Mike Searles, also known as Cowboy Mike, stands in front of a picture of a famous black cowboy as he talks to the fourth grade class at Evans Elementary.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Cowboy Mike rode into Evans Elementary School on Friday morning and amazed fourth-graders with tales of black cowboys who helped tame the wild west.
"I liked the story about Bill Pickett and how he would bite the cow's upper lip and make it freeze for people to brand it," student Emily Buck said.
Mike Searles, also known as Cowboy Mike, is an assistant professor of history at Augusta State University and has been studying the history of black cowboys for more than 20 years. One of the courses he is teaching is Blacks in the American West. He also contributed a chapter in the book, Black Cowboys of Texas.
But with the help of a cowboy hat, spurs, chaps and a lariat, he tied his own interesting experiences together with those of cowboys and frontier men and women of western history.
"I liked the story about when he was young and riding his horse and he had Kool-Aid in his hand and he spilled it on the horse and the horse ran off and headed toward a tree," fourth-grader Kevin Middlebrooks said.
Mike Searles, an assistant professor of history at Augusta State speaks to children about black
cowboys every year during Black History month.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Searles explained each piece of gear the cowboy wore, painting a dusty picture of herding cattle across the plains to market. The students were enthralled with his explanation of the jingle bobs the cowboys wore on their spurs to ring as they circled sleeping cattle at night.
"They might be singing, humming, doing anything they could to make sure there was always a noise, and the jingle bobs would ring," Searles said. "If it was ever perfectly quiet, the cows would be started at any noise and there could be a stampede."
The students listened quietly to Searles' accounts of Jim Beckwourth. A mountain man who was trapped in the Rocky Mountains around Montana and was later adopted by the Crowe Indians, Beckwourth ultimately became an Indian chief, Searles said. He also told stories about Nat Love, Isom Dart, Bass Reeves, Clara Brown and Mary Fields, who made money by betting cowboys she could knock them out with one punch.
But the most legendary black cowboy of all, Searles told the students, is Bill Pickett, who broke into the cowboy business when he was about 10 years old by biting the lip of a cow to make it stand still for branding. Pickett went on to become a rodeo star and later had a motion picture made about his life.
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