Oakland Black Cowboys Bring Old West To Life

Tomorrow at DeFremery Park (1651 Adeline St.), the Oakland Black Cowboy Association hosts its 43rd annual parade and festival, an event that honors the contributions of African-Americans to the culture and legacy of the Old West.

“We want to emphasize the fact that there were African-American cowboys,” said Andre’ Alporter, OBCA board member and media specialist. “They were the rangers who paved the roads for Yosemite. They built the telegraph lines up the Oregon Trail. That Yellowstone Park was patrolled by the Buffalo Soldiers.”

“This is the part of history that’s left out of school books," he said; by some accounts, 25 percent of the cowboys on cattle drives were African-American.

Popular culture largely whitewashes African-Americans out of the history of America's westward expansion, but after Emancipation, many former slaves moved west to the frontier where they could enjoy more personal and financial freedoms.

“They were recruited on trail drives and some of the largest drives like the Chisholm trail and the western trail,” said Alporter, naming two of the largest cattle drives of the Old West. Those routes spanned from Texas to Canada, and drivers herded stock from ranches and the open range to railheads in Kansas and Missouri where beef was shipped back East.

African-American history in the west has its own collection of colorful characters, including Oklahoma lawman Bass Reeves, often credited as the inspiration for the Lone Ranger.

Born a slave in Arkansas, he would become the first black deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River, and during his career was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons.

The Old West is more than just story for the OBCA. The unwritten cowboy code still resonates with its members.

“Our code of conduct was to be able to trust the man you ride with. Your word was your bond. You wouldn’t steal his horse, take his food, sneak up on his camp without announcement. We live up to that today,” said Alporter. “We still live that code of conduct and we have to.”

Lonnie Scoggins Sr. founded the Oakland Black Cowboy Association in 1974, and the group had its first parade the following year. Since then, OBCA has grown to a nationwide organization. And while many members like Alporter are now grandparents, they're also recruiting the next generation and passing on their values.

“We’re very committed for what we do for the community,” said Alporter. “We feel that that’s why we’re here. To be able to work with our youth and children and give the the direction that we have been given.”

Those interested in joining can email to the OBCA to find out how to get involved. There’s no age requirement, no race requirement, and no horse requirement. “You will learn about horses though,” said Alporter.

After interest and enthusiasm, the biggest requirement for prospective cowboys and cowgirls is involvement. “Show us you can show up and do the work,” said Alporter.

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Oakland black cowboys bring the old west to life