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The Journal of a Black Cowboy

Share "Most Americans today know only the Hollywood version of the cowboy. If there is more to know, it is simply this: The faces of the men were more diverse than Hollywood has shown, the work was harder, and the cowboys tougher...." Those are the words of Walter Dean Myers, who wrote The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy. Historically accurate and filled with information, this engaging journal from Scholastic's My Name Is America series is bound to make students "as pleased as a bullfrog in a horsefly roundup."

Book Cover Image After the Civil War, Walter Dean Myers tells us, few jobs were available for former slaves. The emergence of the cattle industry, however, and the resultant need for strong young men to drive the cattle to northern markets presented many African Americans with both a place to live and the opportunity to earn a living.

In The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, part of Scholastic's My Name is America series, Myers offers a portrait of the cowboy life. Students in upper elementary and above are sure to enjoy this realistic account of a boy's first cattle drive and his experiences along the Chisholm Trail.

The year is 1871; Joshua Loper lives on a cattle ranch 100 miles north of the Rio Grande. This year, for the first time, the owner of the ranch has asked him to work a cattle drive. Joshua is thrilled. "Ain't nobody who went up the trail was talked about like they was a boy," he says.

The journal tells us why. The drovers deal with stampedes, Indian raids, foul weather, gunfights, horse thieves, and unexpected death. We accompany them as they form friendships and make enemies. We hear them laugh and fight and pray. Sometimes, we find, they even bathe with Pears' soap! Of course, they eat, often only beans and corn pone but sometimes such delicacies as Son-of-a-Gun Stew. (A recipe is included!)

Myers weaves a great deal of historical perspective into his book's narrative, providing a fascinating look at the mood of the time. Joshua's father, a free black who fought in the Civil War, moved to the North because many Southerners despise people who fought in the Union army. The ranch foreman, Joshua tells us, "did not want to take three Coloreds on the drive." A trip to Abilene convinces Joshua that some men were "playing life a lot cheaper than I had a mind to."

In addition to the historically important information, Joshua's journal contains a great deal of irrelevant, but tremendously interesting, facts about the era. Readers learn how tall a horse of 17 hands is, how to treat "tailbone shock," how many men were needed to drive a herd to market, and how much it cost to hire someone to break a wild horse.

The book includes a map of the Chisholm Trail as well as many unique illustrations. Pictures of Bill Pickett, Ben Hodges, Wild Bill Hickok, and Deadeye Dick will fascinate students. They'll learn about the parts of a western saddle, discover the kinds of hats worn by Texan and Mexican cowboys, and see what a chuck wagon looked like.

The colorful language also makes this book fun to read. Joshua works "like a three-legged dog at a rat hunt." A boss is "touchy as a rattlesnake sliding down a cactus plant." A sound is as "lonely as a coyote howling at the moon."

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy is not a true story, but it sure seems like one. Reading it is liable to make kids "as pleased as a bullfrog in a horsefly roundup."

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

The book highlighted in this week's Education World BOOKS IN EDUCATION story is available in bookstores everywhere. If you are unable to locate a copy, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.
  • The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, written by Walter Dean Myers, is published by Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
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