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Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos

Conceptions of the African American West

Michael K. Johnson

Publication Year: 2014

Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos undertakes an interdisciplinary exploration of the African American West through close readings of texts from a variety of media. This approach allows for both an in-depth analysis of individual texts and a discussion of material often left out or underrepresented in studies focused only on traditional literary material. The book engages heretofore unexamined writing by Rose Gordon, who wrote for local Montana newspapers rather than for a national audience; memoirs and letters of musicians, performers, and singers (such as W. C. Handy and Taylor Gordon), who lived in or wrote about touring the American West; the novels and films of Oscar Micheaux; black-cast westerns starring Herb Jeffries; largely unappreciated and unexamined episodes from the "golden age of western television" that feature African American actors; film and television westerns that use science fiction settings to imagine a "postracial" or "postsoul" frontier; Percival Everett's fiction addressing contemporary black western experience; and movies as recent as Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.

Despite recent interest in the history of the African American West, we know very little about how the African American past in the West has been depicted in a full range of imaginative forms. Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos advances our discovery of how the African American West has been experienced, imagined, portrayed, and performed.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Series: Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Writing a book is hardly a solitary experience. As many hours as I may have logged sitting in front of my laptop, just as important to the composition of Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos were the multiple conversations about the African American West and about the genre Western that I have enjoyed...

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pp. 3-15

In a column published in the 25 May 1955 Meagher County News under the title “My Mother Was a Slave,” White Sulphur Springs, Montana, resident Rose Gordon narrates the story of a remarkable African American western pioneer, her mother. “In the year of 1881,” Gordon writes, “a brown-skinned colored woman who bore the name...

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1. Performing (in) the African American West: Minstrel Shows, Brass Bands, Hoo-Doo Cowboys, and Other Musical Tricksters

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pp. 16-50

In his autobiography, Father of the Blues (1941), W. C. Handy remembers being on tour with the Mahara’s Minstrels troupe in 1896 and visiting the “10th U.S. Cavalry at Fort Missoula, Montana, and marvel[ing] at the spic and span cavalry band on horseback—all Negroes except the English bandmaster...

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2. “Try to Refrain from That Desire”: Self-Control and Violent Passion in Oscar Micheaux’s African American Western

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pp. 51-74

Jean Baptiste, the protagonist of Oscar Micheaux’s novel, The Homesteader (1917), first appears in the narrative struggling against a howling blizzard on the plains of frontier South Dakota.1 Micheaux’s depiction of this storm, which transforms the plains into “one endless, unbroken sheet of white frost...

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3. “This Strange White World”: Race and Place in Era Bell Thompson’s American Daughter and Rose Gordon’s Newspaper Writing

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pp. 75-101

Aboard a train heading out of Minneapolis toward frontier North Dakota, Era Bell Thompson describes a landscape that grows steadily bleaker with each mile further west: “Suddenly there was snow—miles and miles of dull, white snow, stretching out to meet the heavy, gray sky; deep banks of snow drifted against...

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4. Cowboys, Cooks, and Comics: African American Characters in Westerns of the 1930s

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pp. 102-126

Combining action, humor, and musical performance, a series of black-cast Westerns filmed in the late 1930s and starring singer Herb Jeffries places African Americans at the center of their stories of life on the American frontier. By so doing, such films as Harlem on the Prairie (1937), Two-Gun Man from Harlem...

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5. Oscar Micheaux, The Exile, and the Black Western Race Film

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pp. 127-153

Although it might seem unusual to consider the centrality of South Dakota to African American history, two landmark events in the history of African American cinema are connected to the state. Writer and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux’s The Homesteader (1919), the first feature-length silent film...

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6. Sammy Davis Jr., Woody Strode, and the Black Westerner of the Civil Rights Era

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pp. 154-185

“The Incident of the Buffalo Soldier,” an episode of the popular longrunning Western Rawhide that first aired on 6 January 1961, begins with Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Yates and fellow cowboy Jim Quince sitting by a campfire, talking—or, rather, with Quince nervously (they are heading into Kiowa country) talking and nervously...

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7. Looking at the Big Picture: Percival Everett’s Western Fiction

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pp. 186-211

The African American characters in Percival Everett’s short stories and novels set in the contemporary American West seem to have achieved what earlier generations of black westerners have sought but seldom found—an existence not defined or limited by American narratives of race. As Madison Smartt...

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8. The Post-Soul Cowboy on the Science Fiction Frontier

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pp. 212-233

As we move on through the twenty-first century, developments in the Western genre, particularly in the hybrid genre of the science fiction Western, have opened a new space for imagining and performing an African American West. Rather than the traditional Old West settings of...

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Conclusion: The D Is Silent

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pp. 234-241

Accompanied by both praise and criticism, Django Unchained (2012), director Quentin Tarantino’s twin homage to the blaxploitation film and the spaghetti Western, opened strongly on Christmas Day and will likely become the most profitable and popular story of the African American...


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pp. 242-257


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pp. 258-269


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pp. 270-287

E-ISBN-13: 9781617039287
E-ISBN-10: 1626740011
Print-ISBN-13: 9781626740013

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- West (U.S.) -- History.
  • African Americans -- West (U.S.) -- Intellectual life.
  • African Americans in popular culture.
  • American literature -- West (U.S.) -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • Frontier and pioneer life in literature.
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