Meet the Compton Cowboy riding to honor Black cowboys and Juneteenth

Hosley took a Greyhound bus to Texas. He turned pro at 19. In 2013, he was the Bill Pickett Rodeo’s Rookie of the Year. He has won a bareback riding title and is the five-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association California Circuit Champion.

All the while, he said he has enjoyed the journey so much — the broken hand and other injuries, the weeks without checks, the disappointing efforts, the growth as a man, fatherhood, the victories, the camaraderie, the exposure — that the racial dynamics of the sport have not been a hindrance. But he is aware of the diversity void.

“You don’t have many Black people interested in rodeos outside of the Bill Pickett,” he said. That’s why the event airing on Juneteenth “is so big,” he said.

Denard Butler, one of the most respected cowboys on the pro circuit, is a Black steer wrestler from Atlanta who has made a name in the profession. 

“It’s few and far between that I see people who look like me on the circuit,” Hosley said. “When I do, it’s cool to see, especially when I see someone like Denard. He looks good, wins and represents himself well. They have to respect him.”

Butler said early in his career he endured racism consistently on the rodeo circuit and got into several bar fights to defend his honor along the way. “But nothing would run me off, I love it so much. It’s the life I chose, despite that stuff. All I ever wanted to do,” he said.

Black cowboys are entrenched in the history of cowboys in America, and it will be highlighted during the Juneteenth broadcast. Authors Phillip Durham and Everett L. Jones wrote in the 1965 book “The Negro Cowboys” that as many as 8,000 Black men were cowboys in the 1800s. Bill Pickett, who invented “bulldogging,” a technique used at rodeos to wrestle and ground a steer, Nate Love, a marksman who inspired many film characters, and Ned Huddleston, a former rodeo clown who became an outlaw, were among the first and most famous Black cowboys. Back then, after the Civil War, an estimated 1 in every 4 cowboys were Black, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. 

Recently, the awareness of the Black cowboy has gained some momentum in Black culture. Actor Idris Elba starred in the popular Netflix film “Concrete Cowboy” about Black horse riders in inner-city Philadelphia. Artists Solonge and Lil Nas X interjected American Western style into their work.  

The 6-foot, 180-pound Hosley said he has enjoyed the cowboy life — tending to horses, competing, the peace of living on farms — and that his biggest worry had been about settling down his schedule, which he learned from Melissa Hijdik, the mother of a classmate he met in bareback school.

When school was over, Hosley was offered a rodeo scholarship to Wharton Junior College outside of Houston. But he had nowhere to live and could not afford a hotel.

 Hijdik volunteered her home. 

“I got to know Tre and his story touched me,” she said. “He wanted it so badly. And his talent was amazing. I had the space and I wanted to help. My friends thought I was crazy to do so. ‘You don’t know him,’ they said. We had to work through some things. But we did. In the end, all I did was provide somewhere for him to live. He did the rest.”

Hosley called Hijdik “my Texas momma.”

“I didn’t go into rodeo trying to make friends,” he said, “but I made some great ones anyway. She and her family are like family.”

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