Artists tell untold stories of Black West

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — There’s mountain man Jim Beckwourth, legendary lawman Bass Reeves and Henry O. Flipper, the first Black graduate of West Point.

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. — There’s mountain man Jim Beckwourth, legendary lawman Bass Reeves and Henry O. Flipper, the first Black graduate of West Point.

Here, too, is the slave-turned-explorer, York. And Stagecoach Mary, the cussing, gun-toting driver who delivered mail in Montana into her 70s. And Cathay Williams, who fought as William Cathay in the army for two years before she was discovered to be a woman.

Now, these Black figures and their contemporaries — who date back to the Civil War but were excluded from the American West narrative — are honored in more than 60 paintings and sculptures at the Booth Western Art Museum. The exhibit, called The Black West: Buffalo Soldiers, Black Cowboys and Untold Stories, runs through March 22.

Seth Hopkins, executive director of the museum and co-curator of the exhibit, said the show attempts to honor Black life on the frontier.

“For everything that ever happened in the West, there were Black people there at some point, doing the same jobs as everybody else, having the same experiences,” Hopkins said. “It’s just that they’re not in the history books, not shown in the movies too much and not represented in the mainstream of Western art.”

The exhibit, which opened in December, features the work of 16 living Black artists — far more than exhibit organizers thought they could assemble. A companion exhibit, Bronze Buckaroos: Mythic Images of the Black West, features two dozen movie posters dating back to the 1920s.

Some of the pieces in The Black West feature more well-known subjects. Beckwourth, an explorer and mountain man who worked as a fur trapper in the 1820s and discovered what is now known as the Beckwourth Pass in Southern California, is depicted alongside his horse on a canyon trail in a painting by Louisiana native Ivan Stewart.

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