Sisters In the Saddle
Cowgirls of color have wrangled and roped for generations. Award-winning photographer Rory Doyle celebrates them at a Mississippi rodeo.
The smoky aroma of charred meat fills the air outside the Mississippi Coliseum as tailgaters gather before the main event. They are a boisterous, laughing crew, decked out in jeans and boots and wearing every type of cowboy hat imaginable — old, new, wide-brimmed, narrow — in a cornucopia of colors. This is their happy place. Dads and daughters trot horses in the parade, moms and teens pose for pictures. Over a loudspeaker, Blanco Brown urges folk to do “The Git Up,” and later Lil Nas X declares “I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road, gonna ride ’til I can’t no more.” Here, at the Jackson Black Rodeo (aka The Baddest Show on Dirt), the feeling behind those words is clearly understood. This crowd has mad love for these four-legged creatures … no horsing around.
They also have mad respect for the men and women who compete in events like the barrel race (horse and rider weave around barrels as fast as possible) and steer undecorating (the rider must remove a ribbon from the steer’s back).
Today many of us live in cities, but from the 1860s to 1880s Black cowboys roamed frontier spaces, accounting for up to 25 percent of the workers in America’s range-cattle industry. Although there are no statistics, some sisters also learned how to wrangle and rope cattle so that their farms could survive. Rory Doyle, an award-winning photographer who captured the cowgirls and rodeo fans pictured here exclusively for Sisters, observes that while history often overlooked the Black cowboy, it really overlooked the Black cowgirl. So taking pictures of today’s Black cowgirls was special. “Their impact is amplified when you see that this is a generational story that continues in the present day,” Doyle says of the riders and ropers. “Mothers and grandmothers take great pride in keeping these traditions alive.”