They ride for prizes. But the horsemen and women of The Cowboys of Color Rodeo - who appeared Monday at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo - say they also ride for pride and freedom.
Cowboys of Color Rodeo founder Cleo Hearn says he launched this rodeo in 1974 because it needed to be done. He says historically, a third of working cowboys have been Black. But this winning rider, part Black and Indian, now retired, says few knew.
“The theme of the Cowboys of Color is ‘Let us educate you while we entertain you.' Let us tell you wonderful things Blacks, Hispanics and Indians did for the selling of the West that many history books left out. Everyone knows Columbus discovered America, but very few people know a Black Spaniard, named Estavenico, discovered Texas and New Mexico."
Hearn’s grandkids and children still ride in the Cowboys of Color Rodeo. That’s why he calls this a family affair. Son Wendell was happy to be working on Martin Luther King Day, when others had off, because he said riding in this rodeo wasn’t really work to him. He loves it, and it matters.
"The African American cowboy wasn’t included in the regular rodeo in the 1920'
s, 30’s and 40’s. So we’ve come a long way."
Fort Worth Cowboy of Color competitor Rex Johnson says he’s also here out of passion. He’s been immersed in riding since he was a boy in Electra, Texas. Now a Fort Worth resident at an environmental company, the part-time calf-roper says he wouldn’t pass up a chance to ride here.
“This is the biggest show on dirt, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. So when you get an invitation to come here, you’re more than excited you have that extra step, that extra push, that extra drive to try and do better. This being a special day like it is, this week though it was cold, I was still excited, still outside, still practicing. The way I was raised, the harder you work, the more it’ll pay off.
Cleo Hearn says he swears by the same basic creed of hard work cowboy culture celebrates. He says it worked for his children.
“I’ve never had a moment’s trouble with these kids because all their lives they’ve had something to do and something to look forward to.”
Many cowboys of color who competed in the MLK Day rodeo are scheduled to compete in the Stock Show Rodeo events through February 9th.