The Shreveport Regional Arts Council is showcasing the contributions of African-American cowboys to the trail-riding culture of Northwest Louisiana in two spectacular exhibitions. LOUISIANA TRAIL RIDERS, an exhibition of powerful black and white photographic images by Louisiana State University Art professor Jeremiah Ariaz documents the little-known, deep-rooted Africa-American trail riding tradition born of generations of working farms and raising cattle in Creole Louisiana.
Ariaz’s photography captures the bonds between human and horse—the easy comfortable stride as a father hands down a legacy to his son in the same saddle; the intense sullen stare of the trail boss at the front of the pack; the hotly self-assured young cowgirl astride her steed, one hand on her hip and the other on the saddle; the cocky slouch of a teenage boy in the saddle with his little brother sulking below. This is not barrel racing or bull riding—no “showdeo” to see here--only poignant photographs depicting a deep Black culture born of several generations of man and horse working together that much of this country doesn’t even know exists.
Ariaz says, “Getting to know the Louisiana trail riders has radically shifted my sense of how a cowboy is defined. I’ve learned that the Black equestrian culture stems from a time when the Louisiana Territory was, in fact, the American West. My photographs assert a counter-narrative to the depictions of the violence that surrounds Black lives in recent months. These photographs depict joy, pride, and familial intimacy, particularly between fathers and sons who are taught from an early age to care for and ride horses.”
Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) President Henry Price explains that SRAC has chosen to feature Ariaz’s LOUISIANA TRAIL RIDERS photography in an effort to show the undeniable contributions and disclose the lesser-known history of the African-American cowboys and the Black Trail Riders of Northwest Louisiana to our larger community. “African-American cowboys are underrepresented in popular accounts of the West. Throughout history, the iconic lifestyle of the cowboy has been glamorized in countless books, movies and television shows, and although African-American cowboys don’t play a part in the popular narrative, historians estimate that one in four cowboys in the West was Black.”
According to Kathe Hambrick of the West Baton Rouge Museum, the word “cowboy” is actually a term used to describe the Black men who were going West. As the skill of these Black men, who were not given the dignity of being called “men” or “hands,” was noticed by the White cowhands, they started calling them “Cow Boys.” The term actually refers to those first Black men going West and the skill that was handed down to them from the legacy of their grandfathers who knew how to take care of horses and to ride horses. It was something that came with them from Africa and was passed down.