Few subjects in the ethnic experience of the United States are as fraught with mythology and misinformation as black cowboys. Although absent from most classic history texts of the American West, black cowboys probably constituted about a quarter of the working cowboys in the nineteenth century, although q uantitative data to establish a number are lacking. This essay reviews the historiography of black cowboys published during the last half-century, noting how much of it is marred either by glossing over the presence of black cowboys or by credulously repeating estimates of their numbers established by earlier work. The essay speculates whether such problematic scholarship stems from unacknowledged prejudice among mainstream historians or from carelessness and calls for more and improved scholarly attention to the role of African American cowboys in the American West.

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