Long before Hollywood Westerns, where men on horseback chased “Indians” and gunslingers fired pistols in between saloon doors, black cowboys herded cattle in Louisiana. In the late 18th century, Creoles of mixed African and French descent were some of the first cowboys in the US, but for some reason, the image of a black man riding a horse has been largely left out of history books. Fortunately, Creole cowboy culture thrives today in the form of trail rides.
Nearly every weekend in small towns throughout Louisiana and East Texas – and to a lesser extent Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina – African-American men and women trot along streets and dusty paths on horseback. Beside them, jam-packed trolleys dish out cold beers and grilled meats while huge speakers blast traditional zydeco and country music. Nearby, rows of young and old swing their arms and hips in sync, practicing traditional line dances passed down over the years. Recently, hip-hop music and DJs have injected more bounce into trail rides, to the delight of urbanites and the chagrin of traditionalist trail riders.
When the sun creeps below the horizon after several hours of riding, the horses get some much-needed rest, but the fun is far from finished. DJs and MCs keep the party going all night long with the help of bands, guitarists, and rappers while smoking food stands and coal-fired barbecues deliver juicy meats including rabbit, venison, squirrel, pork, chicken, or turkey legs smothered in gravy. You’re also sure to find steaming bowls of gumbo (meat stew) with ingredients like shrimp, okra, sausage, veggies, spices, and probably the kitchen sink. If it’s the right time of year, usually between January and July in Louisiana, you might also see tables of boiled red crawfish from nearby swamps.
Horse or not, all are welcome at trail rides. Don’t forget to wear your cowboy hat and your best dancing boots.
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