The Denver Art Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science -- the big museums get all the love. But what about the smaller ones, those odd little enclaves devoted to more obscure aspects of our past? Like, say, black cowboys? It's not often we hear about the contribution of blacks to the whitest of sports -- the rodeo -- but as it turns out, it really wouldn't be a sport at all without some of its earliest black pioneers. That's just one of the stories of the Black American West.
Located in an old brick home on the corner of California and 31st streets, The Black American West Museum centers around blacks settling in Colorado and the West from before Colorado was granted statehood (black settlers held back the territory's ratification as a state because they wanted the right to vote) to the time when the Great Depression and dust bowl wiped out Colorado's black homestead town of Dearfield, east of Greeley. All that remains of that pioneering community, which turned 100 years old this year, are the skeletal remains of abandoned homes.
Some settlers were cowboys and joined rodeos. James Arthur Walker, for instance, invented the Hollywood Hop stunt where the rider drops from the saddle, touches both feet to the ground and hops back up into the saddle, a favorite rodeo trick and staple in old Western movies. And as it turns out, the whole sport of bulldogging (steer wrestling) was started by a black cowboy named Willie Picket, who would jump off his horse, grab a steer's horns and drive it into the ground.
When you go, talk to the onsite curator, and you'll learn the story of blacks in Colorado like J.H.P. Westbrook who passed as a white. In the 1930s he successfully infiltrated the KKK in Colorado to report back to the black community. The man had serious balls, and though the KKK threatened to castrate whoever had infiltrated the group, they never did figure out who it was. Westbrook kept his balls.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 A.M. to 2 P.M., tickets cost $8.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors and $6.00 for children.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.