to two thousand
dollars in total valuation. What is even more interesting is
that from 1860 to 1900 as may as two hundred black men and women
owned and operated their own businesses. Among those were William
Neal and his wife, the daughter of Wiley and Hannah Box, who
owned and operated the Mountain View Hotel in Oracle. Another
hotel owner and operator was a Mrs. Lee, who came from Phoenix
to Tucson in the mid-1890s and opened the Orndorff Hotel, which
housed and employed several Negroes. Henry Ransom of Tucson
was a part owner of the San Xavier Hotel and Joe Mitchell and
Henry Corlay were Tucson's first Negro homesteaders and semi-realtors....
Mary A. Green, recognized as the first [black woman] in Phoenix,
was able to obtain a loan from her employers...and purchase
a small restaurant which she owned and operated successfully
while still retaining a position as the Gray family cook. Robert
L. Stevens, known as Phoenix's first wealthy black man, owned
a department store in that area which catered solely to the
needs of the city's black population. There were several other
independent black businessmen in the Phoenix area, including
Frank Shirley, who operated a chair of barber shops, Perry Pain,
the first Negro hotel operator in Phoenix, and William P. Crump,
owner and operator of the Phoenix Afro Wholesale Products Company.
These individuals who were the owners and
operators of small businesses were the exceptions and not the
rule: but their success helped illustrate the fact that Negroes
could come to Arizona and establish themselves, despite the
hardships of living in a frontier environment, and in spite
of the feelings of prejudice and discrimination generated by
those around them. The majority who come, however, were not
so lucky. Most Negroes came to Arizona with no skills and were
forced by....circumstances to seek employment at the bottom
of the economic ladder. It is true that there were many white
settlers who were likewise unskilled, but it seems that potential
employers were generally more eager to hire [them]. But, for
the most part, Negroes showed themselves to have been equipped
to adapt to the frontier environment....
Source: Robert Kim Nimmons, "Arizona's
Forgotten Past: The Negro in Arizona, 1539-1965," (MA Thesis,
Northern Arizona University, 1971), pp. 84-86.
A NORTH DAKOTA DAUGHTER
Although black western history is usually
written in the context of groups of settlers either in urban
or rural settings, perhaps more often in this region than in
any other area of the United States, individual black families
created homes and lives for themselves surrounded by EuroAmericans,
Asian Americans, Latinos or Native Americans. The family of
Era Bell Thompson is one example. Era Thompson eventually became
an internationally famous photojournalist for Ebony Magazine.
However, her early life was spent in North Dakota. The following
vignette describes part of that life.
Questions such as "where is North Dakota?"
and "what is the world was a nice Negro like you doing
in that godforsaken country in the first place?" led [Era
Bell] Thompson to write her autobiography, American Daughter,
about the influences of her experiences in North Dakota. As
a black child growing up in North Dakota during the late teens
and twenties, Thompson was the object of interest and prejudice.
"I was very luck to have grown up in North Dakota where
families were busy fighting climate and soil for a livelihood
and there was little awareness of race," she states...
Thompson, daughter of Stewart Calvin (Tony)
and Mary Logan Thompson, was born August 10, 1905, in Des Moines,
Iowa, and was nine when the family moved to North Dakota in
1914... Like other immigrants to Dakota, the Thompson family
had been drawn by the promise of a better life. Era Bell's brother
Hobart had come to North Dakota in 1913 to work for his uncle,
James A. Garrison, who had homesteaded near Driscoll. Hobart
also worked for Robert Johnson, a black farmer who lived near
Steele... Stewart and Mary Thompson had come to North Dakota
at the urging of Garrison, Stewart's half-brother, to escape
the problems of the city, problems which included limited job
opportunities for their sons.
Garrison, with his Irish wife Ada and their
two children, had homesteaded, receiving a patent on 160 acres
near Driscoll on September 30, 1907. Tony Thompson and Garrison's
mother, Mina Garrison, who was born into slavery January 19,
1821, and had come to North Dakota in 1909 to live with her
son, James, died there May 21, 1911... [Garrison] wrote glowingly
of the boundless prairie, the new land of plenty where a man's
fortune was measured by the number of his sons, and a farm could
be had even without money...
Era Bell Thompson's reactions to North Dakota
were different from those of the rest of the family. She was
excited about seeing Indians and about riding ponies. Her mother
looked from the train window to the bleak, treeless, snowcovered
land which was not at all like her native Virginia... Thompson's
first reactions were to the beauty of North Dakota:
It was a strange and beautiful country my
father had come to, so big and boundless he could look for miles
out over the golden prairies and follow the unbroken horizon
where the midday blue met the bare peaks of the distant hills.
No tree or bush to break the view, miles and miles of grass,
acre after acre of waving grain, and up above, God and that
fiery chariot which beat remorselessly down upon a parching
earth... Now and then the silence was broken by the clear notes
of a meadowlark on a nearby fence or the weird honk of wild
geese far, above, winging their way south. This was God's country.
There was something in the stillness that spoke to Pop's soul,
and he loved it.
Source: Kathie Ryckman Anderson, "Era
Bell Thompson: A North Dakota Daughter," North Dakota History
49:4 (Fall 1982):11-12.