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Legends of Our Times: Native Cowboy Life

by Leslie Tepper and Morgan Baillargeon

I played cowboys and Indians as a child growing up in the Six Nations of the Grand River community in the 1960s. Few of my friends wanted to be the cowboy: “There are no Indian cowboys,” they asserted with all the conviction of young children. Thirty years later, I am happy to say that we were wrong.

Leslie Tepper and Morgan Baillargeon have written an excellent book to set the record straight: there were and are Indian cowboys and cowgirls. Legends of Our Times: Native Cowboy Life documents this long ignored part of our shared history. Their text is based on a Canadian Museum of Civilization exhibition (opened in May 1998 and continuing to April 2000) entitled Legends of Our Times: Native Ranching and Rodeo Life on the Plains and Plateau.

Legends takes native cowboys and situates them in the horse culture of the plains and plateaus where human and horse (along with buffalo, dog, and deer) have had a long spiritual alliance. The text is generously illustrated with historical and contemporary paintings, pictures, stories, and cowboy poetry. Much of this material comes from private collections held by the cowboys and their families.

In my travels to western Canada, I have often seen native people, dressed in cowboy fashion, participating in rodeos. I thought that what I saw was just another example of assimilation. Tepper and Baillargeon’s text has changed my view on native cowboys. It has brought to light a long erased part of the history of this continent: All the cowboys weren’t white.

Native people were good cowboys, but that caused problems. Native ranches were restricted in size to prevent competition with local white ranchers; charges of unfair and biased judging at local rodeos led to the development of the All-Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association which became, in 1967, the Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association.

The authors also portray native people as persons who acted to affect their own destiny, who actively sought to find a way to live with the newcomers to this land, and as people who acted with agency, forethought, and fun.


Reviewer: David Newhouse

Publisher: UBC Press


Price: $45

Page Count: 288 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-7748-0656-7

Released: May

Issue Date: 1998-6

Categories: History