By Lisa Voyles/Chickasaw Journal
OKOLONA – When four filmmakers from England began their project to document the history of the black cowboy, they set out for America to find subjects to interview.
They found their man at the E4 Cattle Company in Okolona.
Tim Cook manages the farm for Ed Edens and oversees about 3,000 head of cattle, working six or more days a week, but he didn’t realize his job was all that special until the Brits came to town.
The crew of Brown Leather Jacket productions, John Ferguson, Gregg McDonald, George Day and Mahlon Prince, spent two days at the cattle company and farm interviewing and filming Cook on the job for a documentary they hope to wrap up in the spring. Their research into the subject is a part of history not often taught in the schoolbooks.
“We wanted to put the spotlight on the black cowboy,” Ferguson said. “They were under respected for years.”
Ferguson’s research shows that in many parts of the old West, the first cowboys were black, but it wasn’t necessarily by choice.
“The word ‘cowboy’ is more of a slave name,” Ferguson said. “It was actually derogatory. The whites were the ones in the rodeos while the black were in the background, breaking the horses. They weren’t allowed to compete.”
Chickasaw County Cowboy
Cook’s entry into the business of professional cowboy was entirely by choice and he can’t imagine working at anything he loves more.
“A lot of that stuff (history) I didn’t know,” Cook said. “That was way before my time.”
Cook is a native of Vardaman and finished high school in Woodland and has been working as a cowboy almost all his adult life, both as a rodeo and working cowboy.
“It’s just something I love to do,” Cook said. “I’ll never forget the first time Daddy took me to the rodeo. I knew I wanted to be a rodeo cowboy. The work ethic just came with it.”
Cook spent time working for Frank Ware and Jerry Anderson before coming to Eden Farms and also credits Glenn Robinson for teaching him his craft.
“He was an old timer,” Cook said. “He was a good man. I learned a lot from him.”
The guys at BLJ feel the story of the black cowboy is one that should be told.
“The cowboy is the archetype of American history, ” McDonald said.
Ferguson said he wasn’t familiar with black cowboys or the history of the population until recently when it sparked his interest.
“About ten years ago, I saw them in a parade in New York,” Ferguson said. “I though it was a cabaret or circus or something.”
Ferguson started researching and found black cowboys on the cattle trails prior to the Civil War.
“It’s American history,” Ferguson said. “It should be interesting to all school children. It’s a good story.”
Cook just considers it the best job he’s ever had.
“I love it,” Cook said. “It doesn’t seem like I have a bad day. It’s a blessing from God to be able to get up every morning and want to go to work.”
And if the rare bad day does occur?
“I can get on a horse and ride to the backside,” Cook smiled. “Just me and the Creator.”
In addition to being a working cowboy, Cook is a member of the PCA and rodeos.
“I wrestle steers,” Cook said. “The bulls got too old for me.”
On to Cannes
The crew completed their two days of filming in Okolona and hope to enter their documentary in the television division of the Cannes Film Festival next spring. Cook has no illusions that he will become an overnight star, but doesn’t think it would be so bad.
“I guess it would be all right, as long as it doesn’t take me away from being me,” Cook said. “I mean if they’re going to work on it so hard, I hope they’ll be successful. But if something (monetary) turned out from it and I could help others with it that would be good.”
The crew has been back in contact with Cook and are encouraging him to make a trip to England to visit them.
He’s considering it, although he’s not a big fan of flying.
“If I get a chance to go, I’ll have to figure out how to make that six-hour flight,” Cook smiled.