Portrait of a Black Cowboy offers a striking counterpoint to the prevailing stereotypical image of Texas cowboys. Crowell's straightforward portrait challenges our notions and expectations about such an iconic figure: first by portraying an African American cowboy and then by painting his subject in a contemplative pose far removed from the drama and action of cattle drives, ranch corrals, or rodeo arenas. Crowell's focus is on the person, not the occupation, and the person here seems drawn from an observation of everyday life, rather than created through a screenwriter's imagination.
Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This nickname was given to the "Negro Cavalry" by the Native American tribes they fought; the term eventually became synonymous with all the African-American regiments formed in 1866. The Buffalo Soldiers fought with distinction in the Indian Wars.
Although several African-American regiments were raised during the Civil War as part of the Union Army (including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the many United States Colored Troops Regiments), the "Buffalo Soldiers" were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army. On September 6, 2005, Mark Matthews, who was the oldest living Buffalo Soldier, died at the age of 111. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Sources disagree on how the nickname "Buffalo Soldiers" began. According to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the name originated with the Cheyenne warriors in the winter of 1877, the actual Cheyenne translation being "Wild Buffalo." However, writer Walter Hill documented the account of Colonel Benjamin Grierson, who founded the 10th Cavalry Regiment, recalling an 1871 campaign against Comanches. Hill attributed the origin of the name to the Comanche due to Grierson's assertions. The Apache used the same term ("We called them 'buffalo soldiers,' because they had curly, kinky hair ... like bisons"), a claim supported by other sources. Some sources assert that the nickname was given out of respect for the fierce fighting ability of the 10th Cavalry. Still other sources point to a combination of both legends. The term Buffalo Soldiers became a generic term for all black soldiers. It is now used for U.S. Army units that trace their direct lineage back to the 9th and 10th Cavalry units whose service earned them an honored place in U.S. history.
In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G of the 10th Cavalry Regiment was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunters suddenly became the hunted when a band of seventy Cheyenne warriors swept down on them. The two civilians quickly fell in the initial attack, and Randall's horse was shot out from beneath him. Randall managed to scramble to safety behind a washout under the railroad tracks where he fended off the attack with only his pistol and seventeen rounds of ammunition until help from the nearby camp arrived. The Cheyenne beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind thirteen fallen warriors. Private Randall suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder and eleven lance wounds but recovered. The Cheyenne quickly spread word of this new type of soldier "who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair."
On display: June 2015 – September 2015