New Mexico History Museum

African American Cowboys

June 14, 2013


When he heard African American cowboys singing made-up songs under the New Mexico stars, N. Howard “Jack” Thorp decided to compile the world’s first book of campfire lyrics, Songs of the Cowboy.

Born a slave, George McJunkin grew up to become foreman of the Crowfoot Ranch near Folsom, NM, where he discovered ancient bones that proved, at the time, to be the oldest of their kind.

From the freed slaves who found work on the earliest cattle drives to the contemporary rodeo circuit, African Americans have been part of New Mexico’s cowboy heritage for generations.

Learn more about the roles they played at “African American Cowboys” on Sunday, June 30, at 2 pm in the History Museum Auditorium. See the short documentary African American Cowboy: The Forgotten Man of the West, by film student Victoria Lioznyansky, followed by a discussion with Kevin Woodson and Aaron Hopkins of Cowboys of Color, sponsors of the largest multicultural rodeo tour in the world.

The event, part of the exhibition Cowboys Real and Imagined, is free with admission. Sundays are free with admission; children 16 and under are free every day.

Kevin Woodson became the voice of the Cowboys of Color rodeo tour after a long career as a rodeo bullfighter, starting in high school competition. Growing up, he didn’t know any black cowboys, but early on decided that it was a life meant for him. Woodson attended his first rodeo at the age of 2 and fell in love with the sport, especially the rodeo clowns. He capped his 13-year career as a bullfighting rodeo clown by participating in the Bill Pickett Invitational Finals Rodeo in 1992 and 1993, before retiring from that event. Today he competes in calf roping, teaches riding and western horsemanship, and announces rodeos, including the famous Fort Worth Stock and Rodeo Show. 

Albuquerque native Aaron A. Hopkins II attended the University of Texas at Arlington and, after graduating, worked in numerous business enterprises and served on the regional NAACP board. Intrigued and captivated by the presence of black rodeo he encountered in Texas, he was soon involved with the enterprise and now serves as Cowboys of Color’s event coordinator.

Victoria Lioznyansky is studying for her master of fine arts in motion pictures and television from the Academy of Art University. She created African American Cowboy: The Forgotten Man of the West as part of her documentary research and works as a project manager for the Harris County Department of Education in Houston.

Cowboys Real and Imagined explores New Mexico’s cowboy legacy from its origin in the Spanish vaquero tradition through itinerant hired hands, outlaws, rodeo stars, cowboy singers, Tom Mix movies and more. Guest curated by B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at the University of Oklahoma, the exhibit grounds cowboy history in New Mexico through rare photographs, cowboy gear, movies and original works of art. It includes a bounty of artifacts including boots and spurs, ropes, movie posters, and the chuck wagon once used by cowboys on New Mexico’s legendary Bell Ranch.

For more information on Cowboys Real and Imagined, including a full year of programming events, click here (or log onto

This exhibit is generously supported by the Brindle Foundation; Burnett Foundation; Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, Houston; Candace Good Jacobson in memory of Thomas Jefferson Good III; New Mexico Humanities Council; Newman’s Own Foundation; Palace Guard; Eugenia Cowden Pettit and Michael Pettit; Jane and Charlie Gaillard; Moise Livestock Company; the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association; and the many contributors to the Director’s Leadership, Annual Education, and Exhibitions Development Funds.

Download high-resolution images of Cleo Hearn and George McJunkin by clicking here. This image of Kevin Woodson, taken by photographer Brandon Thibodeaux, is available upon request.

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