Denzel Washington as Sam in 'The Magnificent Seven'
Screengrab via YouTube

The 12 Best Black Cowboy Characters From TV and Film


It's estimated that 25 percent of cowboys in the Wild West were Black, but that hasn't always been properly represented in Hollywood. Western films are most closely associated with the likes of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, with very few black actors thrown in the mix. Over the past few decades, more and more realistic stories have been making their way to the big screen, and it's been really wonderful to get a glimpse of what the time period really looked like. We all know Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, but countless other famous black heroes and outlaws deserve to have their stories told.

From fictional characters to real gunslingers, here are 12 of the best Black cowboys from TV shows and cowboy movies.

Jonathan Majors as Nat Love and Idris Elba as Rufus Buck in The Harder They Fall

This 2021 Netflix western was one of the first to have a nearly entirely black cast. Jeymes Samuel made his directorial debut in this black western based on real heroes and outlaws who lived in the Old West. Rufus Buck was a notorious outlaw whose gang comprised of African Americans and Native Americans ravaged the west in the late 1800s. Elba was perfect in this fictionalized version of the criminal who, in the film, killed Nat Love's parents when he was a child.


Nat Love was a legendary hero of the Wild West. He was a former slave who went on to fight in the Civil War and became a well-known cowboy. Bass Reeves and Bill Pickett are a couple more real black cowboys who appear in the film that may not be historically accurate but is still really worth watching for the performances alone. Between Elba and Majors and everyone else in between, it's just a really great film.

Idris Elba as Harp in Concrete Cowboy

This modern western movie, another from Netflix, was inspired by the black cowboy culture in Philadelphia, particularly at the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. Harp reunites with his estranged teenage son Cole who has been living with his mom in Detroit. Throughout the film, he teaches him about his passion for the west and horseback riding, and they slowly form a relationship.

Denzel Washington as Sam Chisolm in The Magnificent Seven


The Magnificent Seven is a remake of the classic western from 1960 starring Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach. Sam Chisolm is a lawman from Kansas and the leader of the seven. He's comparable to Yul Brynner's character from the original. Sam is a famous US Marshal and the first recruited to help the struggling town of Rose Creek. He's one heck of a gunslinger; the only problem is now I really need to see Denzel in more westerns.

Mario Van Peebles as Jesse Lee in Posse

Mario Van Peebles directs and stars in this 1993 western about a group of Buffalo Soldiers who get betrayed by their corrupt colonel while fighting in the Spanish-American War. Jesse Lee is the group's fearless leader who goes on to avenge the murder of his father. The legendary Woody Strode, who appeared in westerns back in John Wayne's day, even served as the film's narrator.

Danny Glover as Joshua Deets in Lonesome Dove


Larry McMurtry's classic novel was originally based on a screenplay for John Wayne that never came to fruition. Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, whose cattle drives across the country became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, served as inspiration for the story. Danny Glover's character Joshua Deets was also inspired by a real person, Bose Ikard, the Black cowboy who joined Goodnight and Loving on the trail. Glover nailed his performance as Joshua Deets in the miniseries that is still widely beloved decades later.

Danny Glover as Sgt. Washington Wyatt in Buffalo Soldiers

Another great cowboy character from Danny Glover was Sgt. Wyatt in this 1997 TV film. Buffalo Soldiers was inspired by the real Black calvary who helped protect the West after the Civil War. A fascinating part of American history that really deserves more screen time.

LaMonica Garrett as Thomas in 1883


LaMonica Garrett starred in this TV show as a former Union Army sergeant who teams up with Captain Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) to escort a group of immigrants across the West to Oregon. This Yellowstone prequel series expertly captured the horrors of life out in the Old West, especially for families traveling to new territories. Thomas was a really interesting character and provided a great representation of the real Black cowboys that lived during this time period.

Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman in Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained is easily one of the most well-known westerns of the past 20 years. Django is a former slave who joins together with a German bounty hunter to rescue his long-lost wife from her horrific new owner. A tribute to the spaghetti westerns that made Clint Eastwood a star back in the day, Django is entertaining, at times a bit campy, but a thrilling journey, largely thanks to Foxx's performance as the title character.

Morgan Freeman as Ned Logan in Unforgiven


Right after Kevin Costner brought back a love of the western genre with Dances With Wolves, Eastwood followed up with Unforgiven. He earned multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, in this story of an aging outlaw who takes on one last job after spending years retired as a farmer. Morgan Freeman plays fellow retired outlaw Ned Logan who joins his old friend Will on his final job.

Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte as Buck and Preacher in Buck And The Preacher

Sidney Poitier made his directorial debut in this 1972 western. Following the Civil War, former soldier Buck escorts a group of African Americans from Louisiana to the Kansas territory. After a group of white plantation owners attempts to bring down the Black wagon train, Buck teams up with Preacher to do whatever it takes to get their group safely out west. Initially, they don't get along, Preacher even considers turning him over to the white men trying to make him fail, but they turn into one of the most memorable duos the Wild West has ever seen.

READ MORE: 5 African-American Cowboys Who Shaped the American West

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