(Shreveport, LA) – The Shreveport Regional Arts Council is showcasing the contributions of African-American cowboys to the Trail Riding culture of Northwest Louisiana in two spectacular exhibitions. LOUISIANA TRAIL RIDERS, an exhibition of powerful black and white photographic images by Louisiana State University Art professor Jeremiah Ariaz, documents the little-known, deep-rooted Africa-American trail riding tradition born of generations of working farms and raising cattle in Creole Louisiana. SADDLES AND SPURS “Out of the Shadows,” features the story of the trail riding culture of Northwest Louisiana. Starched shirts, saddles, belt buckles, boots, and memorabilia of the almost 75 Black trail riding clubs that make up the Bayou State and Northwest Louisiana Trail Riders Association are on display upstairs in CoolSpace. Both exhibitions open Saturday, June 12, noon to 6:00 p.m. in artspace, 708 Texas St. In downtown Shreveport.
Ariaz’s photography captures the bonds between human and horse—the easy comfortable stride as a father hands down a legacy to his son in the same saddle; the intense sullen stare of the trail boss at the front of the pack; the hotly self-assured young cowgirl astride her steed, one hand on her hip and the other on the saddle; the cocky slouch of a teenage boy in the saddle with his little brother sulking below. This is not barrel racing or bull riding—no “showdeo” to see here–only poignant photographs depicting a deep Black culture born of several generations of man and horse working together that much of this country doesn’t even know exists.
Ariaz says, “Getting to know the Louisiana trail riders has radically shifted my sense of how a cowboy is defined. I’ve learned that the Black equestrian culture stems from a time when the Louisiana Territory was, in fact, the American West. My photographs assert a counter narrative to the depictions of the violence that surrounds Black lives in recent months. These photographs depict joy, pride, and familial intimacy, particularly between fathers and sons who are taught from an early age to care for and ride horses.”
Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) President Henry Price explains that SRAC has chosen to feature Ariaz’s LOUISIANA TRAIL RIDERS photography in an effort to show the undeniable contributions and disclose the lesser-known history of the African-American cowboys and the Black Trail Riders of Northwest Louisiana to our larger community. “African-American cowboys are underrepresented in popular accounts of the West. Throughout history, the iconic lifestyle of the cowboy has been glamorized in countless books, movies and television shows, and although African-American cowboys don’t play a part in the popular narrative, historians estimate that one in four cowboys in the West was Black.”
According to Kathe Hambrick of the West Baton Rouge Museum, the word “cowboy” is actually a term used to describe the Black men who were going West. As the skill of these Black men, who were not given the dignity of being called “men” or “hands,” was noticed by the White cowhands, they started calling them “Cow Boys.” The term actually refers to those first Black men going West and the skill that was handed down to them from the legacy of their grandfathers who knew how to take care of horses and to ride horses. It was something that came with them from Africa and was passed down.
SADDLES & SPURS “Out of the Shadows” gives each of the 75 Black trail riding clubs that make up the Bayou State and Northwest Louisiana Trail Riders Association–the LA Renegades, 318 Ghost Riders, Oakland Riders, Morning Star Steppers, Louisiana High Steppers, Road Warriors, and Pony Express–to name a few, a chance to s how off it’s own proud name, insignia, flag and other memorabilia. Adding to the excitement of the Opening Day for the entire family, will be four Western-style covered wagons out front on Texas Street, along with two of the friendly trail riding horses, Ms. Polly and Mr. Mikey.
Most trail rides are less than ten miles, and though they center around the horses and riders, often include a dizzying array of activities from barbecuing your best brisket to lively zydeco dancing with the likes of accordionist and singer Chris Ardoin or country western Swing to the sounds of a DJ. Men, women and children who make up the Bayou State Trail Riding and Northwest Louisiana Trail Riding associations will attend the exhibition, including well-known “Trail Boss” Willie L. Davis. Mr. Davis says, “It is important to continue the history of Trail Riders in Louisiana. I’ve been riding since I was five-years-old, but I don’t call myself a cowboy. I’m a farmer and a cattleman. I trail ride for pleasure and to be sociable. I was raised on my grandfather’s farm. I used to ride my horse along the dirt roads to go to the neighbors. Trail riding is something we do together and to keep the family together,” adds Mr. Davis.
Johnetta Jackson is one of the women who rides the trails with the Bayou State Trail Riding Association and serves as the group’s secretary. Johnetta says that in addition to the music, food, and fun of trail riding, fundraising has long been one of the purposes for the association and its various clubs. “Bayou State started as an extended outing of leisure horseback riders traveling to Southern University Ag Center in Baton Rouge to raise awareness and scholarship dollars for students in the Southern University Ag program. The community-focused part of the organizations has grown to embrace youth and senior citizens, awarding scholarships, donating school supplies, funding weekly reader programs and helping sponsor community activities and provide for residents in rehab facilities,” said Jackson.
There will be diverse, dynamic programming throughout the summer, centered on the Trail Riders Exhibition. A “Friends Night” featuring great music and Line Dancing takes place on Thursday, July 15. Come see what a sampling of a Louisiana Trail Ride looks like Saturday, July 24, when more than 150 riders will gather and parade through downtown Shreveport at 4:00 pm starting on Texas Street. The Parade ends with a “block party” at the scene of the SADDLES AND SPURS “Out of the Shadows” exhibition at artspace. The exhibition closes Saturday, August 7, with a chance to hear Trail Boss Willie L. Davis and other Louisiana Trail Riders at artspace talking about the legend and the reality of the “Black Cowboy.”
For more information on LOUISIANA TRAIL RIDERS photography by Jeremiah Ariaz and SADDLES & SPURS “Out of the Shadows” of the Bayou State Trail Riding Association and the Northwest Louisiana Trail Riders, visit www.artspaceshreveport.com or www.shrevearts.org.