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A Look Back At Colorado's Rich African American History (PHOTOS)

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 02/29/2012 4:38 pm Updated: 02/29/2012 10:10 pm


African American History in the West is every bit as rich as the importance of the gold and silver rush was to Colorado in the late 1800's.

It is estimated that one third of the cowboys in the West were black, and while the West was being settled, some became successful property owners. Others, like Jim Beckwourth, meandered between being fur-trappers and becoming Indian war chiefs, and are now immortalized in the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library and Black American West Museum.

Explaining why he founded the Black American West Museum, Paul W. Stewart said that when he was young and played cowboys and Indians, he would always have to be the Indian because he was told, "There is no such thing as a Black cowboy."

Besides black cowboys there was also Dearfield, now a ghost town, but once an all-black agricultural town inspired by Booker T. Washington's autobiography, Up From Slavery. Years later during the roaring 20's, the Five Points Rossonian Hotel was once a great jazz hub that hosted the likes of performers like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole.

As Black History Month comes to an end, here's a look at some of the African Americans who have helped shape not just Colorado history, but western and national history.

Jim Beckwourth, 1798-1866
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James Pierson Beckwourth was one of the earliest fur-trappers of the Rockies, the co-founder of the city of Pueblo and was known to live closely with the Crow Indians, a tribe whose reservation now exists in Montana.

Throughout the 1820's, Beckwourth's fur-trapping escapades in the Rockies led him to many adventures. He had two short marriages to women from the Blackfeet Tribe and historical accounts show that he was captured or traded to live with the Crow Tribe for six or eight years. During that time, he gained enough respect to become a War Chief within the tribe.

In 1856 Beckwourth dictated an autobiography titled, "The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians."