Black American West Museum & Early Cowboys on Denver Ranches
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Unbeknownst to many, Black cowboys once owned Colorado homesteads and Denver ranches. A trip to the Black American West Museum at 3091 California Street, Denver, CO 80205 will unveil the importance of the African-American ethnicity in the Denver area. This very interesting museum is housed in the former home of Colorado’s first African-American female doctor, Doctor Justina Ford.
Many people are aware of the pioneers who traveled west and the Native Americans who frequented the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The Black American West Museum strives to educate the public about the Black cowboy and numerous African-Americans who helped shape Colorado.
Established in 1971 by Paul W. Stewart, the Black American West Museum collects, preserves, and disseminates information about how African-Americans contributed to the Old West. They beautifully tell the story of Black cowboys. A third of the cowboys were Black. Some became famous. Photographs of these men and their horses are displayed at the Museum. The museum has also collected samples of the daily tools and attire used by the Black cowboys. Visitors can examine saddles, hats, chaps, boots, spurs, and other identifiable objects.
Also great horsemen, Black cowboys served the military as Buffalo Soldiers in both cavalry and infantry. They assisted in the settlement of the West. Many of the stories can be found in the bookstore at the museum.
As a child, Stewart played cowboys and Indians. He was assigned the role of the Indian because he was told there was no such thing as a Black cowboy and he was Black. Nonetheless, as an adult he met a Black cowboy and learned that one in 3 cowboys who clear the way for the American West shared his ethnicity. So he searched the West, gathering personal artifacts, memorabilia, newspapers, legal documents, clothing, letters, photographs, and oral histories.
Visitors will learn about self-sufficient all-Black towns formed during the pioneer days. Dearfield, Colorado was founded in 1910 by Oliver T. Jackson. This was an excellent African-American farming community on the Great Plains outside of Denver, between Greeley and Fort Morgan. The town thrived, proving the notion that Blacks could own land including Denver ranches. On a Sunday at the end of September is a great time to visit during the Annual Deerfield Day.
The Black American West Museum is run entirely by volunteers. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. Admission is $10/adult, $9/seniors, $8/students, and $6/children 12 and under.
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