Jason Griffin (center) is one of the stars of “The Forgotten Cowboys,” a documentary film by John Ferguson and Gregg MacDonald which follows the lives of black cowboys in the U.S.
(CNN) — Jason Griffin straps his right arm in bandages, preparing himself to grip the reins a wildly bucking bronco. Tall, broad-shouldered, with a rough beard, he steps into his cowboy boots, fits a Stetson hat and heads out to meet his mount in the rodeo arena. Griffin is a four-time world champion bareback bucking horse rider — competing in a sport that began in the 19th century heyday of the Wild West. With each victory — he has also won three all-round rodeo championships — the Texan raises awareness of a strong tradition which is rarely seen in the many novels, films and television series dedicated to the tales of the old West: The historic story of America’s black cowboys.
On cinema screens and paperback covers, the cowboys of old were heroic, hard-bitten and — almost always — white. In reality, the American West of the 1800s was traversed by an assortment of black, white, Mexican and Native American cattle hands. Contemporary records are rare but historians now estimate that up to one in four Texan cowboys was African American, while the number of Mexican cowboys was even greater.
John Ferguson and Gregg MacDonald’s documentary film — and multimedia project — “The Forgotten Cowboys” follows Griffin and other contemporary black cowboys as they gain a following competing at rodeos and go about their working lives.