Contrary to the images created by Hollywood, black slaves were America’s first authentic cowboys. The word “cowboy,” in fact originally had nothing to do with roping cattle and hell-raising in the high plains. The word “cowboy” grew out of social customs that did not allow black males to be addressed as “mister” or “men,” especially “gentlemen” or any other title that conveyed status. Fifty years before there was an American Southwest, cowboy, with the diminutive (extremely or unusually small) term “boy,” was a constant derogatory term for a black male, that included not only “cowboy,” but house boy,” “field boy,” “stable boy,” and “under boy,” (personal body servants during the Civil War).
After the Civil War, new land rush laws sparked the westward movement,Fifteen million new European immigrants arrived in the latter part of the 1800′s, but the ranching and cattle industry of the Southwest, especially along the Texas Gulf Coast, was wholly dependent on black labor. Many of the slaves served as cowboys who drove cattle north from Texas between 1866 and 1895 were black.
Source: Dirty Little Secrets About Black History, its Heroes, And Other Troublemakers (1997) By Dr. Claud Anderson