The Legacy of Black Cowboys in Texas’ Black History

Photos courtesy of the Black Cowboy Museum

By Isobella Harkrider

If you ask Larry Callies what the most popular exhibit at the Black Cowboy Museum is, he’ll tell you it’s him. It very well could be. In a phone call, Callies told Reform Austin he had just received a proclamation from the city of Richmond, Texas and then shared he was notified this month about another proclamation from Rosenberg, TX. The museum is doing very well, he said. The world has been calling, and he said reporters from Germany, Africa and India have called. This month, Netflix also visited the museum

It’s Black History Month and already thirteen buses have visited the museum that gives a voice to unsung Black cowboys with displays of artifacts, photographs and heirlooms representing the legacy of Texas’ Black cowboys. Callies said the museum receives over 100 bus loads of visitors a year, and it has grown fifty percent since the museum first opened in 2017.

In a New York Times story in September 2019, Callie referenced his cousin and how the history of the Black cowboy spreads through his own family. Sharing in the story that he believes his cousin, Tex Williams, was the first African American boy to win the Texas High School Rodeo Championship in 1967, keeping in mind that rodeos had previously been segregated.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the first census in Austin’s colony in 1825 showed 443 enslaved people in a total population of 1,800. During a time when millions of cattle grazed and ran wild, enslaved people became cowhands and were the heartbeat of ranches and the ranching business. They were especially important during the Civil War when white Texan ranchers went to fight, leaving their ranches and cattle behind. 

It was their slaves who kept the ranch going, and they learned how to maintain the cattle herds and the land. They were becoming cowboys. 

Next came the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the ranch workers. However, ranchers didn’t want to lose their skilled and valued workers, and in an ironic twist, enslaved people were now hired for the work they had done previously without pay.

Here are five Black cowboys all Texans should know about.

Bill Pickett, born in 1870 in Texas to former enslaved parents, became one of the most famous early rodeo celebrities. He stopped attending school in fifth grade and started his rodeo life and Wild West shows. After his death he was named the first Black honoree in the National Rodeo Hall of fame. His famous rodeo trick called bulldogging is still referenced today in rodeos across the state, that unforgettable skill of grabbing cattle by the horns and then somehow quickly wrestling them to the ground with gusto. He was known as “The Dusky Demon”.

Bass Reeves, known as the real Lone-Ranger, was born a enslaved person to the household of Arkansas State Legislator William S. Reeves and relocated to Texas in 1846. During the Civil War, Bass accompanied William’s son, George Reeves, while fighting for the Confederacy. After a dispute with his owner Reeves had lived in the Indian Territories, where he mastered several languages of the Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles tribes.

After slavery was abolished he started a family and had eleven children. The impressive shooting skills he acquired while fighting in the Civil War helped him become the first Black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi. Reeves is also remembered as one of the great frontier heroes of our country. A fun fact about Reeves was his height, he was hard to miss, standing six feet six inches. 

Nat Love is famous for being a Black hero of the Old West. Love was born an enslaved person in Tennessee, where his father worked on plantation’s fields. From a young age he worked large cattle drives in Texas. He had an eye for cattle brands, and understanding the marks and symbols on cattle that ranchers created and used to define which cattle were their own. Love’s eye for these marks was important at the time to prevent property disputes between ranches when cattle roamed free. Love also worked as a cowboy with cattle drivers that derived from the Duval Ranch which was located in the Texas Panhandle. 

Love is also known as ‘Deadwood Dick‘ after he won the rope, throw, tie, bridle, saddle, and bronco riding contests in Deadwood, Dakota Territory in 1876.

Daniel W. (80 John) Wallace was born an enslaved person in Victoria County, Texas and since his adolescence he rode the cattle trails, and his impressive work as a wrangler and horse breaker launched his career as a cowboy. Wallace worked for high caliber ranches and cattlemen including Winfield Scott and Gus O’Keefe. He valued fairness and hard work and was ranching business-minded; he had convinced his boss to accept cattle as part of his pay, and The Texas State Historical Association’s website states, “He put his accumulated savings toward the purchase of a ranch near Loraine, where he acquired more than 1,200 acres and 500 to 600 cattle.” There is a historical marker in Mitchell County in Texas that recognizes his contributions and achievements toward the Black cowboy legacy

Another African-American cowboy who made contributions to Black cowboy history in Texas is Cleo Hearn from Lancaster, Texas. Hearn became the first African-American cowboy to win a calf-roping event at a major rodeo and was the first African-American to attend college on a rodeo scholarship. His face is known for playing a cowboy in commercials for Pepsi-Cola, Levi’s and Ford. Hearn is a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

In 2019 the yee-haw agenda played on the earbuds of people of all ages with Lil Nas X’s Billboard #1 hit, “Old Town Road” and its music video storyline portraying Black cowboys, and the catchy popular lyrics, “I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road, I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more.”

An Outlook for Texas’ Charter School Teacher Pay and Certification

By Isobella Harkrider

In Texas, the average teacher salary is below the national average, even a $5,000 raise is a huge boost to their overall income. A raise to teacher pay was a recommendation and common theme while House Bill 3 passed by the 86th Legislature in 2019. 

