Sins of Omission

The Modern Myth of the Black Cowboy

“Nigger Charley” Tyler rode the range of the Owens Valley in the trans-Sierra country of California during the early 1860’s.  He was one of the hired hands of the ranching McGee family, who grazed their beeves in the valley and then drove them north to market at the booming mining camp of Aurora.  Paiute Indians, living in the valley and subsisting primarily on pine nuts and grass seed, found the new food source irresistible and began rustling cattle.  Tyler was one of dozens of cowboys from several ranches who tried to stop the thefts.  Fights erupted, and both Indians and cowboys were killed.  Then, in an ambush, Tyler was captured by the Paiute, bound securely, and secreted at a remote location.

To Paiute, Tyler was a special prize.  They later explained that they easily recognized this one cowboy and identified him as having been in several earlier fights because he was black.  Not only was he the only black among all the cowboys, but he was the only black they had ever seen.  Now, they would make him pay for those earlier fights.  They tortured him for three days, then roasted him to death.

That there were black cowboys such as Charley Tyler is not to be denied.  (I told Tyler’s story in a book I wrote about the mining camps of Aurora and Bodie.)  How-ever, that blacks accounted for a significant percentage of cowboys is a politically correct...

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