NYC Federation of Black Cowboys

Bill Miller Tribute

Ben Miller was born March 1, 1912 in Whitney, South Carolina. The walls of his home in Harlem are decorated with numerous certificates and awards recognizing his accomplishments and contributions to the heritage of the African American cowboy. Among his rodeo trophies you will find a letter from Mayor Bloomberg and a citation from Gene Autry for his work on the Lightening “C” Ranch. For almost one hundred years, as a true American cowboy, he has personally experienced the plight of African American’s struggle for equality.

His father, Guy Miller, leased 100 acres of land from the railroad company in South Carolina. Horses and cattle were raised in one area of the land and food crops were grown in another. Prior to leasing a ranch, Ben “Tex” Miller’s father rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” and was also part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. At the age of 10, Ben “Tex” Miller was sent to Fort Bend County, Texas to work for his uncle breaking horses. By the time he was seventeen, his impressive horsemanship skills caught the eye of a Wild West Show scout and Ben “Tex” Miller was recruited to work with the 101 Ranch and the Wild West Shows.


For the first half of the 20th century, Black cowboys were not allowed to compete against white cowboys in the prize events, nor were they allowed to work in motion pictures, both of which were the most lucrative ways for a cowboy to make a living. However, since most of the cowhands were Black, their skills as riders could not help but be showcased to audiences. When a rider got hurt, Black cowboys would be offered the opportunity to do an exhibition ride for which they would be paid ten dollars. Technically, anyone was allowed to compete in the non-prize events as long as they could cover the costs of the entry fee. Ben “Tex” Miller, like most African American cowboys did not have that kind of cash. But people who did have that kind of money would sponsor a Black cowboy whose skills they admired by paying the competitions entry fees. Needless to say, Ben “Tex” Miller had lots of sponsored rides.

With the advent of the Great Depression, many Americans could no longer afford the ticket prices of the Wild West Shows, which often accompanied fairs and carnivals. But they could afford tickets for the movies. Eventually, motion pictures would run the ranches into the ground. Despite hard times, Ben “Tex” Miller continued to find work in the Wild West Shows where he watched the infamous Bill Pickett practice bull dogging with Will Rogers and Tom Mix. The Wild West Shows began to use celebrity cowboys and performers from the motion pictures to pull in a larger crowd. Ben “Tex” Miller worked alongside Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger (both Brace Beamer and Clayton Moore), Tonto, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Cisco Kid and the much-loved canines, Rin Tin Tin and Lassie.

Ben “Tex” Miller first came to New York City on a Rodeo tour show at Madison Square Gardens. He enjoyed the freedom he was afforded as an African American in New York City. With no voting taxes and tolls, better schools and more opportunities for African Americans than in the South, he decided to move his family to Harlem.

Known around Cedar Lane Stables as “Uncle Ben”, he is an active member of the Federation of Black Cowboys. Making appearances in parades and attending meetings, Ben “Tex” Miller continues to inspire and contribute to the extensive history of Black Cowboys.

“All cowboys are happy, no matter what their nationality may be, despite the fact that they don’t make any money. All cowboys are happy and proud of what they are”. - Ben “Tex” Miller, April 2006

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