As for the deciding pay factors for Texas teachers, where a school is located and how long a teacher has been teaching is often part of the measure. A graph on the the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website shares that the 2019-2020 minimum salary schedule for a teacher’s first year of teaching in Texas is $33,660, after five years of teaching the salary does a skip, not a leap, to $40,410. The average teacher salary in Texas is just over $50,000. 

Continuing our conversation on charter schools, here is a scope of teacher pay and the qualifications a teacher must hold in the Lone Star State.

Charter School Teacher Pay 

In Texas, the state minimum teacher salary is incredibly low. For those unfamiliar with public charter schools they may be surprised to learn that charters schools are not required to have employment contracts with their employees, it’s the charter holders who make the decisions and set their own salaries for professional employees.

Timothy Mattison, the Director of Policy and Research at the Texas Public Charter Schools Association, told Reform Austin, “Teachers earn a base pay, usually determined by a salary schedule that each district creates. Teachers also earn duty pay (e.g. if they tutored after school or coached a sport).”

Texans may be wondering how House Bill 3 affects teachers and the exciting changes that are on the outlook for teacher pay. Mattison continues with a view on charter schools, “Before HB 3, most teachers only earned their base pay and some earned duty pay. However, with HB 3’s Teacher Incentive Allotment, teachers can earn anywhere from three thousand to thirty-two thousand more on top of their base and duty pay. This allotment will eventually enable traditional and public charter schools to pay their teachers up to $90 thousand, if these teachers are teaching the highest need kids and if teachers are rated master teachers.”

When it comes to why a teacher would choose a charter school over a public school, Mattison says, “Some charters have offered higher than average pay to attract top talent. For the past several years IDEA Public Schools has offered three to five thousand dollars in bonuses per year for teachers who meet student performance targets.”

A district-level curriculum is not required at charter schools as long as they follow state standards, which gives teachers autonomy in the classroom, and this is a positive thing from Mattison perspective, “Many Texas public charters also embrace all manner of human differences based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. This creates a work environment where teachers can be open about their culture and families with their students and parents.”

Certifications and Qualifications for Teachers of Charter Schools

One of the main differences between a public school teacher and a charter teacher is in the contractual rights and qualifications.

Dr. Nathan Barrett, Sr. Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), told Reform Austin, “Recent evidence from the Educators for Excellence poll suggests that charter school teachers are 22% more likely to report feeling valued in their school.”

Barrett continued, “On average, charter schools employ more novice teachers and teachers from alternative preparation programs. This has implications for training and professional development, so charter schools often leverage coaching and mentoring to give real-time feedback. We see in many places that, although teaching qualifications may differ across sectors, charter school teachers perform at or above the level of their traditional counterparts. This agrees with a large amount of literature showing that teaching degrees have very little relation to student outcomes.”

To be a teacher in a charter school a teacher is required to have a bachelor’s degree. Certification is required for bilingual education/English as a second language (ESL) teachers and special education teachers, but not all teachers.

Although charter schools in Texas teach the same basic curriculum as traditional public schools, and charter students take the STAAR tests, some believe certification is at the core of a quality education and administering qualification. 

Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association told Reform Austin, “Charters hire large numbers of uncertified teachers. There may be many reasons for charters to hire uncertified teachers, but presumably one reason is so they can pay them less than public school teachers. Some charters, though, may pay more.”

Considering healthcare plans and retirement, Robison says, “Charter teachers participate in the Teacher Retirement System pension plan for public school employees, and some charters participate in TRS’ ActiveCare health insurance plan. Others may have their own employee healthcare coverage. But charters, unlike public schools, are not bound by the state’s minimum salary schedule. Overall, the issue of teacher certification and compensation can affect the bottom line, which is the quality of a child’s education.”

Robison says other differences between charters and traditional public schools is turnover. “Charter schools don’t have to provide teachers with the contractual and employment rights that traditional public schools do. The result could be higher teacher turnover in some charters, which also can negatively impact a child’s education. Unlike public schools, charters also don’t have to provide teachers with planning periods, which are designed to enhance a teacher’s performance and ultimately benefit the students.”

Skeptics of charter schools may worry about how much weight credentials hold in conjunction to a child’s academic success.

Robison holds concern for the state requirements that are waived for charters–including teacher certification, minimum teacher pay and teacher contractual rights, which Robison believes “can ultimately harm a child’s learning opportunities.” 

There are 7 million children in Texas and in an era when reaching the first day of school for a kindergartener doesn’t mean only one type of schooling option, providing a high quality education system that encourages academic growth and success for every child and their unique strengths is undeniably important for both traditional public schools families and charter school families across Texas. 

An interactive map on the Texas Education Agency website lists all open-enrollment and university charter campuses in Texas, and based on this listing the Dallas area has 18 charter schools, Houston has 16, San Antonio has 21 and Austin has 18 charter schools. For those wondering about the growth of charter schools in Texas and fulfilling the need for teachers, the sufficiency of teacher credentials haven’t stopped charters such as IDEA Public Schools, that was awarded the largest ever federal grant for charter school expansion in 2019.