Ranching community remembers legendary black cowboy

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 1:20 PM

Kimberlee Kruesi

TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- For Rodney Hopwood, remembering a legend is not so different from reciting poetry.

"The smell of dew in the morning, the taste of dust and the anticipation of the horses waiting to ride," said the longtime rancher and cowboy with a quiet but clear voice. "These things Henry and I share."

Hopwood is the type of cowboy you expect to find telling stories around an evening campfire. However, on Monday, he stood among a small crowd at the Twin Falls Cemetery, offering his respects to a legendary cowboy, Henry Harris.

Harris was a black cowboy who worked for Nevada cattleman John Sparks and Louis Harrell along the Nevada and Idaho border. He started working on the ranch as a house servant and then quickly moved to cow punching and breaking horses. Eventually, he became ranch foreman and supervised white cowboys -- a feat almost unheard of for a black man in that era.

Harris died in 1937 but today's ranching community still reveres Harris' fairness and reputation throughout the West.

After riding in some of the same parts of country as Harris once did, Hopwood said he feels a special connection with the honored cowboy.

"Being a cowboy is not an easy life," he said. "It does something to you inside. I suspect Henry would feel the same way."

Those who gathered on Monday to remember Harris came from all across southern Idaho. Some were history buffs who came with the hopes of learning a new story not told in a history book. While others came because they were related to Henry.

"I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Henry," said Geraldine Wilson, Harris' great niece who traveled with her daughter from Los Angeles to attend the day's ceremony.

"He always looked over us and gave us money," she said. "Just knowing he was there for us was so comforting."

Years ago, Les Sweeney of Payette campaigned to have Harris' accomplishments recognized. With Sweeney's help, Harris was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in Winnemucca, Nev. in 2008 and into the National Cowboys of Color Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas in 2009.

"He left a legacy of accomplishments," Sweeney said. "He was known and respected by everyone who knew him."


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