The black cowboys of Chicago’s South Side

Most Americans don’t realise that one in four cowboys was black – and they didn’t just live in the Wild West.W

When the legendary black Chicago cowboy, Murdock “The Man with No First Name”, rides one of his horses through Chicago’s Hyde Park and along the South Shore segment of the lakefront path, he often finds himself explaining the rules of the road to questioning police officers.

“It’s perfectly legal to ride a horse in Chicago,” said Murdock, who was himself a cop before founding one of the city’s last remaining private equestrian clubs, the Broken Arrow Horseback Riding Club, “so long as you obey the traffic rules.”

Most Chicagoans may not realise that it’s still legal to ride a horse in the city (Credit: Randy Duchaine/Alamy)

Horse racing also was among the city’s most popular sports, and by the 1930s, Chicago boasted more horse racing venues than any other metropolitan area in the US, thanks to its legal gambling laws. Until the 1950s, dozens of livery stables rented horses by the hour for recreational riding along the more than 17 miles of bridle paths that stretched along Lake Michigan and through Chicago parks. But as the city and automobile traffic grew, recreational horse riding’s popularity sank. The last city-sponsored public riding stable, Lincoln Park’s New Parkway Riding Stables, closed in 1967.

But for the past 31 years, Murdock has been working to revive the Windy City’s horse-riding heritage and make it more inclusive for the city’s diverse residents. Currently located in the city’s southern suburb of Chicago Heights, his Broken Arrow Horseback Riding Club is beloved by Chicago’s black cowboys, who compete in the local Latting Rodeo just outside Chicago as well as national rodeos across the US. At 73, Murdock hasn’t hung up his cowboy hat either. “I was involved in calf and tie-down roping for a while, until I injured my back,” he said. “I still compete locally in Latting Rodeos, doing the less dangerous events, barrel and flag racing.”

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