Larry Callies paints the Old West with a different color than most historians do.
Callies is the founder and operator of the Black Cowboy Museum in Rosenberg. His small, nonprofit museum at 1104 3rd St. highlights an often untold story of real cowboys and rodeo stars who didn’t look so much like John Wayne.
The museum has a wide variety of artifacts, including guns, badges, saddles, posters, farm implements and more that help tell the story of black cowboys. Of particular interest is an enlarged photo of black cowboys working the Jones Ranch in the 1880s. Today the ranch is known as the George Ranch Historical Park.
“White men didn’t want to work with cows,” he said.
Callies said whites initially detested the name “cowboy.”
“You had house boys, yard boys, and cow boys,” he said. “People didn’t want to be called ‘boy.’”
He said he started learning about black cowboys while he was working at George Ranch from 2011-2014 as the lead cowboy. Prior to that he was a mailman in Sugar Land from 1974 to 2011. His whole life, however, has been spent working cattle. His father provided stock to both black and white rodeos across Texas and he spent his boyhood summers traveling the rodeo circuit. The El Campo native got to watch and learn from the best in the business.
His cousin, Tex Williams, became the first black to make it to the state rodeo finals in 1967 and again in ’68. Callies became the second in 1971. He rode barebacks and bulls and roped calves. He still ropes today. As enamored as he was with the cowboy way, it wasn’t his first love. Callies was a country western singer. He had signed on with Erv Woolsey, the same manager as country music legend George Strait. Two weeks before he was set to move to Nashville, Callies lost his voice. That was 27 years ago and today he still speaks with a hoarse whisper.
Over the years making his postal rounds and the rodeo circuit, Callies collected a lot of stories and artifacts pertaining to black cowboys. In 2016 he finally figured out what to do with it all. As a devout Christian, he said God placed it on his heart to share the stories and history of black cowboys.
“I heard God speak to me,” he said. “I had never stepped out in faith before.”
In May of 2016 he opened the museum at the corner of First Street and Avenue H, but relocated it just a few months later. Donors of all races have submitted artifacts for display. One of the most prized items in the museum’s collection has nothing to do with black cowboys. He has a saddle and bridle used by Frank James, the older brother of outlaw Jesse James. It’s a big draw for the tiny museum that depends on admission fees and donations to get by.
Each picture and artifact has a story and Callies is eager to tell it.
“It’s something that needed to be said. It’s something that needed to be known,” he said.
As far as Callies knows, his is the only black cowboy museum in the world. As such, it has been attracting busloads of visitors, one even coming from Chicago.
“We’ve had 47 busloads of people come so far,” he said.
On Dec. 7 he will be spreading some Christmas cheer by holding a Cowboy Christmas event at the museum. The Larry Callies Bronco Band will perform, there will be cowboy demonstrations, and movies will be shown from the 1920s and ’30s.
For more information, stop by the museum at 1104 3rd St. in Rosenberg or visit www.blackcowboymuseum.org.