Rootin', tootin' and shootin' since 1921

13-May-1993 Thursday

As the end credits roll on "Posse," so do some clips from other black
westerns from the late 1930s -- including Herb Jeffries musicals "The
Bronze Buckaroo" and "Harlem Rides the Range."

While they never played the mainstream movie houses, they were popular fare
at the "colored" theater circuit, along with other genres with family
drama, gangland murder mystery or musical themes.

Among the earliest of the black cowboy pictures was the six-reel "The
Crimson Skull," produced in 1921 in "the all-colored city" of Boley, Okla.
Produced by the long-gone Norman Film Manufacturing Co. in Jacksonville,
Fla., it was billed as a "Baffling western Mystery Photo-Play," starred
Anita Bush, "Little Mother of Colored Drama" and "the Versatile" Lawrence

Two years later, the Norman Studios also produced "The Bull-Dogger,"
featuring celebrated stunt rider Bill Pickett, referred to as "the Dusky
Demon," who's credited with inventing bulldogging. Promotion for the movie
referred to a statement by President Teddy Roosevelt that Pickett "will go
down in western history as being one of the best trained ropers and riders
the West has produced."

Many years earlier, in 1908, Pickett had hired two assistants for his rodeo
-- Tom Mix and Will Rogers, long before their star days.

A favorite Norman star was Steve "Peg" Reynolds, a one-legged stunt man who
gave the films some of their comic relief. In "The Flying Ace" (1926), an
airplane mystery, he rides a bike and fires at the crooks through his
hollow crutch.

In 1928, the Norman Studios took Peg Reynolds and crew to shoot "Black
Gold," a wildcat oil-fields drama, in another of the black townships,
Tatums, Okla., similar to the Freemanville in "Posse."

Several musical westerns came out in the late '30s, including "Rodeo
Rhythm," "Two-Gun Man from Harlem" and "Harlem on the Prairie," which was
shot on N.B. Murphy's black dude ranch in Victorville.

Jazz singer Louis Jordan and his "Caledonia" Tympany Band did "Look-out,
Sister" in 1946, another singing western. Veteran comic actor Mantan
Moreland, perhaps more celebrated as Charlie Chan's chauffeur, made a zany
"Come on, Cowboy!" in 1948, co-starring with Johnny Lee -- Algonquin J.
Calhoun in the "Amos and Andy" TV series.

Among later black westerns:

"Soul Soldier," 1970, starring Olympic champion Rafer Johnson in a drama
about the U.S. 10th Cavalry at Fort Davis, Texas, c. 1871. The black unit
was run by white officers.

"The Legend of Nigger Charley," 1972, with Fred Williamson, D'Urville
Martin and Don Pedro Colley. It's about three runaway slaves and is
celebrated as one of the first movies portraying black men as rebels in
that era. "The Soul of Nigger Charley," 1973, is the sequel about how
Charley and his Mexican cronies save a slave town in Mexico.

"Take a Hard Ride," 1975, stars Williamson, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly. Good
guy Brown is taking $86,000 across Arizona to give the money to its owner
and is pursued by villains, like hard-eyed bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef.
Brown is joined on the dusty trail by gambler Williamson, described as
amiable but devious.

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