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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,257

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This is the grave of Bose Ikard.

This is going to be a weird post.

First, you can read the historical marker put up at the grave site by the Texans.

In other words, Bose Ikard’s life value is because Charles Goodnight liked him. Oh Texas. He was the Good Black, with official approval from a Texas State Legend.

OK, let’s see what we can do with this.

There’s two things to note here. First, the biography seems to be accurate as far as it goes. Ikard was born into slavery. Like lots of masters, the constant appeal of moving west for new land means that the slaver scumbag who owned Ikard moved him to Texas. There was lots of this during the war, as slavers sought to continue their regime of forced labor, but Ikard’s came out before the war. As he discovered though, in a lot of Texas, cattle made a lot more sense than cotton. Just too dry. So it seems said owner invested in cattle and Ikard was really good at driving them.

The other thing to note is that the chaos of the Civil War meant all that cattle became wild out their on the southern Plains. In the war’s aftermath, good men were needed to round them up and move them to market. This was the period of the great cattle drives. And late nineteenth century Americans sure wanted to be romanticized with tales of the West. To be clear, this was a tough deal. Do you want to be out on the southern Plains, dealing with the horrifying weather, both summer and winter, the snakes, the lack of water, the isolation and loneliness, and still existent remnants of the Comanches angry at white genocide? No.

In the popular mythology of the cowboy, the image is the White Man. In fact, hardly anything in our history is defined as more white than the cowboy. This is John Wayne country after all. But this is nonsense. The job was horrible. Death was common. So why would whites do this labor? Some did, yes of course. But at least 1 out of every 4 cowboys in the late nineteenth century were Black men like Ikard. Probably just as many if not more were Mexican. A few were Native. Probably less than half were white. And those whites were often the Charles Goodnights of the world–the entrepreneur doing the hiring.

So I have no doubt that Ikard made a good cowboy. According to Goodnight, he was also trusted the money for the unit. I have no idea and I don’t think we will ever have any idea how Ikard actually thought about all of this. He was valued because he was “loyal” and “trusted,” just what whites wanted to hear about their Black workers. As it turns out, Ikard’s old owner Milton Ikard was also riding with Goodnight and Oliver Loving, before the latter was killed by Comanches. So that would makes any real discussion of Ikard even more complicated. What did it mean for him to be “loyal?” It could be any number of things, but they are all filtered through whites in our knowledge of the man.

It should not be surprising that this was the kind of story Larry McMurtry would love in his epic retellings of the cattle drives. Josh Deets in Lonesome Dove was based on Ikard.

At the end of the great cattle drives in 1869, Ikard evidently wanted to move to Colorado, but Goodnight convinced him to live in Texas, so he could be around other Black people. That’s the story, I am not saying anything about what anyone’s real motivations were here. I think he just farmed a bit out there for the next half-century. I know he married and he and his wife had 15 kids. I know he wasn’t wealthy at all and at times Goodnight kind of supported him.

When he died in 1929, at the age of 85, it was big news because it was a reminder that Charles Goodnight was still alive and that he was The Good Black for Goodnight. And so here we are. I visited this cemetery for someone else, saw the historical marker, and was like, welp, this is an opportunity to tell a story about America that I probably wouldn’t otherwise be able to tell in this series.

Bose Ikard is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Weatherford, Texas.

If you would like this series to visit other Black cowboys, maybe some for whom we have some words of their own to tell the story, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Nat Love is in Santa Monica, California and Bill Pickett is in Marland, Oklahoma. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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