Black Cowboys and Indians

Sunny Nash writes about her family’s black cowboys and Indians in her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s. Her Uncle George broke horses and punched cattle, and called her grandmother by her Comanche name.
Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash
Sept. 13, 2010 - PRLog -- Sunny Nash’s family is filled with black cowboys and Native American blood on both sides of her family. In her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, she writes about her Uncle George Rogers who broke wild horses and punched cattle on a ranch near Iola, Texas. He was the only person Nash remembers who was allowed to call her grandmother by her Comanche name.

In the essay, “Private Business” in her book, Nash writes: Bigmama’s brother-in-law, George--a jet black gentleman cowboy with one of the few cars in the family (in the 1950s)—waited for Bigmama out front in his shiny black Buick. When he was young, Uncle George broke horses and punched cattle on the Yeager ranch near Iola. He’d retired years before but still lived in a cabin on the ranch, and the Yeagers made sure he had a new car every two years or so. Before I was born, he was married to Bigmama’s sister, Lill, until her death. Uncle George never remarried. He got out of the car and opened the trunk for Bigmama’s suitcase. His sweet-smelling cologne drifted from the street to my nose. As usual, he wore a crisp white shirt, gray pinstriped suit, cream Stetson hat, and fancy cowboy boots.

“Come on, Wideface, he called to my grandmother. He said Wideface was Bigmama’s Comanche name. I don’t know which annoyed her more—being called by that name or being identified with that group. “If you weren’t as black as midnight,” she called back to him, “you’d be a white man.”

Sunny Nash’s family is similar in cultural composition to many African American families with black and Native American heritage, including the family of internationally known actress and singer, the late Lena Horne,

Lena Horne's grandfather, Edwin Frank Horne, was Native American and continued to pass as African American in New York after migrating there from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he had published and edited a black newspaper, Justice. According to Lena Horne's biographer, James Gavin, "Astonishingly, Edwin wasn't even a Negro, but the son of a white Englishman and a Native American mother. During Reconstruction, Native Americans had suffered worse discrimination than blacks. For his children's sake, he'd (Edwin Frank Horne) decided to pass as Negro."  

From her book, In the essay, “Cousin Hudge, the Traveling Fiddler” Nash writes: “Did your father give you the Indian name that Uncle George calls you?” I asked Bigmama, staring at her for a long time, while she decided not to tell me anything more. How well I knew that look.

“We’re going to leave this old talk alone now.” She seemed to snap back from somewhere far away. “You don’t need to know that old slaverytime prairie business. I didn’t teach it to my children, and I’m not telling you. The old way is gone. Knowing about it can’t help you in this world.”

“But Bigmama.”

“Folks are scared of the word, Comanche!”  She scolded. “They hate anybody they believe got one drop of that blood. Safer to be African than Comanche!” I shivered. “Now let it rest.”

‘That’s why you hate it when Uncle George calls you by your other name,” I whispered.

Subsiding into aloofness, she seemed to forget I was even there. She wouldn’t have been more alone on a mountaintop in the wind. I didn’t mind allowing her to escape. I’d found myself doing the same thing when something annoyed or bored me.

Below is a video with Sunny Nash reading excerpts from her book and sharing pictures of her cowboy and Native American ancestors.

Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as a tool in the understanding of race relations in the United States. Robin Fruble of Southern California said, “Every white person in America should read this book (Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s)! Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world. But, if your skin color is brown, it matters a great deal to a great number of people. I needed to learn that, Sunny Nash is a great teacher,” Fruble said.

Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s can be purchased from all major bookstores as well as the Republic of Texas Museum in Austin, operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose mission since 1891 has been to preserve Texas heritage and historic structures and landmarks around the state, such as the Alamo in San Antonio and stories like those by Sunny Nash. Buy Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s:

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About Sunny Nash: Author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, Sunny Nash is an award-winning writer, photographer, producer and public speaker. Nash's work appears in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford Universities; African American West, A Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, A History of Black Photography 1840 - Present; Ancestry Magazine and; The Companion to Southern Literature: Themes, Genres, Places, People; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture; Southwestern American Literature Journal and many other anthologies and collections. Nash is listed and quoted in reference editions: The Source: a guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic linguistics and semiotic analysis; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and other research.
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Page Updated Last on: Feb 10, 2011

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