LAVEEN, AZ — Most people know the story of the Lone Ranger. It's not so widely known that the story was inspired by Bass Reeves, an African American lawman who became a legend.
African American cowboys played a big part in helping settle the West. That way of life is still around today which you can see if you visit Knight Ranch in Laveen.
A young man by the name of TJ, 23, was fresh off his overnight job and showed up at 6 a.m.
He said, "[I] Grab a couple horses, take them out, clean a few stalls, give them a couple baths, give them a couple treats and maybe go ride. That's a good Saturday morning for me."
He does some of the gritty work at the ranch because he loves to ride horses. He even has a favorite. He makes affectionate pucker sounds as he walks toward Wyoming.
"This is Wyoming. This is my favorite. Sweet. She's really sweet," he shares. For TJ, this is all very normal for him even though he admits, his friends don't get it. "This is what I grew up doing so I just come here. Everybody here is like family," he comments.
If the Knight Ranch is a family, then David Knight is 'Poppa'. He opens up his place to teach what Western life is all about.
Knight says, "The ones you see standing here, they been here. They went through the hard time. But just coming out, putting the time and then go out for a ride."
Charlie Teasley got back into riding during quarantine and put in the work. She says seeing so many African American riders around was encouraging.
"It was honestly a blessing and inspiring to see so many Black cowboys and cowgirls. It was something I could look up to," she shares.
She's competing in the upcoming Arizona Black Rodeo in the barrel races. The Arizona Black Rodeo has grown a lot over the past decade. It's become a countrywide draw.
Lanette Campbell is the producer of the Arizona Black Rodeo. Campbell says, "We have people coming from out of town, calling from Philadelphia, New York, California. They're coming in for the rodeo, so we're excited to be a destination spot here."
And while the rodeo draws a big crowd, the state isn't producing many competitors. Campbell says, "We have probably two competitors from our local, from Arizona. The rest of them, and we have over 140 contestants and they're all coming from out of town."
That's why the Arizona Black Rodeo works hard to expose more African American youth to horses and the rodeo experience. Organizers say after a year of calls for social justice and attention on the Black community, they feel more people are paying attention now.
Cloves Campbell said, "With the climate in the country and people being more aware of minorities and specifically African Americans and what our historical value is to this country, I think you're seeing more of it. Prior to this, no, there was not much attention drawn to it but I think that created programs like the ones we have, different rodeos across the country I think there's an opportunity for people to learn more and have fun at the same time while doing it."
The hope is this way of life will be taken up and passed on and that's exactly what TJ plans to do.
"A lot of the older people in our group, they're going to get tired of doing this eventually and somebody younger is going to have to take over or figure out a way so we can continue giving the youth a reason, you know? And passing it down and I feel like, why not me?"
Much of the group at the Knight Ranch plans to attend the upcoming Arizona Black Rodeo. Lanette Campbell said ticket sales are already outpacing previous years and there are no longer VIP tickets available.
The rodeo is taking place at Westworld of Scottsdale Saturday, May 15. There are two shows scheduled. Tickets and more information can be found at AZBlackRodeo.com. For riding lesson information, visit DoubleJRiding.com.
Masks will be mandatory except in designated areas and the venue will be at 80% capacity for COVID safety.