Rory Doyle’s “Delta Hill Riders” focuses on black cowboy culture today

Rory Doyle's "Delta Hill Riders" focuses on black cowboy culture today

Written by Alan Huffman, CNN

A typical American cowboy – the image of a rough-cut white man in dirt-stained blue jeans, cowboy hat and boots – is a staple of Western movies and modern country music. But as the icons progress, it gives a missing picture.

Many cowboys on the American border in the 19th century are black – about a quarter of cowboys, according to some estimates – their presence in the cowboy community in history and today is almost never recognized. Black cowboys in the Wild West, including Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and “Unforgiven” by Clint Eastwood, and some black cowboys, especially Bill Pickett, in the 1900s, became popular rodeo stars. Otherwise, black cowboys are rarely depicted in art or popular culture.

Photographer Rory Doyle is immersed in Mississippi’s cowboy culture. Credit: Rory Doyle

“History shows us in the late 1860s that blacks accounted for about 20 percent of the US population, which coincided with the entire border movement. In fact, many newly released blacks moved west to look for new opportunities in post-American America,” Wilmington, North. Dr Artel Great, professor of black film and film studies at the University of Carolina, wrote. “Many were skilled farm hands with extensive experience in agricultural work – a necessity to survive as a cowboy.”

However, Hollywood mostly offered a whitewashed narrative. As Büyük explained, the western film is a classic in American culture, so deletion of black cowboys from pop culture is linked to “the tension between who can and cannot participate in the fruits of the American dream.”

The cowboy culture of the Mississippi Delta

The ongoing “Delta Hill Riders” project by Photographer Rory Doyle aims to tell a more realistic and diverse story about black cowboys by focusing on African-American cowboys and cowgirl in the Mississippi Delta, a flat farming region in the deep south of Memphis, Tennessee. . and Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Doyle caught a group of riders in front of a McDonald's.

Doyle caught a group of riders in front of a McDonald’s. Credit: Rory Doyle

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According to Doyle, the collection of images shot in the Mississippi Delta, where there is a huge black cowboy and cowboy density, has won several awards, including the last 16-Year Smithsonian Photo Contest.

In a study, Doyle found in his phone that the historical photographic documents of black cowboys in the USA were scarce. He explained that he was an overlooked piece of history. “(Members of the black cowboy community) tell you, ‘This is what we always do. My father did it. That’s how I know it.”

Doyle, originally from Maine, moved to Mississippi in Cleveland in 2009. He first saw black cowboys and cowboys riding in the city’s Christmas parade in 2016. “My first thought was that he realized that there is a lot more variety in cowboy culture than me, and there is a story here,” he said.

Doyle's photo collection was taken in the Mississippi Delta.

Doyle’s photo collection was taken in the Mississippi Delta. Credit: Rory Doyle

Over time, Doyle got into the culture by grooming his horses, talking to the riders, visiting them at home, and accompanying them on road rides and field rodeos. It became such a fixture that it eventually became the honorary member of the group called Delta Hill Riders.

Doyle photographed cowboys and cowgirl in a variety of settings, including social gatherings at a rural nightclub. Her candid photos offer hints that many hope to see – denim, cowboy hats and horses – fly images on the wall tell a different story. One photo shows a group of children hanging out of a McDonald’s, while another has a bare thigh with a large tattoo exposed.

Doyle has won several awards, including the last 16th Annual Smithsonian Photography Contest.

Doyle has won several awards, including the last 16th Annual Smithsonian Photography Contest. Credit: Rory Doyle

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Passing a legacy

Doyle showed her photos in New York and London, but her favorite exhibition was at her home in Cleveland. The opening night drew a large crowd with many riders in their photos.

“It’s packed and really diverse, that’s not always the case with Delta,” Doyle said. “And he gave the cowboys a platform to talk and share their voices.”

In a study, Doyle found in his phone that the historical photographic documents of black cowboys in the USA were scarce.

In a study, Doyle found in his phone that the historical photographic documents of black cowboys in the USA were scarce. Credit: Rory Doyle

Peggy Smith, an African-American cowboy appearing in most of Doyle’s photos, said he didn’t know the famous riders who looked like himself and his friends, so that’s why Doyle was happy to be in his photos with his horse Jake.

At the age of 53, he remembered that he had learned the ropes in his childhood. “My father used a horse to work on their farm and taught his kids to ride – I’ve been riding since I was 12,” she said by phone. According to Smith, being a cowboy or cowgirl these days is a hobby focused on rodeos, parades, and trail riding in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee. “It’s funny. When we go somewhere people always talk about cowboys,” said Smith. “And I say, ‘Wait a minute, cowboys aren’t the only ones doing their job.”

In the 19th century, many cowboys on the American border were black - up to a quarter, according to some estimates.

In the 19th century, many cowboys on the American border were black – up to a quarter, according to some estimates. Credit: Rory Doyle

Passing through “Cowboy”, Lawrence Robinson is one of the last 65 years old cowboys working in the hills near the town of Bolton, Mississippi. “I started riding my father when I was 15,” he said in a phone call.

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Three years later, in 1972, he started out as a cowboy, where he still worked on the Bolton field farm.

Only a handful of films featured black cowboys in the Wild West.

Only a handful of films featured black cowboys in the Wild West. Credit: Rory Doyle

Robinson is proud of her cowboy status. “Now most imitation cowboys. I am the real one. My father had horses and mules on agriculture for days, and I drove them. They couldn’t get me. When I was about 17 years old, I bought myself a Shetland pony and the first thing I caught was a goat.”

Robinson, who is still rolling cattle on horseback, said he was happy to see people riding horses, even if it was for recreation rather than work. He also enjoys sharing his driving skills.

“I’m trying to confuse some young men,” he said. “All I can say is they’re still out there, trying to do something on a horse.”

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